The difficulty of trading Brett Gardner

(Rich Schultz/Getty)

(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The murmurs started when the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury, but grew much louder when they signed Carlos Beltran last Friday. Given the Yankees’ myriad needs, they could trade Brett Gardner to help shore up an area of weakness. While it might make sense in terms of the current roster construction, the proposition becomes much more difficult when viewing it from a resource allocation standpoint.

Just because the Yankees have something of a surplus does not mean they must trade it away. We’ve seen first hand how quickly a surplus can become a deficit. If the Yankees were to trade Gardner, and then saw Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Alfonso Soriano miss time due to injury, they’re facing time with Zoilo Almonte as a starting outfielder.

Injuries happen, of course, and it’s not as though teams are expected to have major-league-ready backups at every position. Perhaps the better point is that since both Beltran and Ellsbury have injury histories, keeping Gardner helps insure the Yankees against missing too much production if they do miss time. Beltran could need more than a few games at DH, and chances are the Yanks could use Soriano there for a non-trivial number of games as well. Keeping Gardner allows them to keep the DH spot rotating, perhaps helping keep everyone healthy.

Insurance and flexibility aren’t the only reason to consider keeping Gardner. They might not even be the strongest. If the Yankees can’t get back a player as valuable as Gardner, trading him becomes a liability. There are many different ways of assessing value, but by most measures Gardner has been an underrated player throughout his career, particularly since he took over as a starting outfielder in 2010.

While a large portion of Gardner’s value comes from his defense, which is difficult to quantify, he’s no slouch on offense. Since he became a starter in 2010, Gardner has produced 35.2 runs with his bat. He’s no Jose Bautista or Ryan Braun, but he has still created the 39th (out of 117) most runs in the majors in that time span. In 2013 his 8.3 runs on offense ranked 29th out of 50 qualified OF. That’s not bad for a guy who creates most of his value with the glove.

Speaking of his glove, Gardner has proven his value in left field. While he started there, in 2010 and 2011, he was far and away the best defensive LF in baseball by every available measure. A move to left field actually increases that overall value,* since Gardner is orders of magnitude better than the average MLB left fielder. All of this makes it difficult to get a real grasp of Gardner’s actual value.

*Yes, the defensive stats at FanGraphs are all flawed in ways. You can plug in plenty of numbers and come to this conclusion, but for this exercise we’ll just use FG’s. In 2011, Gardner produced 26.7 runs with his glove. Since he played in left field, he got a -5.8 positional adjustment, for a total defensive value of 20.9 runs. In 2013, in center field, he produced -0.5 runs with his glove, and got a positional adjustment of +1.8 runs, for a total of 1.3 runs. The points are 1) Gardner is much better compared to the league average left fielder than his is the average center fielder, and 2) even if Gardner produced 18 runs with his glove in center, he’d still be a wash with his value in left. It’s not the most airtight argument in the world, but from it we can discern the premise: playing a player with a great glove and decent bat in left field can pay dividends.

If Gardner reaches free agency next off-season, what are the chances he gets a contract within $100 million of Ellsbury’s deal? While his market could change between now and then, especially with a strong 2014 at the plate, I can see him getting a four-year, $50 million contract. That would represent one of the greatest bargains on the market, given what other, less valuable outfielders have gotten. If this is Gardner’s perceived value around the game, he could very well be more valuable playing for the Yankees than in a trade for another player.

On trade possibility making its rounds is Gardner for Homer Bailey. With the expected departure of Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds need a center fielder and a leadoff hitter. The Yankees need pitching, so the swap seems reasonable on the surface. It’s when we examine the issue through the lens of actual vs. perceived value that we see discrepancies.

From the commentary I’ve read, the idea is Gardner and a prospect for Bailey. That certainly represents Bailey’s and Gardner’s perceived values, but in terms of actual value it’s tough to justify. After years of struggling, Bailey has rounded into form the last two seasons, producing a 111 ERA+ in 417 innings. That is, he’s a solid No. 3 on a first-division team, an asset the Yankees could certainly use.

For his part, Gardner has been a solid starting outfielder no matter his position. His bat might not rank among the best, but it’s better than is generally perceived. If that value isn’t reflected in his trade value, then he could be worth more playing for the Yankees, in a season when they’ll almost certainly need four outfielders, than as a trade chip, even for a position of need. That goes especially if the Yankees can lock him up on a reasonable deal. Given the sizes of left and center fields at Yankee Stadium, they might need two guys like Ellsbury and Gardner to cover ground.

