The Unexpected Heroes

It happens every year. Injuries and/or ineffectiveness force each and every team to call up players from the minors, sometimes minor league lifers and other times rookies. Inevitably one of two or those players comes up big in some way, whether it be in one at-bat or over a prolonged stretch of time. The Yankees have enjoyed quite  bit of success from unexpected sources this season, and they ultimately needed every little bit of it en route to clinching a playoff spot.

Some call-ups obviously did more than others, but these five moments really stand out from the pack. Presented in chronological order, let’s relieve the magic by the unexpected heroes…

May 21st: Kevin Russo buries the Mets (video)

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Yankees were dealing with a plethora of injury issues in May, with everyone from Curtis Granderson (hamstring) to Nick Swisher (biceps) to Robbie Cano (knee) to Jorge Posada (foot) battling ailments and needing various degrees of rest. Russo was recalled because he provided enough versatility to sub for any of the walking wounded, but even the staunchest of Russo backers expected little with the bat.

With the Yanks coming off three straight losses and heading across town to take on the Mets, Russo drew his first career start, an assignment in leftfield. The two New York clubs played to a scoreless tie through six, but the Yanks threatened to break things open when Elmer Dessens relieved Hisanori Takahashi. Nick Swisher led the seventh inning off with a solid single to center, though Frankie Cervelli tried to kill the rally with a tailor made double play to ball to second. Unfortunately for the Mets, it was not meant to be. Alex Cora airmailed the flip to Jose Reyes, throwing the ball into leftfield and allowing Swish to move to third and Cervelli to second, all with no outs.

That brought Russo to the plate with a chance to give the Yanks a lead even if he made an out. He had picked up his first career hit in his first at-bat, but on Dessens’ second offering he picked up his first career extra base hit, poking a double down the rightfield line and into the corner. Both Swisher and Cervelli came around the score, and those two runs were all the Yanks needed on the day. Mariano Rivera nailed things down in the ninth, and the losing streak was kaput.

June 27th: Chad Huffman & Colin Curtis break Jonathan Broxton (video and video)

When Granderson and Marcus Thames hit the disabled list earlier in the season, the Yankees were stretched a little thin in the outfield. Huffman did a poor but still admirable job filling in, and during interleague play he found himself substituting for another injured outfielder: Brett Gardner, who left this game against the Dodgers after Clayton Kershaw hit him on the wrist with a fastball in the third inning. Huffman singled in his first at-bat, but his moment to shine didn’t come until the ninth inning.

Down four runs coming into the frame, the Yankees were already mounting a rally off Broxton when Huffman came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Broxton challenged the rookie, giving him three straight fastballs at 96. After taking the first two for a ball and a strike, Huffman lined a single to the opposite field to drive in a pair of runs and bring the Yanks to within one. The next batter was Curtis, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the previous inning and remained in to play defense. Again, Broxton came right at him, and the kid who made his big league debut less than a week earlier in his home state of Arizona fouled off the first two pitches for a quick 0-2 count.

At this point, against a reliever of Broxton’s caliber, most kids with six big league plate appearances to their credit are toast. But not Curtis, he hung in there and then some. The third pitch was a fastball down for a ball, the fourth was a slider in the dirt for a ball, and the fifth a fastball well of the plate for another ball and a foul count. Just working the count back full was impressive, but then Lil’ CC went ahead and fouled off the next four pitches. The tenth pitch of the confrontation was Broxton’s 40th of the inning, a fastball at the knees that Curtis grounded sharply to first. James Loney fielded it cleanly and stepped on first for the force, but Grandy slid in safely and beat the throw home to tie the game.

The Yankees, as you know, went on to win the game in extras, thanks in large part to the efforts of these two young outfielders. Too date, those are Huffman’s only two big league RBI and his last hit before being sent back down. Curtis eventually went back to Scranton but has since resurfaced as a September call-up. Before this game, Broxton had a 0.83 ERA with a 48-5 K/BB ratio in 32.2 innings. Since then though, he’s got a 6.59 ERA with 24 strikeouts and 21 walks in 28.2 innings. The Yanks straight up broke him that night.

August 8th: Dustin Moseley tames the Red Sox (video)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The common themes in this post seem to be injuries and losing streaks, and sure enough this moment features a little of both. Moseley was starting every fifth day in place of the injured Andy Pettitte, and made his third start of the season against the Red Sox on a nationally televised Sunday night game. It was a recipe for disaster, something the Yanks could ill afford after losing five of their previous eight games.

