The longest-tenured member of the Yankees will be back in pinstripes for 2019, as the team announced they have agreed to terms with Brett Gardner after declining his $12.5 million club option for the 2019 season. He will be paid a $2 million buyout since the team declined his option.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect at the end of the season,” Gardner told MLB.com, “but being able to come back and rejoin this special group of guys we have in place, continue my career in a Yankees uniform — and hopefully finish it in a Yankees uniform — it means a great deal to me.
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported on Twitter that Gardner will earn $7.5 million in 2019. At the moment, it is unclear if he will earn any incentives for playing time or other milestones. The 35-year-old hit .236/.322/.368 (90 wRC+) with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs in the final guaranteed year of the contract he signed with the Yankees in 2014. He saw his playing time shrink down the stretch as he fatigued yet again in the second half as the team swung a last-minute trade for Andrew McCutchen from the San Francisco Giants.
Gardner went 0-for-8 with three walks in five postseason games for the Yankees in 2018. He started in center field for Game 2 and Game 3 of the American League Division Series against Boston.
Gardner technically will get $9.5 million because of the buyout, but the team will only face a $7.5 million luxury tax hit because the buyout quantity was guaranteed to be paid from the last contract. Therefore, it was in the average annual value of the old contract as a sunken cost.
With free agency beginning in earnest Friday evening, it’s important to look at Gardner’s role for the 2019 season. I get the feeling that he won’t be a full-time player. Gardner’s abilities as a defender, baserunner and veteran leader can certainly help this team be better next year. Aaron Boone can also manage his workload to avoid the second-half burn out that we often see from him.
“We have some unfinished business. It was tough to sit back and watch the rest of the postseason this year,” Gardner said to MLB.com. “It was a great learning experience for us. We have a young team and had a great season, but we came up short of our goal.”
The most important part of this move is that it reinforces the once formidable outfield depth in New York. The 2018 Yankees got outfield appearances from Jace Peterson, Shane Robinson, Tyler Wade and Neil Walker because of injuries and trades. The team really can’t rely on Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier because of their injury histories. Top prospect outfielder Estevan Florial needs more development, and depth guys like Ryan McBroom, Mark Payton and Zack Zehner probably aren’t options yet. Who does that leave? Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. That’s a pretty solid starting outfield.
But, then again, the Yankees had a similar situation in 2017 and swung a trade for Stanton. This team could still go out and make a big splash for someone like Michael Brantley or Bryce Harper. Point is, the Yankees got caught with their pants down when all of their outfield depth suddenly dried up in 2018. I think this is a smart baseball move for a team with more additions to make before Spring Training opens in February.