If the possibility came up and Walt Jocketty offered Brian Cashman Bailey for Gardner, straight up, Cashman would have a difficult time refusing. He needs a reliable starting pitcher, and Bailey has proved himself as such in the last two years. Entering his age-28 season, he could be poised for a career year. At the same time, Gardner has plenty of unperceived value on the field. It’s not as though he’ll languish on the bench and get two starts a week. If he stays he’ll get at least 550 at-bats and plenty of time in the field.

The question of perceived vs. actual value makes the idea of trading Gardner a complex one. If he’s more valuable than the player coming back, then why would the Yankees trade him? Unless they’re desperate to fill a position of need, they should probably refrain. Which is to say, I don’t think they’re going to trade Gardner in the next few weeks unless someone offers a player within Gardner’s actual value range.

Categories : Musings


  1. BronxBomber says:

    Someone would have to bowl Cashman over with an offer to pry Gardner away. I think having both Gardner and Elsbury in the lineup and causing havoc on the base paths could give us a dimension we haven’t seen in a while.

    • I'm a looser and a trader baby so why don't you kill me? says:

      That could be true, but Gardner’s running (specifically base stealing) seems to have taken a few steps back. Is the perception that that is going to improve just because a better base stealer is around?

      • RetroRob says:

        Hard to say if it’s taken a step back. One year doesn’t tell us much. Same with defensive stats. Need multiple years. Gardner’s defensive stats in CF were very strong when he played there in the past, while this year they were not as strong. Not uncommon at all to have year-to-year fluctuations, sometimes quite wide. I think both Ellsbury and Gardner are top defenders. I am not convinced that Ellsbury is better than Gardner, just that the defensive metrics last year favored Ellsbury, who himself had a season a few years back where he rates quite poorly in the OF. It didn’t make sense then, and we now have plenty of data and scouting evaluations that confirm it didn’t make sense.

        Yet, maybe, Gardner’s weaker SB numbers and his medium-level defensive metrics last year are the first signs that he’s lost a half-a-step. Or maybe it’s meaningless.

        • BronxBomber says:

          Gardner’s hesitation on the base paths has driven me crazy (not to mention the inability to bunt), but I was hoping maybe Ellsbury could mentor him a bit. I think having those two giving catchers fits and patroling the outfield would be great.

          • Mouse says:

            You are in for a surprise if you think Gardy is more hesitant to run than most other base stealers or that he doesn’t bunt as well as other people. Very few players bunt well and very few steal as much bases as Gardy ever since he’s been in the league.

            • BronxBomber says:

              I know bunting is a lost art, but even the YES announcers were getting on him for waiting too long in the count to take off – unless it’s Girardi that limits him, but I thought I heard him say “Gardy” usually has the green light to take off.

              • Mouse says:

                So you go by what announcers say now? Nobody runs early all the time. If you think he’s hesitant, then you should watch Ellsbury and you see the same thing.

              • Laz says:

                Sure he could be more aggressive, but i’m happy with the results. Take a look back at what Jeter or Damon were stealing at the top of the lineup.

        • qwerty says:

          Well if one year doesn’t tell you much how can 17 game starts in 2008, or 63 in 2009 tell you more about Gardner’s fielding? Maybe some of you stat heads can explain it better to me. I think all of Gardner’s CF stats from 2008 to 2012 should be thrown out. He should only be judged on his 2013 defensive stats and onward.

        • I'm a looser and a trader baby so why don't you kill me? says:

          Yeah I was commenting only on SB’s which are measurable in an obvious way unlike the defensive stats…

      • Mouse says:

        Ellsbury’s stolen base numbers goes up and down, too. I believe Gardner didn’t run as much last year because he didn’t want to risk getting injured at a time it seem everyone on the team was getting injured. That shows he is even more of a team guy than most nowadays.

        • qwerty says:

          Gardner steals bases because he’s fast. He’s not the type of instinctual base stealer that Ellsbury is. He may steal more this year because of the competition, or he may not. That’s one thing I’ve never liked about Gardner, he’s inconsistent.

