Extension candidate: Brett Gardner

Granderson, Cano finish fourth and sixth in AL MVP race
Report: Luxury tax threshold will remain unchanged for two years
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees are no strangers to the multi-year deal. In the last five years they’ve signed nine free agents, whether their own or from other teams, to contracts of at least three years. They’ve also executed two contract extensions of three or more years in that span, for CC Sabathia and Robinson Cano. Every member of the Yankees infield originally signed a deal of three years or more.

Yesterday Moshe looked at the possibility of signing Russell Martin to an extension. That would give the Yankees a superb defensive catcher for the next few years, and would allow them to gradually work in Jesus Montero. There are only three other Yankees position players whom we haven’t covered: Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher. Any of these three could get an extension offer this winter, but Gardner appears the most likely. He’s about to hit his first season of arbitration, so now could be the time to lock him up at a reasonable rate.

Depending on how you view the numbers, Gardner might be the most underrated player in the league. From 2010 through 2011 he accumulated 11.3 fWAR, which ranks 13th in all of baseball. Ask a random sampling of fans, and Gardner might not even rank in the top 50 position players. That’s a huge discrepancy, and the perception might make Gardner a prime extension candidate.

The issue with Gardner’s run value is that it almost entirely derives from his defensive numbers. We can see that Gardner is an elite defender in left; even with the eyeball test it’s hard to argue that he gets to more balls than his peers. It’s the degree of his superiority that’s under question. Almost half of Gardner’s value comes from UZR, which in the last two years has totaled more than 50 runs. That’s almost 20 runs better than the second-highest UZR in the last two years — at any position. Is Gardner really this good?

While there exists the chance that yes, Gardner is eons better than his peers in the field, it doesn’t seem as though he’s a singular talent. It’s more likely that he’s superior to his peers, just not to the degree that UZR suggests. Still, his defense does bring considerable value to the table. His offense is a weapon, too. In the last two years he has a 111 wRC+, meaning he’s performed above average. His .364 OBP ranks 26th among players with at least 1,000 PA in the last two seasons, and he’s stolen the second most bases. The combination leaves the Yankees with a valuable asset.

The only issue is with Gardner’s ability to continue what he’s done in the last two years. Since 1950 there are only 18 players who lasted 5,000 or more PA with an OBP greater than .350 and a SLG under .380. A few of the contemporary names might not inspire much confidence, either: Chone Figgins and Luis Castillo. Castillo is probably the better example. His performance only dropped off in his age-34 season, after a number of knee injuries. From 1999 through 2009 he produced an OBP of at least .350, which works very well for Gardner. While Figgins has been pretty horrible with the Mariners, his true decline really began this year, in his age-33 season. Even in his first season with Seattle he produced a .340 OBP.

Gardner enters his age-28 season in 2012, and is eligible for free agency following the 2014 season. Any extension should probably buy out a year of free agency, so a four-year deal with an option could be the best course of action should the Yankees pursue this. MLB Trade Rumors estimates Gardner’s salary at $3.3 million. It’s tough to project going forward, since it will depend on his performances in the next two seasons. Chances are he’ll earn between $14 and $17 million in his arbitration years. A four-year, $22 million deal, with an option and a buy-out, could possibly get the job done. That would cover Gardner through his age-31 season, which is around the time that his comparables started to fall off.

Chances are that the Yankees will work out a one-year deal with Gardner this year and then reassess next off-season. It’s tempting to lock up a player that brings a range of skills to the table. Gardner gets on base, steals bags, and plays superb defense. If the Yankees can get him locked up at a reasonable rate for four seasons, it could benefit them going forward. It pays to have a player like Gardner on the roster.

Granderson, Cano finish fourth and sixth in AL MVP race
Report: Luxury tax threshold will remain unchanged for two years
  • Yazman

    $5.5 mil/year for the age 28-31 seasons of (by some measures) one of the best OFers in the game.

    I’m in.

  • Plank

    Extension or not, I hope Gardner can keep up his performance. I think he will.

