Now that Curtis Granderson is a Yankee, Brett Gardner’s name is popping up. ESPN’s Trade Rumors:
Gardner became expendable in New York once Granderson was acquired in a three-team deal, and the latest team to make an inquiry is the Chicago White Sox. The Sun-Times says today that White Sox GM Ken Williams views Gardner as a reasonably-priced option in center field.
Competition for Gardner could come from another team in the AL Central. ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark tweeted Wednesday night that the Kansas City Royals have inquired about Gardner.
The Royals are in the market for a center fielder since free agent Coco Crisp is expected to sign elsewhere.
Sure, Gardner is a reasonably priced option for the White Sox and Kansas City. His service time is low which makes him cheap and under team for control (I believe) for another two years.
As a matter of fact, he’s just the type of player that the Yankees could use as a backup outfielder. Jamie Hoffman, recently acquired via the Nats from the Dodgers in the rule 5 draft will also be vying for that role once he’s completed his subterfuge against Johnny Damon.
It’s nice that teams are looking at Gardner but my question is, if the White Sox think he can start in centerfield, why would the Yankees not want him as backup? In my mind, Melky Cabrera is the one the Yankees should be shopping.
Cabrera is a year older than Gardner but has never shown the type of plate discipline that Gardner has in the minors. Gardner is the superior centerfielder and obviously has the better speed of the two, despite Gardner’s inability to actually utilize that speed in the playoffs.
Also, Gardner will be cheaper for longer. That may sound like a silly argument for the Yankees, but they need cheap young talent just like everyone else. Consider 2009, where the Yankees ranked 25th out of 30 clubs in percentage of their payroll devoted to their bullpen. Consider also that of that $22.5 million, $15 million of it was devoted to Mariano Rivera. The Cincinnati Reds, with a $71.5 million payroll, spent $20.8 million on their bullpen, just $1.7 million less than the Yankees, whose payroll was almost three times that of the Reds ($206.8 million versus $71.5 million).
* As a side note, the Yankees also ranked 28th in percentage of salary devoted to pitching even with the big money devoted to CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett. The entire chart as provided by Cot’s Baseball Contracts looks like this:
Clearly, the Yankees have found some benefit to going cheaper in their bullpen, utilizing the arms within their own system, or picking up guys like Brian Bruney off the scrap heap to provide innings when needed. The rest of the league seems to be picking up on this. Well, seems to, anyway.
The point is, even with an inflated budget, you have to find the most appropriate places within your roster to apply cheap, young talent. For the Yankees, that place has been the bullpen and the bench. The bench will get a bit cheaper this year when Francisco Cervelli likely takes over the backup catcher position from Jose Molina. It’s possible that Ramiro Pena could be a backup infielder as well depending on what the front office feels they can get out of Pena in 2010 and beyond.
Given the Brett Gardner has proven at least equally valuable as Melky Cabrera, has more time under team control and is a better defensive outfielder, there’s little reason to trade him over Cabrera. The return for Gardner may be a little better, but we’re talking a negligible difference in return, one that certainly can be outweighed by the usefulness and flexibility of Gardner.
The only major difference between the two players is that Gardner is left-handed while Melky is a switch hitter. Both hitters hit worse against lefties which elevated neither over the other when considering a platoon partner with Curtis Granderson.