As a soon-to-be 36-year-old and a pending free agent, Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner’s future looks uncertain beyond this season. However, unlike 39-year-old teammate CC Sabathia, Gardner isn’t planning to retire at year’s end, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post relays. Gardner unsurprisingly wants to continue his career with the Yankees, the lone franchise he has ever known since entering the pro ranks as a third-round pick in 2005.
“At this point in the season, I expect to be playing next year. Hopefully it’s here,” Gardner told Davidoff on Wednesday .”I feel like I’m definitely still capable.”
Gardner, who debuted in 2008 and is now the longest-tenured Yankee, is indeed “still capable.” On a team with no shortage of big-name stars, Gardner’s one of many less heralded players who have helped the Yankees survive an onslaught of key injuries this year. Across 380 plate appearances, Gardner has slashed a sturdy .265/.334/.484 en route to a 112 wRC+, which ties for the second-highest mark of his career. Never known as a major power threat, Gardner has chipped in 17 home runs and what’s easily a personal-best ISO of .228. Combining Gardner’s output at the plate with his typically strong defense and base running has given him at least 2.4 fWAR for the seventh straight season and the ninth in his career.
Considering Gardner continues to function at a high level, he should overcome his age to land a decent – albeit short-term – payday prior to 2020. Gardner’s currently playing on the $7.5MM salary the Yankees handed him last offseason after declining a $12.5MM option over him. The plan then was for Gardner to serve as depth behind starting outfielders Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks, but all three of those players have missed a substantial amount of time with injuries (Stanton has barely been a factor).
No doubt, Gardner’s presence has been highly beneficial this year, and he’s one of the reasons New York boasts the American League’s leading record (75-39). However, even though Gardner’s a still-productive player and a revered Yankee, it’s up in the air whether they’ll bring him back next year. Judge, Stanton and Hicks are all in line to return in the outfield, while potential breakout player Mike Tauchman has made a case that he should get a roster spot in 2020. As a pre-arbitration player, Tauchman should earn a far cheaper salary than Gardner next season. Plus, the Yankees won’t be able to send the soon-to-be out-of-options Tauchman to the minors then, which could also influence their decision if they make a choice between him and Gardner.
Not to be forgotten, the Yankees have corner outfielder Clint Frazier hanging around in Triple-A ball. While Frazier (25 next month) at least looks like a major league-caliber hitter, he hasn’t stuck in the bigs this year despite quality offensive numbers. But the Yankees are known to be bullish on Frazier – whom they’ve been unwilling to trade to this point – and might finally choose to dedicate a spot to him next season. It remains to be seen whether that would help push out Gardner, the more well-rounded player.