After the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven year deal earlier this off-season, talks began to swirl about the outfield alignment. The Yankees deemed Ellsbury their centerfielder of the present and future, leaving Brett Gardner-the previously considered centerfielder of the present and future-without a definite role. The plan seemed obvious, though, as the Yankees could simply move Gardner to left field and play Alfonso Soriano in right field. Problem solved. However, Robinson Cano decided to spurn the Yankees and sign with the Seattle Mariners, and in response the Yankees signed Carlos Beltran to a three year deal.
With the signing of Beltran, many media members and fans have speculated that the right move for the Yankees would be to trade Brett Gardner, and play an outfield of Soriano-Ellsbury-Beltran. While in theory trading Gardner while his value is at its highest as a centerfielder, and while he is on the last year of his contract, is a good idea, there is much more to the story. If the right deal presents itself Gardner should not be unavailable, but going out of their way to trade Gardner would be a foolish move for the Yankees.
One of the main issues with the 2013 Yankees was injuries, which in part caused players like Vernon Wells, Ben Francisco, Brennan Boesch, and Thomas Neal to patrol the outfield. Trading Brett Gardner would show a lack of understanding of what partially caused the Yankees to miss the playoffs in 2013, as the lack of depth in the outfield, among other positions, came back to hurt the Yankees in a bad way. While Ichiro was expected to play better than he did, he under no circumstances should have played 150 games while hitting .262/.298/.342. Unfortunately for the Yankees, during the entire season the team employed three or fewer major league caliber outfielders, so Ichiro took the field nearly every night. The Yankees currently find themselves with six outfielders on the roster in Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro, and Vernon Wells. Out of those six, only four deserve to be in the outfield on opening day, with of course only three spots available. It’s easy to say trade one of those four, but the right thing to do is to keep the depth, so situations like the 2013 outfield cannot come up again. There’s always the possibility of signing a 4th outfielder to replace Gardner, but the 2014 free agents are all overpriced, or less valuable than Gardner. Gardner is a known commodity, and trading a known just because and replacing him with an unknown is a risky move.
The Yankees can play Alfonso Soriano at DH some nights, Carlos Beltran at DH some nights, and sit Brett Gardner some nights when they want to give another player DH time and both Beltran and Soriano are in the lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury will also get a few days off per Joe Girardi’s managerial style, so between all of this the Yankees have four lineup spots accounted for with no issues in playing time. That being said, with the high risk of injuries with Alfonso Soriano (age 38) and Carlos Beltran (age 37) both in the lineup, keeping Gardner gives the Yankees a more than formidable replacement if one of the two gets hurt. For example, if Soriano gets hurt and is placed on the DL, the Yankees can simply slot Gardner into the outfield every night, and use the DH as a revolving door for Derek Jeter, Brian McCann, and whoever else needs time at the DH position. Keeping Gardner allows the Yankees to use the DH position in any way they need to, providing flexibility for Joe Girardi.
In addition, the 2015 Yankees will suffer if Brett Gardner is dealt away. Alfonso Soriano’s deal expires after this season, so the Yankees will have two starting outfielders in Ellsbury and Beltran, one of which will be 38 years old. The 2015 free agent class is headlined by Colby Rasmus and Michael Cuddyer in the outfield, and while more names could be available in trades, it seems likely the Yankees will want to fill the void with a player just like Brett Gardner. Trading Gardner now will only lead to a hole in the future, one which is unnecessary to make in the first place. The Yankees do have prospects coming up, but relying on prospects is risky at best, especially with the track record the Yankees have.
There are other ways to acquire talent if need be, such as trading prospects or signing free agents, both possibilities for the Yankees. With an abundance of outfield prospects, and some interesting pitching prospects rising quickly, the Yankees can certainly package a deal together for a Chase Headley type of player without needing to include Gardner. While no player should be completely off limits, the idea of trading Gardner is simply a rash decision that has not been analyzed deeply enough by the majority of those that defend it. With the current aging outfield, the future barren outfield, and the value of Gardner himself, the Yankees would be better off holding onto their speedy outfielder.