At the end of October 2020, the Yankees declined outfielder Brett Gardner’s $10 million option and sent him into free agency.
The reasons for that vary. Brett Gardner started in slow in 2019. Then, he ended up with a career-high 28 home runs and landed third in Golden Glove voting. In the COVID shortened 2020 season, Gardner’s stats dropped while his age, of course, rose. At 37-years-old, no one assumes that couldn’t be a factor.
Meanwhile, fellow Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier seemed to be hitting his stride. In 2020, the 26-year-old starting left fielder hit .267/.394/.511. Overall, he brought a consistency that he lacked in his hot and cold performances of the past several season.
So, although it was not exactly a surprise the Yankees re-signed Brett Gardner for the 2021 season, it was also not a given.
The Fourteenth Season in Pinstripes
Now, the question isn’t whether Gardner will suit up in pinstripes for his 14th straight year as a Yankee. Instead, it has become what, exactly, his presence means for a team with their eye on the pennant and the potential to take it.
His teammates, according to their social media accounts, are happy to celebrate his return.
Aaron Judge tweeted a GIF captioned “Gardy Party!” Pitcher CC Sabathia posted an Instagram photo of Gardner with the words “I was gettin worried. We good now LET’S GO!!” And Clint Frazier let the world know he was “happy to have bg back!”
Mentors and Proteges
Gardner’s longtime presence in the clubhouse no doubt brings a sense of familiarity to the reportedly close-knit team. Likewise, many fans expressed relief that their veteran outfielder would be back in the Bronx come April.
Where the impact of Gardner’s return will be felt most, though, is on the field. As the “fourth” outfielder, Gardner provides a reliable, experienced option for the injury prone Yankees. Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Clint Frazier have all missed significant playing time the past several seasons.
The only one of those players Gardner could arguably pose a starting threat to is Frazier, but those fears—expressed upon Gardner’s signing by some fans—seem to be unfounded. Manager Aaron Boone confirmed Frazier’s position, and he expressed confidence in both the veteran and the fourth year during a February 20 press conference.
The Fastest Yankee
During his fourteen year Yankee career, Gardner proved to be an asset both offensively and defensively. Often lauded as one of the fastest runners in the MLB, he’s racked up 270 stolen bases, and, perhaps even more impressively, he’s only been caught trying to steal 64 times in 13 seasons. He’s only one of two Yankees—the other being Derek Jeter— to ever hit 100 home runs and steal 250 bases. On defense, he won the Fielding Bible Award back to back in 2010 and 2011, and he picked up the Golden Glove Award in 2016.
Gardner’s career, however, has also been plagued with a fair share of injuries. Over the course several seasons, Gardener endured wrist and elbow surgeries. He also underwent core surgery to repair damage to muscle near his ribs. He suffered bone spurs, arm fractures, and most recently in the 2019 season, left knee inflammation. Still, Gardner’s has been a career defined by toughness and grit—despite his injuries, he has only been placed on the injured list three times.
Like any longtime player for a classic team, Gardner has seen his fair share of history. He even made it from time to time.
Near the beginning of his career in 2008, he ran across home plate and scored the final run in the iconic Yankee Stadium. In 2009, he played on the World Series winning team that handed New York their first world championship in nine years. He played with Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera—and that’s not mentioning any of the legends he played against.
Brett Gardner in 2021
Now, on the precipice of the 2021 season and Gardner’s 14th in the Majors, the Yankees are poised to make history once more. Their goal is the same as every team’s goal: to win it all. But their odds are better than most.
Gardner’s deal is just for one year. It guarantees him $4 million and includes player and team options for the 2022 season. What happens next is anyone’s guess. Still, as Gardner can attest, one season is all it takes to make it to the top.
And for Brett Gardner, that season starts now—as a Yankee once more.
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