Thursday, February 4, 2016

Will Yankees’ Brett Gardner remain a valuable commodity?

It’s a business and the New York Yankees believe outfielder Brett Gardner is a valuable commodity. All the same, it will be interesting to see if Gardner’s value as an asset grows or diminishes during and after the 2016 season. Is this the final season in Gardner’s contract that his performance will considerably influence his worth to the club as a trade piece?

Brett Gardner
Photo credit: Keith Allison
Gardner is one of the few Yankees with a contract that has some value for a multitude of teams. As such, New York was open to listening to offers for the home grown player this offseason.

I’d argue that one of the reasons the Yankees extended Gardner with a four-year, $52 million deal in 2014 which takes him through the 2018 season (there is team option for 2019) was in part to use as a trade asset. The Yanks know full well they have the potential for duplicate production from Jacoby Ellsbury, who the club invested $153 million in during the same offseason. They might rather ship Ellsbury, but his contract is not perceived as one which will be moved easily.

Gardner had an interesting 2015 season, in which he was on the top of his game in the first half, leading to his first All-Star selection. However, Gardner suffered a severe let down in the second half of the season which might have adversely affected his value. Gardner played a bulk of the second half with a nagging left wrist injury, but he neglected to blame his performance on the ailment.

The Yankees surely see Gardner as a player who can outperform his contract value based on the lengthy streaks of positive performance he’s provided during his tenure in the Bronx. However, the fact that Gardner is still in New York might mean that potential trade partners did not value Gardner as high as the Yankees. Those clubs certainly based their valuation on the significant slumps he has also suffered from.

If asked, I suspect Gardner would prefer to stay in New York through the remainder of his contract. I’d also guess that he would love to put together a season without such drastic highs and lows, but rather consistent above-average production. But he wouldn’t necessarily be sticking it to his employer by elevating his game across a full season. No, the Yankees would love a strong and complete season from Gardner too; potentially so they can start the trade process all over again in the next offseason.

If Gardner jumps out to a hot start which extends to the MLB trade deadline, and the Yankees still desire a starting pitcher, will the club be ready to pull the trigger knowing it might be their last chance to extract the value they see in Gardner? If Gardner slumps early on or is simply average during the season, the Yankees might have to ride out the rest of Gardner’s contract, or take a deal that severely undercuts their previous perception of his worth.

Any club, the Yankees included, would be happy to have Gardner in the outfield producing 2.5-3.0 fWAR seasons in 2017 and 2018 (worth approximately $17.5 – $21 million based on 1.0 fWAR being worth $7 million). Such production would outweigh the salary he’ll take down in those seasons ($12 million and $11 million respectively). Unfortunately, this type of performance is no longer a guarantee from Gardner who produced a 2.6 fWAR valued at $20.4 million in 2015 according to FanGraphs' data.

At 32, Gardner’s performance value is likely to stick in a downward trend. That's not to say that Gardner cannot bounce back into the 3.0 or higher fWAR territory in 2016, but it is less reasonable to assume that to be the case. If the Yankees receive above-average production from Gardner AND Ellsbury is able to bounce back, plus they are happy with Aaron Hicks and/or someone else in the minors in 2016, the team might be wise to push harder to trade Gardner at the deadline or in the next offseason while his stock increases.

If Gardner generates above-average across the board performance in 2016, the Yanks might not have a better chance to extract the value they believe they have in Gardner again. As he continues to age, Gardner becomes less of a valued commodity and the window closes quicker if his performance declines again in 2016.

Be certain that Gardner wants to prove he hasn’t lost a step and can be an asset over a full season, and rest assured the Yankees hope so if their intention is to move away from Gardner during or after the 2016 season.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on The Cauldron via Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.