  • Thomas

    I really see no reason to lock him up. He won’t make a ton of money in arbitration, since advance stats like defense aren’t used by the arbitor. Also, he is still under team control for 3 years, so there is no fear of him leaving for a while. Unless the Yankees really want to lock him up during his FA years (three years in advance), there is no real reason to offer him an extension. The Yankees would be assuming all the risk (guaranteed contract at a salary likely equal to his arb salary) with minimal additional value (one year of FA bought out, but three years in advance).

    I like Gardner, but it seems smarter to let him go through arb.

    • Slugger27

      completely agree with all of this. let him play out his 3 arb seasons at a total that will likely be less than $20M, and reassess in november ’14

    • N Man

      The Yanks NEED Gardener with his speed they could turn stand up doubles into triples and Home Runs

  • Thomas Cassidy

    I say whenever his his arbitration years are up and he’s a FA, I’d offer Gardner a 4/32 or something like that. If he ends up being a .280-.300 hitter and 10 home run power, then I’d say a 5/75. Yes, that’s a lot, but look at what Crawford gets. He would be paid less to be a better player (even when Crawford was in Tampa).

    • Need Pitching

      Gardner will be 31 when he reaches free agency. A 4-5 year deal for a 31 y.o. OF who’s game is entirely dependent on his speed??? No thanks.

  • Plank

    What do you think of giving long term extensions to Romine and Montero now? The Rays looked like geniuses for doing that with Longoria and that turned out okay.

    • krazziness

      Long term extension could prohibit a trade unless it was VERY team freindly…

    • Thomas Cassidy

      Longoria is overrated. Although, Longoria was much more highly regarded than both Montero and Romine. Romine looked like crap in September, and he didn’t really play in AAA this season. I wouldn’t waste the money when they are under team control for what, like 6 or 7 seasons?

      • Plank

        You think Longoria is overrated?

        He’s one of the best 3B in the game. Is he rated higher than that by people?

        • Thomas Cassidy

          Yes. He’s never hit 30 home runs, never had 100 RBIs, never had 200 hits, never hit .290, never had a .400 OBP I don’t believe, nothing.

          Longoria is a very good player, but people need to get over the fact that his not a God.

          It’s annoying listening to people talk about how great he is when he misses a handful of games every year.

          • pat

            Except for the two years he hit over 30 homeruns, he’s never hit 30 homeruns

            • pat

              Maybe I’m missing an inside joke because he’s also had a couple seasons with 100+ RBI, as well as a season with 99.

              /probably missing something.

              • Plank

                I don’t think it’s an inside joke. I think he’s just really misinformed.

            • monkeypants

              Yeah, but except for the season he hit .294, and the two seasons when he had over 100RBIs, he’s never had those things either.

          • http://twitter.com/domeniclanza Domenic


            If you’re going to use arbitrary stats as your benchmarks, you should ensure that you use them correctly. Longoria has hit at least thirty home runs twice, driven in over one-hundred runs twice, and hit over .290 once.

            It’s also worth noting that he’s finished 4th, 1st, and 6th in the AL in bWAR over the past three years. He’s ranked 8th, 3rd, 2nd, and 10th in fWAR over his four-year career. Since his debut in 2008, only Albert Pujols has amassed more fWAR.

            If you don’t trust the defensive components, note that he’s tenth in ISO in MLB since 2008, and 17th in wRC+. He’s nothing short of fantastic … all this, while ignoring the fact that his BB% and K% have improved each season.

            • thenamestsam

              Plus 3rd base is a super weak offensive position these days. It seems like Thomas Cassidy is trying to use those (incorrect) benchmarks to say that he’s not a truly elite offensive player. It may be true that he falls a little short of the numbers put up by some 1st baseman, but hitting like he does while playing a gold glove third base is pretty freaking awesome.

              • http://twitter.com/domeniclanza Domenic

                I feel like his offense is elite regardless of his position.

                He placed 10th in the AL in wRC+ this season, tied with Pedroia and Beltre, and ahead of Cano and Victor Martinez … this, despite injuries and that nasty luck dragon.

    • Steve (different one)

      Montero maybe, but I don’t think anyone even knows if Romine is major league starter yet.

    • MattG

      The Rays did this with Longoria, ergo the Yankees should do it with Romine? What would that look like–4 years and $2 million?

