Brett Gardner was the Yankees’ third-round pick in the 2005 draft, debuted in pinstripes in 2008, and has been in the Bronx ever since. He’s the last remaining player with the Yankees from their last championship team in 2009… except that right now, even he’s not remaining.
The 37-year-old Gardner, who had a .354 on-base percentage last year while playing his usual sterling outfield defense, is still a free agent at the dawn of spring training, and it’s nonsensical that the Yankees haven’t found a way to bring him back, and not just for sentimental reasons.
The Yankees are desperately lacking for lefty bats, with the only ones on their 40-man roster being backup first baseman Mike Ford, spare outfielder Mike Tauchman, utilityman Tyler Wade, and outfield prospect Estevan Florial. They also have switch-hitting center fielder Aaron Hicks and speedster Greg Allen on the 40-man, plus lefty thumper Jay Bruce on a minor league deal with an invite to camp.
The thing about Ford and Tauchman is that both were revelations in 2019, helping the Yankees through an injury-ravaged season with their unexpected contributions. Both regressed in a big way in 2020, and although it was a shortened season, it’s bizarre to look at them — Ford is 28, Tauchman is 30 — and think that what happened two years ago was more than catching lightning in a bottle.
Bruce, an underrated corner outfield defender and first baseman, is 33, still hits dingers and would figure to relish Yankee Stadium’s short porch. But he’s also an entirely different lefty bat than Gardner, not to mention an entirely different defensive player.
The way that Gardner fits the Yankees is as a backup center (or left) fielder, and a lefty bat who can come off the bench when you need a baserunner more than a bomb. And the team’s top outfielders — Hicks, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Clint Frazier — are all fairly regular visitors to the trainers’ room and injured list.
If the Yankees don’t bring back Gardner, there will assuredly be a time this year when they wish they had. And when you add his connection to the franchise, with an organization that supposedly cares about tradition and championship lineage, it’s bonkers that Gardner is not getting ready to report to camp with his Yankees teammates right now.
You can make the argument that the Yankees owe it to Gardner to bring him back, or owe it to their fans, but the real reason to do it is that Gardner still makes them a better team in 2021. The main reason not to do it is the competitive balance tax, which not only is a made-up, self-imposed salary cap, but also is something that can be worked around with other moves, and also they’re the New York Yankees, for crying out loud, stop pretending that financial constraints are a real thing here.
Gardner should be a Yankee. The Yankees should re-sign Gardner. It’s that simple. Or, at least, it should be.