Brett Gardner indicated last October that he wanted to return to the Yankees for another season, and almost five months later, the free agent outfielder’s stance hasn’t changed. Joe Bick, Gardner’s agent, told The New York Post’s Joel Sherman that his client was still preparing to play in 2022, and “would obviously prefer to stay with the [Yankees] the entirety of his career.” It isn’t a Bronx-or-bust situation, however, as Bick said that Gardner is open to playing for another club.
After 14 seasons in the pinstripes, Gardner is still putting up respectable numbers even as he approaches his age-38 season. Gardner was a 1.4 fWAR player over 140 games and 461 plate appearances last year, with his strong baserunning and decent left field/center field glovework offsetting a below-average (90 OPS+, 93 wRC+) slash line of .222/.327/.362. Gardner retained his good eye at the plate, finishing in the 92nd percentile of all players in walk rate. On the down side, Gardner delivered his sixth consecutive season of subpar hard-contact numbers, finishing well below the league average in hard-hit ball percentage, barrels, and barrel percentage.
As Sherman notes, most of Gardner’s offensive struggles took place early in the season, and before the league-mandated crackdown on doctored baseballs. Gardner had only a .507 OPS over his first 137 plate appearances last season, and then a much more solid .768 OPS over his final 324 PA.
It is also possible that Gardner might have been more productive if the Yankees had more flexibility in choosing when to deploy the veteran. Instead, Gardner ended up playing in 140 games due to a variety of injuries to other New York outfielders. While the Yankees figure to make some kind of move to their current outfield mix, they could simply opt to bring back a known quantity in Gardner, either alongside a more notable addition or maybe as the veteran complement to a younger outfielder (i.e. Estevan Florial) the Yankees hope can break out as a capable big leaguer.
The Bronx Bombers have re-signed Gardner to one-year contracts in each of the last three winters. His one-year, $12.5MM deal for the 2020 season carried a 2021 club option that was declined, and his most recent contract (a one-year, $5.15MM pact) had a twin option. Gardner had the first choice of whether or not to accept a $2.3MM player option for 2022, and if declined, the Yankees could then decide on a $7.15MM club option with a $1.15MM buyout. Both Gardner and the team declined the options, sending Gardner to the open market once again.
If Gardner did indeed look elsewhere for his next deal, he’ll face a lot of competition in the post-lockout signing frenzy. Teams may prefer younger (and cheaper) outfield depth options than a 38-year-old, though on the flip side, some clubs might appreciate the chance to get an experienced veteran into their clubhouse. The Phillies and Marlins have each been speculatively mentioned as potential fits for Gardner, as both teams have needs in the outfield and Gardner has longstanding ties to Phillies manager Joe Girardi and Marlins CEO Derek Jeter from their time together in New York.