Instead of wilting, Moseley thrived. One-two-three went the Sox in the first, then again in the second. They didn’t put a runner on base until Bill Hall singled on a ground ball through the left side with one out in the third, but Moseley quickly recovered. He sat the next two men down without incident, and then worked himself out of a bases loaded, two out jam in the next frame with yet another groundout. Hall led off the fifth inning with a solo homer, but Moseley sat five of the next six men down in order (with a 3-6-1 double play mixed in) and took the ball into the seventh.

That’s when things got a little dicey thanks to an Adrian Beltre double and a single by (of course) Hall, putting runners on the corners with one out. Joe Girardi pulled the righthander from the game after that even though he had thrown just 87 pitches, but Joba Chamberlain allowed Beltre to score and hang another run on Moseley. His final line couldn’t have been much better considering the circumstances: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 13 GB, 6 FB. The Yanks took the screws to Josh Beckett a few innings earlier to take the pressure off, but Moseley came up big in a spot where his team really needed a win. He’s not a traditional prospect like the other guys in this post, but he certainly wasn’t someone that the Bombers expected to rely on this season. For at least this one night, he justified their faith in him.

Sept. 14th: Greg Golson is unimpressed by Carl Crawford (video)

With the Yankees in the middle of a four game losing streak and in Tampa to take on the division rival Rays earlier this month, Jorge Posada hit a go-ahead homerun in the top of the tenth inning that had the potential to made things all right in Yankeeland, at least for one night. Mariano Rivera came in for the save opportunity in the bottom half, and Golson had already taken over in rightfield after Juan Miranda pinch hit for Curtis in the eighth inning.

Mo was in the middle of his recent rough patch, and things looked ominous when Crawford led off the frame with a single. He eventually stole second with one out, and all it would take was a single to knot things up. Matt Joyce, with a hit and a run driven in already to his name on the evening, came to the plate and managed to work the count full. He lifted the seventh pitch of the at-bat moderately deep to right, deep enough to move Crawford over to third on a sacrifice. Or at least he thought it was.

Golson settled in under the fly ball close to the line and caught it flat-footed when Crawford broke for third. It wasn’t until he heard Granderson yelling from center that he realized the Rays’ leftfielder was going, and that’s when he he uncorked an absolutely beauty of the throw. It reached A-Rod at third on a single bounce and in plenty of time for him to apply the tag for the rarely seen 9-5 game ending double play. For at least one night, the win and the throw put the Yanks back on top in the AL East.

Sept. 26th: Juan Miranda takes a walk (video)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Just a dozen days after Golson’s throw ended a four game losing streak, Miranda’s batting eye did the same. The Yanks and Red Sox played to a rather suspenseful two-all tie through nine innings and headed to extras. Miranda entered the game in the top of the tenth as a defensive replacement for Mark Teixeira, who had to be pinch run for in the ninth. Hideki Okajima made things very interesting in the bottom half of the tenth, loaded the bases on two singles and an intentional walk with none out. Thames nearly ended things when he hit a screamer to third, but Beltre made a play on it and got the force at the plate for first out.

A career .237/.313/.393 hitter against southpaws in the minors, Miranda stepped to the plate with a chance to give the Yanks arguably their most important win of the season. Okajima fed him nothing but soft stuff, feeding him a curveball off the plate for a ball before getting a swing-and-miss on a changeup in the dirt. The third and fourth pitches of the at-bat were more curveballs off the outer half, and Miranda laid off both to work himself into a favorable 3-1 count. It’s a big time hitter’s count, one where the batter looks to do some serious damage, but the fill-in first baseball remained disciplined. Victor Martinez called for a changeup down in the zone to try to induce the inning ending double play, but Okajima missed inside and Miranda simply took the pitch for ball four and the walk-off walk. The losing streak was over, and more importantly the win reduced the Yanks’ magic number for a playoff spot to just one.

The CC Sabathia Appreciation Thread

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The word ace gets thrown around quite a bit these days. Every team has one if you consider an ace to be the best pitcher on a given staff, and it’s usually whoever is designated as the Opening Day starter regardless of merit. By that definition, guys like Zach Duke and Scott Feldman are on par with Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez. Of course that’s completely wrong, because not every team has an ace. In fact, there are probably fewer true aces than teams out there.

