After hearing about Jacoby Ellsbury’s huge deal last winter with the New York Yankees, who could have expected Brett Gardner to still be a Bronx Bomber?
Many might have scoffed at the thought, but not Brian Cashman, the NYY GM. Rather, he signed Gardner to a huge 4-year, $50 million extension just a couple of months later, even tossing in a club option for a 5th year with a $2 million buyout if the Yankees skip out on the 5th year option.
Asked about the motivation behind such a massive extension to a team already featuring a stellar outfield of Jacoby Ellsbury, Ichiro Suzuki, and Carlos Beltran, the explanation from Cashman was succinct: “It’s a demonstration from our end. We don’t typically do this, but it shows the level of confidence, belief and trust in the type of person he is, and we’re excited to know he’s going to be part of this thing going forward.”
Well, we’re going forward. Flashing forward in fact, to the first game of the 2014 Subway Series and Brett Gardner’s massive grand slam off of Bartolo Colon, his former teammate. Gardner is definitely paying off for Cashman, having already appeared in 35 games this season and batting .285, a solid improvement from his career average of .268 and a marked step up from last year.
While the rare glimpses of power like Monday’s bases-loaded blast are still rare for Gardner, slugging only .382, he works his way on base at a rate well above the league average, at .348. He does this mostly with sharp line drive singles and walks, not dissimilar the way from his teammates Derek Jeter and Ichiro score their runs, but what he really excels at is a skill those old dogs have begun losing in their golden years – basestealing. Brett Gardner is fast. Incredibly fast, maybe the fastest running player in the league with 7 stolen bases already this season and not even a hint of being caught stealing. He even tied Coco Crisp for the American League stealing title in 2011, with a staggering 49 bases nabbed right out from under the eyes of catchers all over the league.
What about the other side of the coin, you ask? Every positon player is expected not just to hit, but to defend against the same hits. Oh, Gardner can handle playing in the field just fine. In 2010 he posted an astounding WAR of 7.0, ranking him as one of 6 best players in the big leagues that year. Sure, he accomplished a fair amount of this with his quick feet and sharp bat, but nearly every advanced fielding metric in the game rated him as the best defensive left fielder in the game that year, and again the next year in 2011. Those same quick feet and sharp eyes that make him such a great batter and runner pair with a rocket on his left arm to make him the kind of outfielder who was built for highlight plays. Leaping and sliding catches, grabs at the wall, and bullet throws to get runners out on normally sure-fire safe hits are all staples of his repertoire.
While missing most of the 2012 season due to injuries, he came back strong last year with a WAR of 4.2 and is on pace to exceed that total again this season. With the kind of consistency and reliability Gardner has shown in pinstripes over his 6 year career, that $50 million deal is shaping up to be the kind of steal for the Yankees that the left fielder is so well known for himself.