It’s hard to imagine Yankees lifer Brett Gardner wearing anything other than pinstripes. A third-round pick of the Bombers in 2005 and the last remaining member of New York’s 2009 title team, the 37-year-old outfielder’s Bronx tenure could, at long last, be coming to an end. The Yankees, as first reported by MLB insider Jon Heyman, are declining the veteran’s $10-million club option for 2021, making Gardner a free agent for the second time in as many years.
A one-time All-Star and former American League stolen-base leader, the left-handed-hitting Gardner was expected to play sparingly in 2020, serving as outfield depth behind presumed starters Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton (who instead has settled in as the Yankees’ primary DH), but wound up playing more than expected, appearing in 49 of 60 regular-season games. A year after launching a career-best 28 homers, Gardner saw his production plummet in 2020, batting an anemic .223 across 130 mostly forgettable at-bats. Still, Gardner remained an important locker-room figure, providing veteran leadership as the team’s longest-tenured player.
Gardner, who ranks third among all-time Yankees in career stolen bases, will have a chance to test the market this winter, though it’s conceivable the Bombers bring him back at a more affordable rate than the $10 million his club option called for. The former Gold Glover was one of several players to reach free agency as a result of having their option declined, joining the likes of teammate J.A. Happ, former MVP Ryan Braun, Mets backstop Wilson Ramos and Nationals playoff hero Howie Kendrick, among other notable names.
There’s no harm in GM Brian Cashman bringing Gardy back on a team-friendly one-year deal, though maybe it’s time for the Yankees to think about giving a bigger role to Clint Frazier, who excelled offensively (.267/.394/.511 with eight homers in 131 at-bats) while surprisingly being named a Gold Glove finalist in right field. The Yankees also have Mike Tauchman at their disposal.