But the Yankees have an ace. They have a guy they can lean on in big games, that they can count on for dominant performances and scores of innings. A pitcher they can start in Games One, Four, and Seven of a playoff series on almost any amount of rest . A pitcher that when his turn comes every fifth day, a win isn’t just likely, it’s expected. That man is CC Sabathia, who almost singlehandedly pitched he Yankees into the postseason with eight-and-a-third dominant innings against the Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Since signing that mammoth seven-year, $161M deal in December of 2008, Sabathia has been everything the Yankees expected him to be and then some. He hasn’t missed a single start, throwing a total of 467.2 innings across the last two seasons, earning every one of his MLB leading 40 wins over that time. His playoff performance last season was simply masterful, as he took ALCS MVP honors thanks to a pair of dominant eight inning outings against the Angels (one on three day’s rest) before limiting the Phillies to five runs in 13.2 innings in the World Series. The Yankees went 4-1 in his five postseason starts, and if a Game Seven was needed against the Phillies, he was ready to go yet again on short rest.

Aside from his work on the field, Sabathia has gone above and beyond the call of duty in the clubhouse. He’s helped transform a far too corporate and uptight environment into one filled with more smiles and comradery than anytime in the recent past, and that’s just me speaking based on what I’ve seen as an outsider. He’s arranged outings to basketball games and what not with teammates during Spring Training and even the regular season, something we never ever ever saw happen before he got here. Despite all that talk about his preference to remain close to home on the West Coast, Sabathia has fully embraced New York and his place as a Yankee. For once, it’s a player with a larger than life personality that no one dislikes.

CC turned 30-years-old just over two months ago, so he’s still very much in the prime of his career. He’s proven to be more than capable of handling the workload required of an ace and then some, and he’s become every bit a piece of New York as the Yankees themselves. There isn’t enough that can be said about how tremendous Sabathia has been in his two years as a Yankee, but I want you to try anyway. Give up to the big man, because we all know he’s gone above and beyond for us fans.

The Alex Rodriguez Appreciation Thread

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Alex Rodriguez has been a lot of things in his time with the Yankees. He’s been a hero, a goat, unclutch, a stat-padder, a PED cheat, injured, the guy that’s dating Madonna, the MVP (twice), and a World Champion, but above all, he’s been a monster player on the field at all times. Even in 2010, statistically the worst full season of career, Alex has managed a .274/.345/.516 (.368 wOBA) batting line, which is a career year for most players. A 13th consecutive season of 30 or more homeruns seemed impossible just a week ago, but a recent binge that produced four homers in eight at-bats has him right on the doorstep.

Yes, there’s still seven years and $184M left on his contract and chances are the back-end of that will be ugly, but right now Alex is giving the Yankees everything they’ve asked of him. His very presence in the batter’s box changes the game and more often than not his swing does as well. Last night’s seventh inning two-run, opposite field homer against the wind to give the Yanks their first lead in four games was his latest masterpiece. Back in May he singlehandedly put an end to a four loss in five day stretch with a late inning grand slam against the Twins. Last season’s postseason heroics are the stuff of legend, and that’s the kind of groove Alex is in right now.

Since returning from the disabled list and an injured calf, A-Rod has hit .333/.415/.710 with eight homers in 19 games, and if you go back to before the DL stint, he’s hit 13 homers in his last 29 starts. That his pushed him past for the 4.0 fWAR threshold (it’s 4.1, to be exact) yet again, the 15th consecutive season he’s been no worse than a four-win player. Those 15 seasons represent almost the entirety of Alex’s career, which started in earnest with his age-20 season in 1996. It still feels like he just got here, but he’s played 232 more games as a Yankee than as a Mariner.

At one point the Yanks’ record without A-Rod in the lineup this season was something like 13-0 or 13-1, but no one in their right mind thinks the team is seriously better off without him. That win-loss record is a fluke, a perfect example of the randomness of baseball. The drop off from Alex to his replacement, whether it be Ramiro Pena or Cody Ransom or Miguel Cairo, has always been enormous and noticeable on the field. After the embarrassment of the PED revelations and the hip injury last year, any semblance of ego or selfishness is gone, and A-Rod been 100% focused on the team since. New Yorkers love giving people shots at redemption, and he’s done a rather marveous job of redeeming himself since last spring.