        • I'm a looser and a trader baby so why don't you kill me? says:

          It’s the success rate I’m looking at, not the total number of successful steals. Also, I think the second part of your comment is not only completely speculation, but silly.

        • dalelama says:

          For the speed he has Gardner is a poor base runner. Plus nobody can take a called third strike down Broadway as pretty as Brett does. Let’s not forget he also chokes in the post season with the best of them.

  2. Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

    In 2013 his 8.3 runs on offense ranked 29th out of 50 qualified OF.

    That’s good?

    • Need Pitching & Hitting says:

      It’s solid for a defense first player.

      • viridiana says:

        Excellent post by Joe. Gardner certainly has been undervalued– often by Yankee fans. His SB numbers were down last year because he had some nagging injuries. Healthy, he stole close to 50 bags but is always talked about as “not knowing how to use his speed.” I would hope Yanks think long and well before trading him. More importantly, I hope Yanks aren’t backing off FA market just when they are within reach of fielding playoff0-worth team. Infante seems like no-brainer.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

      An average bat with a #1 glove? Yes please.

    • Mouse says:

      I don’t know how this runs created thing works but he was on a very bad offensive Yankee team last year. That might have worked against him?

  3. Evan says:

    What about Gardner for Sandoval?

    • hogsmog says:

      I think that’s a net loss on our part. I’d much rather have Gardner/Ellsbury with Beltran and Soriano trading off at DH. If Gardner leaves, Beltran can’t play every day and will probably have to give a few at-bats to Ichiro. Also, Pablo isn’t exactly the most durable player.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner (the rarely spoken-of sibling) says:

      It’s crossed my mind. I honestly think that, if Sandoval were available, we could trade from the pitching excess and not have to use Gardner.

      • I'm a looser and a trader baby so why don't you kill me? says:

        What is this pitching excess of which you speak? I guess the 5th starter competitors?

  4. Bill says:

    Don’t see how cashman could ever turn down a 1 for 1 trade of Bailey for Gardner (also don’t think that would ever be on the table) but yanks need pitching and Gardner plus a prospect for Bailey i think would be a great deal

  5. Jedile says:

    I say we trade Gardner and TAustin for Chris Sale!

  6. I'm One says:

    Given the make-up of the Yankees OF, I definitely think Gardner has more value to the Yankees than to other teams. The Yankees need someone to back up Ellsbury in case of injury (one of the reasons I’m not sold on this signing) and Gardner has proven he’s a starting CF on most teams. Add in Beltran’s potential for injury and, I agree, adding in anything of significant value to Gardner in a trade for Bailey doesn’t seem to make sense.

    • TWTR says:

      I agree, the Yankees need to get maximum value back.

      On balance, I don’t like trading position players for pitchers, given their fragility, but Gardner has had trouble staying healthy as well.

    • Vincent Vega says:

      You’re not sold on Ellsbury because of 2 freak injuries in his career?

      • TWTR says:

        Not only are his injuries overgeneralized, but because of the time he has missed, I think Ellsbury has more upside than some realize, even at age 30 which is what earned him this contract.

      • Dirty Water says:

        The injuries that cost him 28 games last year weren’t freak and were more the result of the wear and tear stealing 50 bags puts on a body.

  7. Kosmo says:

    Gardner is a good solid player who is now entering his walk year. What are NYs future plans regarding Gardner? If he puts up career average numbers he´s in for a nice payday, will the Yanks be interested in re-signing him ? I´d say probably not. NY could use corner OFs with power.
    If the right deal comes along that can strengthen the team right now I´d say it´s worth the gamble.

  8. rtygkjk says:

    Did Joe disappear and these articles were found on his desktop to be published all at once?

    • RetroRob says:

      Joe’s reappearance has been a welcome addition this offseason and hope it continues, but not sure it will.

      My guess is Mike’s schedule with CBS has reached a level that Joe was asked to come out of retirement. Think of him as Andy Pettitte!

      • Not the case at all. Just felt the itch to start writing again. There have been many, many days where I write something and it has to wait until the next day, because Mike has everything covered. He’s a machine.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

          I might have issues with how negative Mike has been the past 12 months, but his work ethic is never to be doubted. I can’t imagine putting out as much content as he does.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner (the rarely spoken-of sibling) says:

          So this is not, say, the random writings of 2Pac being leaked on an hourly basis? Cool.

