February 24, 2014
The Gardner Constant
Agreed to a four-year extension with OF-L Brett Gardner worth $52 million with a club option worth an additional $12.5 million. [2/23]
An unusual yet sensible deal for both sides.
Coco Crisp's recent two-year extension with the Athletics left Gardner as the best outfielder in the upcoming free-agent class by default. With another solid season, like his 2013, a team in need of a center-fielder-slash-leadoff-hitter might have handed him a contract comparable to Curtis Granderson's four-year pact worth $60 million. Yet Gardner wanted no such thing, opting instead to extinguish the trade rumors that engulfed his winter.
However rare it is for a player to sign a modest long-term deal heading into his walk year, it's rarer to see the Yankees sign a player to an extension. The most recent occasion came in 2011, when Brian Cashman and CC Sabathia shook hands on a new five-year deal—though Sabathia was on the verge of exercising an opt-out to hit free agency. Before then, you have to go back to Robinson Cano's agreement in 2008. Before him? Hideki Matsui. The Yankees just don't do extensions. And why should they? The incentive to act like the Indians, A's, or Rays is minimized by their massive financial resources. Besides there's a risk aversion aspect to the whole thing that often goes ignored—imagine if the Yankees had signed Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain to comfy deals as they entered arbitration. Sometimes the best extensions are the ones not signed.
Although Gardner's deal is unlikely to garner best-in-the-business recognition anytime soon, it should go well anyway. The only negative to point to—beyond the lack of a standout offensive aspect—is his past fragility. Even then, his injury-depleted 2012 looks like the abnormality more than his 145-game 2013. Otherwise, the Yankees have secured at least the next five seasons from a 30-year-old with a broad skill set. Gardner gets on base, plays defense, steals bases, and more than holds his own against same-handed pitching.
Last season Gardner added a new dimension to his game by posting a career-best ISO thanks to an adjusted approach. Ben Lindbergh wrote about the outfielder's uptick in aggression in April, and the changes held true throughout the season. Gardner offered at more than 40 percent of the pitches he saw for the first time in his career, and became particularly aggressive in favorable counts. Unsurprisingly, he saw a career-high 35 percent of his hits go for extra bases; previously, his career rate was 24 percent. Yes, Gardner's new approach led to more strikeouts and fewer walks, but he remained an above-average hitter regardless.
The Yankees hope that's the case for the next five seasons.