      Romine should not be treated anything like Evan Longoria.

      Montero does not have a position yet, which makes him pretty hard to value. I think signing him would also probably hurt his trade value.

    • Ted Nelson

      One example does not prove a rule.

  • RetroRob

    I saw Moshe’s discussion last night and I do think there’s reason to discuss an extension with Martin now, especially since he’s only one-year removed from free agency.

    Gardner, however, is another case. He’s three years removed from free-agency, at which point he’ll be 31-years-old, the point when a man whose game is based on his legs might start to regress. Gardner’s skills are also not the type that get rewarded heavily in arbitration hearings. UZR and positional WAR will not be part of the discussion! I’m pretty sure no matter what he gets in an arbitration hearing, if it ever gets that far, will still be less than the value he delivers.

    Last, as much as I’m a fan of Gardner, I have a hard time believing he will still be the Yankees starting LFer (or any OFer) come 2015. There may never be a need for the Yankees to sign him to a contract more than one season long.

  • well you know

    Gardner would not have made the lineup against a lefty starter in the playoffs. It is absurd to contemplate givng 5 mill a year to a platoon player. His microscopic .272 “slugging” percentage vs LHP might have been the single worst offensive stat posted by any Yankee getting significant ABs in 2011.

    Given that Gardner will get his 3 mill this year, Cashman may flinch at paying another 2 mill for an Andruw Jones, so Gardner may be out there every day. But he has yet to show himself adequate against LHP.

    Even 3 mill a year will make Gardner untradeable, so I’m resigned that he’s not going anywhere as long as Cashman is GM. Two years ago no one would have thought that a .713 OPS/89 OP+ in 2011 would have punched Gardner’s ticket to a regular gig. The fact that will happen has less to do with dWAR than with his promoters (most notably Cashman hiself) getting dug in declaring his offense a success based on promising small sample sizes that have not panned out.

    • Need Pitching

      At 3M per year, every team in baseball would take Brett Gardner. He’s been a slightly above average offensive player with elite defense, and only 3M. That is an absolute steal.

    • MattG

      If you don’t want Gardner to kick your dog, stop letting him (your dog) shit on his (Brett Gardner’s) lawn.

    • thenamestsam

      I’m guessing you skipped the part of the article about his offense where it showed he’s above average. If last season is too small a sample for you, he’s also above average for his career. Yes, he’s not a slugger. If you look only at what every player can’t do they’re all terrible. Cano only has 28 career steals!(etc.)

      If you really believe that Brett Gardner’s 3 million salary makes him untradeable, I’m not sure how to argue against that. He was rumored to have been discussed as part of a Greinke package last year, and both the White Sox and Royals have been rumored to be interested in the past. Personally I’d view him as one of the Yankees best trade chips but its basically impossible to make any convincing argument about that since we have no way of knowing how much other teams value certain players.

      • well you know

        89 OP+ is not above average, by definition, and I think that’s a better indicator. Also, Gardner had the benefit of not starting against a number of lefties. If his performance against LHP is imputed to a full season, the resulting OPS+ would sink even lower.

        • Yankee77

          The reason he hasn’t hit well against Good leftys is because he has not been asked to after coming to the big show.
          Jeter has trouble hitting right handers but, he still goes out there every day.
          In the minors, Brett was not bad hitting lefties, not great but, not bad either. The only way one can learn to hit tough lefties is to get in there against them.

    • Need Pitching

      and its not his OPS that punched his ticket to an every day gig, its his elite defense and basestealing to go along with an average-ish bat.

    • Sarah

      You don’t know that since the Yankees didn’t make it to the LCS against Texas. He was red hot during the playoffs and Girardi has let Gardy play against lefties when he’s hot. Jones could have DH-ed or played some RF for Swish if Gardy stayed hot.

      I can think of about 29 other teams who would like Gardner to play CF or LF for them for $3M a year.

      • well you know

        Montero was going to DH against lefties and Jones was going to play LF. And the notion of sitting Swish is absurd since he killed lefties all year.

        Gardner got the opportunity to play more against lefties in the reg season because Jorge was so abysmal as a righty DH that it opened a spot in the lineup. Had nothing to do with Gardner’s own hitting and he did not take advanatage of the opportunity to prove he could hit lefties. His numbers were poor.

