Brett Gardner has the exact profile of a Yankee fan favorite. He's home grown. He plays hard every day. He's a bit of an underdog because his skill set is undervalued in today's game. He had a breakout season in 2010 when he hit .277/.383/.379 and managed a 112 wRC+ while swiping 47 bases. 2011 was a bit of a regression season, as Gardner saw his BABIP fall to .303 from .340 and his wOBA fall to .321, but he still stole 49 bases and provided value to the Yankees through his excellent defense. 2012 looked like it may have been a breakout season for Gardner. Brett has been a .300 average shy of making an All-Star team, when his high OBP, steals and defense are added to the mix. Instead, Brett got injured early in 2012 and essentially missed the entire year. His absence took away the Yankees only real threat on the base paths and harmed the outfield defense. He should be healthy in 2013 and figures to once again contribute all the things that the Yankees don't typically do well.
Off the bat Gardner figures to give the Yankees durability in 2013. Despite having to literally throw himself all over the baseball field to do his job Brett had managed to play in at least 150 games in both 2010 and 2011. He missed a chunk of games in 2009, but with an entire year off there is no reason to believe he will be injury prone next season. Beyond that, Gardner figures to give the Yankees outstanding outfield defense. The defensive metrics love Gardner. In UZR terms he frequently rates as the best player in the game, but UZR has its flaws. Putting statistics aside Gardner still stands out as an elite defensive player, one who promises to prevent runs in 2013. Finally, Gardner figures to steal about fifty bases. That's what he did in 2010. That's what he did in 2011. Odds are that's what he'll do in 2013. Who knows how many pitches he'll disrupt in the process?
The only x-factor with Gardner is how frequently he'll get on base. The Yankees don't need him to hit for power, which is a good thing because he doesn't hit for power, but they do need him to get on base. For his career Gardner has an excellent .355 OBP. Bill James is projecting he'll have a .368 OBP next season. I'll take either of those and watch the steals accumulate afterwards.
Brett Gardner is fun to watch play baseball. He may not put a lot of pitches in the people, but he gives the Yankees value in other ways, ways that the team often overlooks. You may not feel that he is a 5 or 6 win player when healthy, the way Fangraphs does, driven by his defense, but his value is undeniable and the Yankees will benefit from getting him back.