Robinson Cano has been the Yanks’ best player this season, but A-Rod has been the team’s greatest player since the moment he first put on the uniform in 2004. Even at 35-years-old, he’s a force at the plate and far-and-away the guy every Yankee fan wants to see at the plate in a big spot. How times have changed. It seems foolish to laud a player when he figures to be around for so many more years, but Alex is no ordinary player. He’s an all-time great Yankee, and deserves to be recognized as such.

Another kind of Wild Card

While the Andrew Brackman call-up story has been all over the map, it was confirmed on Thursday that Brackman has indeed been activated.  We still have no idea if Brackman will throw his first major league pitch this year (Thursday would have been an ideal time).  If he does, and he’s a success, could we see Brackman on the postseason roster?

The pitching roster for the playoffs is far from set and the possibilities are being debated all over the place and I’m sure within the Yankees organization.  If Brackman gets some garbage time innings in and dominates, I could see him replacing whoever is currently penciled in for the last spot on the roster.  While it sounds crazy, Brackman has upside that Moseley, Vazquez, Gaudin and Mitre just don’t have.  If he comes in and dominates for 5-10 innings over the next 10 days, why not?

This idea all stems from how valuable Francisco Rodriguez was for the Angels in 2002.  He wasn’t called up until September and didn’t throw his first major league pitch until September 18th.  He was 20 years old with 317.2 minor league innings, Brackman is 24 with 247.1 innings, so it’s not like Rodriguez had a huge advantage in experience, especially considering Brackman went to college. K-Rod established himself quickly and despite just 5.2 major league innings, there was no way the Angels could leave him off their playoff roster.  They were rewarded when Rodriguez’ domination continued into the playoffs and helped the Angels to the title.  I don’t think Brackman has it in him to dominate like K-Rod did, but he could also pitch 5 or 6 innings if needed in an extra inning or a bad AJ kind of game.  He could truly be a wild card.

I will say that I don’t expect this to happen, but I would love for Brackman to get his feet wet in the majors and pitch well enough for him to even be in the discussion.  While the last spot on a playoff bullpen may not matter much, if he pitches well enough to get real innings in, he could be extremely valuable.  The value of relievers is greatly overrated in the regular season, but dominating performances out of the pen can go a long way in a tight postseason series.  We’ve seen enough of Mariano Rivera over the past decade and half to know how valuable a shutdown reliever can be, but he hasn’t been alone.  He’s the only one who has done it consistently, but there’s no way the Angels win in 2002 without Rodriguez, or the Sox in 2004 without Foulke, or the Cardinals in 2006 without Wainwright all dominating out of the pen.  What do you think, if Brackman pitches and dominates over the next 10 days, would you want to see him on the mound in October?

The Jorge Posada Appreciation Thread

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Who has been the most valuable Yankee of the past 15 years? Last month Joe Posnanski wrote about the topic, assuming that it came down to Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. That’s not a poor assumption. Those two have been staples in the Yankees’ lineup during that span, and they’re certainly the two most famous Yankees of that period. But he missed someone who deserves to be in the conversation. In fact, if you run a quick text search on that post you won’t see Jorge Posada‘s name mentioned once.

According to the FanGraphs WAR system, Jorge Posada has been worth 52.8 wins over a replacement catcher in his career, which place him 14th all-time. That list also includes some players, like Joe Torre, who didn’t catch for their entire careers. The Baseball-Reference database has him at 46.4 WAR, 12th all-time among catchers. It’s just so rare to see a catcher be that good for that long. That gives Posada incredible value to the Yankees.

Even as he ages Posada continues to produce for the Yankees. He just turned 39 in August, though this is his age-38 season. Only one catcher in history has produced an OPS+ of more than 100 in his age-38 or later season while playing at least 60 percent of his games at catcher. That would be Carlton Fisk, who had a 136 OPS+ in 419 PA at age 41, and a 134 OPS+ in 521 PA at age 42. This year Posada has a 123 OPS+ in 421 PA. His .478 SLG currently ranks above any catcher in his age-38 or higher season.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Posada takes care of everything for the Yankees. Sometimes that means hitting a gargantuan game-winning home run in Tampa. Other times it means working an 11-pitch at-bat to start the ninth, opening the door for a teammate to drive home the winning runs. He might not hit for that high an average, but he can hit for power and he gets on base at a clip far better than most catchers. He is one player who helps the lineup go ’round.