        • Eric

          That has more to do with Girardi’s obsession with lefty-righty matchups. Gardner has shown throughout his career he doesn’t have a split against LHP

          • well you know

            Yes, that’s what people said in 2010 when Austin Kearns was taking Gardner’s ABs vs. lefties.

            In 2011 Gardner got his chance and did not come through against LHP. Look at the splits. The non-existent slugging percentage is very significant because it shows he’s not getting good swings.

            • Eric

              Like I said, which you don’t seem to get is that his at-bats against LHP in 2011 was limited and because of small sample size you can’t go on that.

              Of course if he had good numbers against lefties but with small sample size you would be the first to point that out (that is was a small sample size).

              Girardi’s always been a slave to the lefty-righty philosophy. Gardner was really the only regular in the lineup he’d consider doing it to because of his lack of “star power.”

              We know Jeter is more susceptible to righties but Girardi would never platoon him.

    • Ted Nelson

      “Even 3 mill a year will make Gardner untradeable, so I’m resigned that he’s not going anywhere as long as Cashman is GM.”

      This is ludicrous. Totally ludicrous.

      • well you know

        Look at the Giants’ CF situation. Andres Torres is a player very much like Gardner (extremely fast, premium defender) who had the year in 2010 we would dream for Gardner to have: .823 OPS, 16 HRS, .479 slugging percentage, 26 steals. That got him $2.2M in arbitration.

        After Torres fell off in 2011 to a .680 OPS, the Giants went looking for a replacement and whom did they go for? Melky and his 120 OPS+ and tons of extra base hits. They didn’t come asking about Gardner, whose 2011 was, from an offensive perspective, not a whole lot better than Torres’ own bad year.

        The talent that is hardest to find is the talent to hit a baseball. The talents that Gardner has (speed on the bases and the ability to run down fly balls) are talents that teams look for in young players to whom they can pay the minimum.

        BTW, I have great appreciation for Gardner’s effort, which is always top-notch. It’s not his fault that Melky was banished.

        • Sarah

          Let’s see if they play Melky in CF next year. Also, the Giants probably would rather have Gardner in CF than Melky, but there was no way the Yankees would have traded him for Sanchez. No way to know that Melky is going to repeat in 2012, esp in that ballpark.

  • Paul from Boston

    Seems silly to worry about the Yankees of all teams saving a few million. If Gardner pulls a hammy, there goes all that savings.

    • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

      And if Granderson or Cano completely tear their knees, there goes all those savings too…

      • Plank

        The Cano and Granderson extensions couldn’t have worked out better for the teams.

        • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

          I know, all I’m saying is that a random serious injury could happen to anyone and that shouldn’t be a reason not to sign said player(s) to extensions.

          • Paul from Boston

            That’s not the reason. The reason is Gardner’s value is highly dependent only one tool. If that one tool fails, he’s not an asset and likely a liability, esp with his horrid lack of power. The Yankees can always pay the most. There is reason to

            • Eric

              And if Cano injures his wrist, then all his tools would be just as worthless.

              Gardner’s game was never going to be power. His value to the Yankees or any team has always been speed and defense. It is more important than you seem to think.

              Remember before Gardner arrived how all the talk was how the Yankees needed to get younger, faster and more athletic? They never had a shortage of big boppers. People have short memory.

  • Dicka24

    I don’t have an issue in letting Gardner play out his arb years, as some have mentioned. He’s not going to get any of the absurd awards other players have received, since he isn’t an rbi, homer, big production type hitter. Plus, no extension means the Yankees protect themselves against a drop off of some kind.

    That being said, the benefit of locking him up to a 4 year deal, with an option maybe, is that you’d have Gardner locked up till he reaches that low 30’s age where signing players becomes risky. A 4 year deal puts him into his age 32 season. Again though, nothing wrong with 3 years of control, on a season to season basis.

    One other thing, is whether or not Gardner would want to sign a 4 year deal. If he believes in his abilities, then hitting free agency at 31 would be better than doing so at age 32 or 33. In essence, a 4+ year deal with the Yankees would pretty much amount to his big payday.