Brett Gardner was the second best player on the New York Yankees in 2013 behind Robinson Cano. At the time of his season-ending oblique injury in mid-September, he led the Yankees in doubles (33), triples (10) and stolen bases (24). He was also second on the team in hits (147) and was their most clutch hitter with a .356 BA with RISP, second in the AL behind Miguel Cabrera.
After the Yankees acquired Jacoby Ellsbury, many questioned whether Gardner, the incumbent lead-off man/center fielder, could become a trade piece in a crowded outfield. Rumors surfaced of a potential swap with the Cincinnati Reds for Brandon Phillips. Though the proposal made sense in terms of where each team needs help, the Reds just lost Shin-Soo Choo to free agency and the Yankees lost Cano – Phillips is due to make $50 million over the next four years. The Yankees would have been foolish to make such a trade, especially because second base was not the only position the Yankees needed (and still need) to address.
It’s no secret that New York will be a major player for Masahiro Tanaka if the Japanese right-hander is ever posted. Pitchers like Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are also free agents. Nevertheless, Yankees GM Brian Cashman has stated that the team could look internally to fill out the starting rotation which, as of now, only has three pitchers, C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda.
From an ideological perspective, I like this approach of going with the guys the team has and giving young players a chance, rather than over-paying for established veterans whose best years are behind them. From a pragmatic perspective, however, if the Yankees do trade Gardner, they should do so for a starting pitcher, not for a second baseman.
Yankees team President Randy Levine recently stated that the team has “absolutely no intention” of trading Gardner. I honestly hope he’s serious. Gardner and Ellsbury could torment catchers on the base path and frustrate hitters by locking down two-thirds of the outfield. The fact that Gardner’s a home-grown player makes him even more appealing from the fan perspective.
Still, baseball is a business and the Yankees have more outfielders than they need. Ichiro Suzuki has been mentioned as a potential trade piece, but there’s no way the 40 year old whose numbers are declining is as appealing as the 30 year old who can motor.
I know it’s frowned upon to trade within the division, especially to a most-hated rival, but the Boston Red Sox could use an outfielder since they lost Ellsbury, and they have a surplus in starting pitching. A Gardner for Felix Doubront trade could be mutually beneficial, as the Sox would get a legit center fielder and the Yankees would get a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter (and a second south paw).
I want the Yankees to keep Gardner and to have Ellsbury complement him, rather than replace him. But if they do trade Gardner, it better be to bolster the starting rotation.