Chances are Posada will never be a Hall of Famer. He just doesn’t have the sexy numbers. But if he finishes this year strong and puts up a similar season next year, he has to at least cause a Bert Blyleven-like debate. I’ll look forward to that one sometime at the end of this decade. For now I just want to take the time to appreciate all Jorge Posada has been for the Yanks over the years.

Are you ready for some football?

Since it’s the start of the NFL season I wanted to intertwine football and the Yankees. Let’s take a look at some professional athletes with ties to the Yankees and the NFL.  Which ones made the right choice?

Pat White- As has been discussed here, White was recently cut from the Miami Dolphins after being a 2nd round pick just last year.  His football prospects are not looking great right now (there are rumors he received zero phone calls once cut), so it would be interesting to see if he has considered heading back to the diamond and soon after writing that White signed a deal with the Royals to return to baseball, though he may not be completely done on the gridiron.  As we know, the Yankees drafted him in the 48th round of the 2009 draft, but he was also drafted three other times, in the 49th round in 2008 by the Reds, in the 27th round in 2007 by the Angels and in the 4th round in 2004 by the Angels (passing up 6 figures).  He got a college education and $2.4 million guaranteed so despite his recent axing, he likely made the right choice.

John Elway- It’s pretty easy to say John Elway made the right choice, but he was a good baseball player as well.  Two years before he was drafted in the NFL, the Yankees spent their 1981 2nd round pick on Elway.  In 1982 he played 42 games for Oneonta and put up an impressive .318/.432/.464 line.  If the Baltimore Colts didn’t cede to his trade demand, maybe he would have actually stuck with baseball.  Who knows if he ever would have made it to Yankee Stadium.

Drew Henson- Drew Henson turned out to be the anti-Elway.  He did stick with baseball but wasn’t quite good enough and went back to football.  That didn’t work out so well either as he has appeared in just 9 NFL games with one start.  Had he stuck to one sport or the other coming out of High School he definitely would have had a better chance, but we’ll never know if stepping away from the football field would have allowed him to learn how to hit a curveball.

Daunte Culpepper- Culpepper’s struggles with academics almost led him down the baseball path.  While he was recruited by big schools like The U and Florida out of high school, he didn’t have the test scores to get in (seriously the couldn’t sneak him into The U?).  He did find a home at the University of Central Florida where he committed to playing quarterback.  Had he never found a college to call home, he just may have joined the Yankees, who drafted him in the 26th round in 1995.  Culpepper must have been a pretty menacing dude on the mound at 6’4 and 250+ pounds with a great arm.  There is no doubt Culpepper made the right call as he has earned a ton of money in the NFL.

Deion Sanders- Deion primarily went the football route where he became a Hall of Famer and one of the best cornerbacks of all time.  He did stick around baseball long enough to play in 641 games and put up a .263/.319/.392 line, that’s not too shabby considering his two sport status.  Deion was terrible as a Yankee with a 55 OPS+, and his most famous Yankee moment is probably pissing off Carlton Fisk which almost led to a brawl.

Bo Jackson- Deion and Bo were undoubtedly the biggest two sport athletes in the past 25+ years.  Bo, who went on to have very successful, but injury shortened careers in both MLB and the NFL was originally drafted out of high school by the Yankees in the 2nd round in 1982 (a year after taking Elway in the 2nd round). Jackson went unsigned and chose to go to Auburn to play both football and baseball.  Jackson had Hall of Fame talent in both sports, and had he stuck to one sport and avoided injury he likely would have made it.  He’ll have to settle for being in the Tecmo Bowl Hall of Fame.

Dave Winfield- Mr. May definitely made the right choice in sticking to baseball and spent 9+ years with the Yankees.  Along with being a first round pick in baseball (as a pitcher, no less) he was drafted in the 17th round of the NFL draft despite never playing college football.  Winfield was also drafted in the both the NBA and ABA drafts.  While football was probably never a serious choice he likely could have made it in pro basketball, but not with the success he enjoyed in baseball.  Despite being drafted in several sports, in the recent Baseball Analysts draft, Winfield waited by the phone but never got the call. (that last sentence might not be entirely true).

