The Yankees and Brett Gardner have already begun talks about a new contract, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets. A new arrangement between the two sides would bring Gardner back to the Bronx for at least a 13th season.
Gardner, 36, had a career year at the plate in 2019, hitting .251/.325/.503 with 28 home runs, 26 doubles, seven triples and 10 steals (in 12 attempts). The power surge should likely be taken with a grain of salt, thanks to the supercharged ball that led to record-setting home run levels throughout the league, but Gardner still demonstrated that there’s life left in his bat and once again displayed a quality approach at the plate (9.5 percent walk rate, 19.5 percent strikeout rate).
A reunion between the two sides has long looked plausible, but the recent revelation that Aaron Hicks will miss a substantial portion of the 2020 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery only increased the likelihood of a new deal. With Hicks shelved and Jacoby Ellsbury more than two years removed from his last MLB appearance, the Yankees have a clear need in center field. The free-agent market features little in the way of enticing options at the position (beyond Gardner himself), and Gardner was motivated enough to stay in New York last winter that he took what amounted to a $3MM pay cut to return to do so. Given all that context, it’s hardly a surprise to see the two sides proactively begin negotiations.
Gardner isn’t the burner that he once was on the basepaths and in the outfield, but he still remains a quality defender that is capable of handling center field work. He logged 820 innings in center in 2019, plus another 348 in left field, drawing positive marks for his glovework on the whole (+5 Defensive Runs Saved, +3.0 Ultimate Zone Rating, +2 Outs Above Average).
Gardner checked in at No. 32 on MLBTR’s Top 50 free agent rankings this week. As noted within, Gardner’s outstanding season and the thin market for center fielders could seemingly combine to get him a two-year deal elsewhere, but a one-year pact — and a raise on this year’s $7MM salary — to return to the Yankees seems likeliest.
As currently constructed, the Yankees have roughly $158.5MM committed to 10 players for the 2020 season. Add in another $35.9MM of projected arbitration salaries (via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz) for another 10 players plus a handful of pre-arbitration players to round out the roster, and the Yankees are looking at a payroll around $198MM before making any additions. They’re already at or over the luxury line as it is — luxury payroll, unlike actual payroll, is calculated based on contracts’ average annual value and also includes money for player benefits — though that doesn’t seem likely to be a major roadblock with regard to Gardner.