        • Rick says:

          It sure is nice to have you back though. I thoroughly enjoy your writing.

        • RetroRob says:

          Joe, even better, although I did like the idea of you coming out of retirement!

          Hope your schedule allows you to continue to post regularly, or semi-regularly, although work and life does have a habit of sometimes getting in the way.

  9. Farewell Mo says:

    Unless the Yankees can get a #3 or better starting pitcher or a slightly better than league average 2nd or 3rd basemen, I wouldn’t trade Gardner.

    Can’t see going into the season with elderly players like Soriano and Beltran in the corners backed up by only Ichiro and Zoilo Almonte unless they can really strengthen one of their remaining holes.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner (the rarely spoken-of sibling) says:

      Absolutely yes on the first part.

      While I wouldn’t call them “elderly,” I think having four solid MLB outfielders like this is going to be a luxury you were glad you had as the season wore on.

      There better be a solid reason why you’d paint yourself into the corner of having to put Beltran and Sorian out there every night.

  10. Bill says:

    Keep Gardner. Offer Sanchez or Murphy, Mason Williams or Slade Heathcotte, Campos or Turley and Nunez (Sox Choice for each of the “ors”.

    Gives Sox fair value and gives Yanks a rotation of CC, Kuroda, Sale, Nova and WHOEVER is the 5th starter (with Sale and Nova both being young and affordable for a while.

    • Kosmo says:

      I just can´t see the Sox trading Sale for anyone. I could see them trading Santiago a decent SP.

    • Chip says:

      Not nearly enough for Sale. The White Sox would need to have someone like Walker or Taveras just to start the discussions and would probably need a few more top-100 prospects or young major league talent to trade him. He’s basically Kershaw but younger and cheaper

      • Rick says:

        Well he’s not Kershaw, but he’s good. Here’s to praying Kershaw doesn’t sign an extension next year. I’d like to be able to just have a shot at him.

    • Farewell Mo says:

      The Yankees could offer their top 5 prospects and it still might not be enough for Sale.

      Chicago doesn’t want longshots, they’ll want someone AAA who’s on the verge of starting in the majors

    • Jorge Steinbrenner (the rarely spoken-of sibling) says:

      That’s not fair value.

      Let’s all just back away from the Chris Sale pipe, please.

    • mitch says:

      I think the Sox would turn down the entire top 10 prospect list for Sale.

    • Rick says:

      LOL that wouldn’t even begin the conversation. I can’t even make my “LOL” big enough. “Hey CWS, give us your best player for our horrendous infielder that we don’t want, and a bunch of guys who have yet to reach Triple A and aren’t good enough to skip the level! Trust me, it’s totally even.”

  11. I'm a looser and a trader baby so why don't you kill me? says:

    How do you solve a problem like Brett Gardner?

  12. Chip says:

    Franklin and Paxton for Gardner? Paxton would give you a back-end starter with serious upside and Franklin is a high ceiling switch hitting second baseman who hasn’t put it all together yet. I feel like Gardner is exactly the type of player the Mariners need in that huge ballpark

  13. xman says:

    which is why you don’t trade him.

  14. xman says:

    dump Vernon Wells. Surplus of outfielders solved.

    as for pinching pennies (trading a surplus OF contract). This shortage of cash should’ve entered the collective FO minds, when they elected to grant Derek Jeter a raise, this year.

  15. Get Phelps Up (looking for a new name) says:

    Gardner LF, Ellsbury CF and Sori and Beltran split RF/DH duties.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner (the rarely spoken-of sibling) says:

      I passed on Ivan Tuna and Michael Panini.

      Also, when it was still a meme, I was always two seconds away from becoming “Sons of Sam Pearce.”

  16. Andy E says:

    Homer Bailey is not a #3 starter in a top flight division. The guy’s a number 2 atleast, and for the past 2 season has been the Red’s ace. Who was our number 3 starter? And what about the Red Sox?

  17. Yankee Parrothead says:

    I dont think they should trade Brett, and I don’t think they will. Personally I think Brett Gardner has been undervalued by the fans and sportswrites his whole career. That has not seemed to be the case with Girardi and Cashman however. Both have constantly sung his praises and been widely criticized for planning on him as one of their starters. Unless they get blown away I don’t see that changing

  18. Mouse says:

    As a Gardner fan, I hope he gets traded to a team that will value him more than the Yankees have or will. He is in his walk year so I have absolutely no doubt that barring injury he will put up his best year so far.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner (the rarely spoken-of sibling) says:

      And he is not valued, other than your ass is telling you he isn’t, because…..