Others of note:  Brandon Jones of the Seattle Seahawks was drafted by the Yankees in 2001.  World Cup goalie Tony Meola (ok, that’s futbol not football but he did try out for the Jets) was drafted by the Yankees.

Searching for a left fielder and finding one

Credit: AP Images, Julie Jacobson

When the 2010 season draws to a close, Robinson Cano‘s name will be in the mix for the AL Most Valuable Player award, and he’s certainly deserved it. Playing a stellar second base, Robbie is hitting .318/.380/.542 with career highs in home runs (26) and walks (50). After showing little patience during his first five big league seasons, his .062 IsoD is a pleasant and welcome surprise. But in one sense of the phrase, he hasn’t been the team’s most valuable player.

Enter Brett Gardner. Of the Yankees’ starting nine, Gardner is the little guy. He’s only the player in the team’s Lance Berkman-approved playoff lineup who has never been an All Star, and he’s the only player in the starting nine making less than $500,000 (or $5.5 million, for that matter). Yet, he’s second on the team in WAR and is now pushing nearly five wins above replacement level. While Cano’s emergence as a power-and-patience player has been a pleasure to watch, Brett Gardner is a true surprise.

On the season, Garnder is now at .284/.390/.384 through 504 plate appearances. He’s seventh in the AL in on-base percentage, ninth in walks with 70 and fourth in steals with 40. As a defender, too, his numbers are steller. His left field UZR is 16.9, and his arm is 5.3 runs above average. His eight outfield assists are second in the American League, and opposing teams have stopped running on his arm. Have I mentioned he’s making just $452,000 this year?

Last year, we watched in frustration as Melky Cabrera dominated the outfield playing time at the expense of Brett Gardner. He suffered through a poor debut in 2008 and couldn’t get into a groove in 2009. Penciled in as the stop-gap everyday left fielder until Carl Crawford hit the open market after 2010, Gardner was expected to man the nine hole, platoon in left field with Randy Winn and Marcus Thames and, hopefully, get on base 35 percent of the time. He’s been even better than that.

Lately, the Yanks have struggled to figure out how best to deploy Brett Gardner. He’s spent the bulk of the season at the bottom of the order, but his numbers in the nine hole are far worse than his numbers in leadoff spot. As the last guy up 199 times, he’s been on base just 35.1 percent of the time. Contrast that with his leadoff OBP of .440 in just under 100 plate appearances, and it’s a wonder anyone else ever gets to bat first. With his speed and patience, Gardner is a throwback to the feisty leadoff hitter of old.

Yet, with Gardner, there’s still a sense that this will all come crashing down. During the first half of the season, he hit .309/.396/.415 with 25 stolen bases in 31 attempts over 81 games. Since the All Star break, he’s hitting .236 with a very respectable .377 on-base percentage but his slugging has dropped to .324. He has successfully stolen in 15 of his 16 attempts over his previous 51 games. His BABIP has fallen from .360 in the first half to .315 in the second half, and his strike-out rate has shrunk from once every 6.4 plate appearances to once every 4.87 times at bat. Maybe the grind of his first full season in a few years is wearing on him; maybe the league is catching up. It’s worth it to note that, over his last 107 plate appearances, he’s hitting an impressive .301/.443/.410.

For the Yankees, then, they have a choice to make with Gardner and left field after the year is up. He’s clearly capable of putting up above-average Major League numbers and being an exceptional player. He’s also still under team control for a few more years: He won’t hit arbitration until 2012, and free agency won’t come to Brett until 2015. So does the team look to upgrade to a power-hitting free agent this year?

A month ago, I wasn’t so sure, but right now, I doubt anyone other than Gardner will start in left field next year. His presence on the team gives the Yanks flexibility in spending because they’re not pouring millions into that corner outfield position and are in fact getting $20 million worth of production out of their $452,00 investment. Even if he’s not a five-win player again next year, he’ll easily be in the 2.5-4 win range. Plus, his patience and ability to get on base — arguably his biggest assets at the bat — have not diminished as his hitting has slumped during the second half. I’d love to see Brett Gardner hit more doubles and a few more line drives, but as the Yanks enter a stretch of the season where every run is sacred, Gardner will have his role to play yet.