New York Yankees

Yankees are ready to turn Brett Gardner into a bench weapon

Brett Gardner happens to be the longest tenured member of the Yankees, but Aaron Boone is ready to move the versatile veteran to the bench.

The Yankees never planned for Brett Gardner to be an everyday starter in 2019. Unfortunately, a rash of injuries to the club’s outfield have resulted in the team’s longest-tenured player being a constant in Aaron Boone’s starting lineup. An improvement to the health of several of Gardner’s star teammates is about to change all that.

Giancarlo Stanton returned to the active roster on Tuesday, and it’s possible that Aaron Judge will do the same on Friday. The return of both sluggers is going to make the Yankees outfield very crowded. According to manager Aaron Boone, the typical starting lineup will include Hicks in center, Stanton in left and Judge in right. That grouping will relegate Gardner to the bench.

There’s no room at DH to really help give him additional at-bats either. Last week’s trade for Edwin Encarnacion means that he and Luke Voit will get the lion’s share of playing time at designated hitter. Boone may try to steal some rest occasionally by giving Judge or Stanton some days at DH, but it’s not a spot where Gardner will get playing time.

The Yankees hope that giving Gardner some additional rest will allow him to play better baseball when he is on the diamond. He’s been a net positive for the team this season, but he clearly wore down in the closing months of the 2018 campaign. It’s challenging for a 35-year-old outfielder who depends on speed to play every day at a high level.

The plan now is for Gardner to function as a super substitute on Boone’s bench. Yankees fans should expect to see him in the lineup on a pretty frequent basis. He won’t get quite as many starts as Hicks, Stanton and Judge, but he’ll be used to spell all three starters as the season chugs along. It’s not out of the question that Gardner will find his name in the starting lineup on an average of three times per week.

The key for him to maintain that role will be to increase his effectiveness. If he continues to hit .233 with an OBP of just .316 it’s going to become easy for Boone to keep him on the bench. He’ll still get plenty of late-game action as a defensive substitute, but he needs to improve his hitting if he wants to remain a meaningful cog in the Yankees machine.

Next: Yankees signal they’re ready to trade Clint Frazier

In the end, Gardner still has an important role to play for the Yankees this season, but it’s not as a star. The franchise now needs him to become a weapon off the bench if they want to break their World Series drought.

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