  19. Mike says:

    Gardner is like a poor man’s Ellsbury. I think we should hold out for a top of the rotation pitcher. I’d rather not lose him because he’s home grown and he’s a great player.

  20. Laz says:

    If we keep him we get all that, plus a draft pick.

  21. New Haven Yankee says:

    Dump Wells and Suzuki. Gardner – Ellsbury – Beltran/Soriano should be our outfield.

  22. Claudell says:

    Gardner is too young and cheap. Get rid of him.

  23. Gardner Romine Phelps for Jeff Samardzija?
    Any takers?

  24. Ironia Horse says:

    Gardner is one of the least “natural” players I have ever seen. He’s a fast runner who plays baseball..doesn’t seem to have the instincts..
    Congrats Joe…

  25. Tom says:

    DO NOT TRADE Gardner!!!

    Gardner, Ellsbury, Beltran/Soriano (one plays OF other DH)

    Trade Ichiro and dump Vernon to the dumpster

  26. Tom says:

    Probably worth noting that if Gardner plays a bunch (which even without injuries he will) and puts up #’s in line with his past #’s, he probably could/should be given a QO.

    That should be factored into his trade value as well or another reason why the Yankees should keep him.

    If it was a deal with Bailey though I think he would also probably get a QO so it would cancel out.

  27. W.B. Mason Williams says:

    I wish Zoilo could get another look at the ML level. It sucks he got hurt, but he’s been good at Winter Ball.

    I feel like he’s gonna be blocked from being the 4th OFer by our logjam.

    Then in 2015 it’ll be nice having both him and Gardner as options if Soriano doesn’t get resigned.

    Decisions, decisions.

  28. tradesfordays says:

    Gardner, Murphy, & Bird for Bailey. Go all out for Tanaka

    CC/Tanaka/Bailey/Nova/Kuroda with Pineda/Phelps/Nuno waiting in the wings

    Lineup Ellsbury/Infante/Beltran/Tex/McCann/Soriano/Jeter/Johnson/Reynolds-Hart-Morse?

    cheap LOOGY(S)

    Rotation would have blend of experience and power arms
    lineup would be balanced with speed, power, handedness
    Trust Joe to figure out the bullpen

  29. Central Park Ranger says:

    I don’t think team management understands what they trade when they trade Gardner.
    You cannot see it just by crunching numbers or analyzing stats.
    What made Dynasty team of 1990th one of the best baseball teams ever?
    It was not team of Superstars – they have good players in most positions and decent pitching,
    but what made this team great was team spirit. They were Yankees, they played like Yankees
    – not just to do their job and fulfill their professional duties as professional baseball players – they played to win, win every game the could, and very game the could not.
    Now look at the last season – who played as a Yankee, with all the passion and heart, giving 100% of effort and more?
    I can name only one player, and his name is Brett Gardner.
    If we had 3-4 players like him, last season would be different.
    That’s what they are going to trade – the only player who plays as Yankee. The only player
    They are going to trade heart and soul of Yankees, they are going to trade team spirit. The only player who can energize the team and break the game they are losing, who may bring Yankees spirit back to the team.
    If they trade Gardner, Yankees may become another Mets.
    We did not make playoffs – it’s OK
    Third place in the division – it’s not so bad.
    Fourth place – we will be better next year.
    And so on…
    Do you want to be a fan of such a team? I don’t.
    Keep Brett Gardner for Yankees!

    • qwerty says:

      Gardner is the heart and soul of the yankees? When did this happen?

      • jupiter101 says:

        It happened right before your eyes. Ever notice that this is a different team when GGBG is in the lineup? His energy and love for the game and for the Yankees are contagious. And when playing outfield, he considers it his responsibility to get to every ball hit his way, no matter how far it is. Ever seen how he explodes out of the batter box after every infield ground ball and beats it to the first base time after time? Name any other player who does it all the time (cough, Cano, cough). Brett Gardner IS the heart and spirit of the Yankees, and there’s no denying it. We need to keep him at all costs, no matter what we might get for him.

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