Did the Yankees make the right decision with Brett Gardner?

Brett Gardner was a valuable player for the Yankees last season. Was declining his option really the right choice by Brian Cashman?

Yankees fans are divided on social media regarding the team’s decision to decline Brett Gardner’s $10 million option for the 2021 season. The versatile outfielder provided the team solid value last season, but Brian Cashman and the team’s front office clearly believe he isn’t a good bet to provide value on that sort of contract moving forward.

According to Jon Heyman, the team still has some level of interest in bringing Gardner back at a lower salary. It’s worth noting that Gardner is getting a $2.5 million buyout from the Yankees as a result of their decision. The question remains, did New York make the right decision in letting the veteran outfielder walk?

The case for re-signing Brett Gardner

The Yankees have a clear desire to cut salary in 2021, but it’s not as if they couldn’t afford to pay Gardner $10 million. Any notion that that bringing Gardner back would really harm the team financially is nonsense.

That makes the decision all about whether or not Gardner can be a positive influence on Aaron Boone’s roster next season. By all statistical measures, he was a plus for the Yankees in 2020. He finished the campaign with a respectable WAR of 0.5 based largely on his on-base percentage and adequate outfield defense.

Gardner’s value to the Yankees roster goes beyond just his on-field production. He is an emotional leader in the clubhouse for a team that seems to lack leadership at times. Letting him walk in free agency will only compound that problem for New York. It’s easy to make an argument that the combination of Gardner’s on-field play and emotional leadership makes him worth well more than $10 million to the Yankees.

The case for letting Brett Gardner go

$10 million won’t ruin the Yankees’ books, but bringing Gardner back at that number might restrict Cashman’s ability to add talent elsewhere on the roster. The odds of New York finding a fourth outfielder that will play better than Gardner in 2021 at a smaller salary are pretty high.

The fact that Gardner will be 38-years-old next season makes him a prime candidate for regression. He’s already a low average hitter who doesn’t have much power. His legs are starting to go as well. That means his defensive value will continue to decline on an annual basis. It’s important to evaluate Gardner as the player he’s going to be in 2021, rather than the player he has been for the Yankees over the last decade.

Losing an emotional leader of Gardner’s quality is a blow to the locker room, but the Yankees want to build a roster capable of winning a World Series. The talent upgrade they can find in the outfield should outweigh anything they lose in terms of leadership.

Next: 5 players the Yankees should target in free agency

The verdict

Losing Gardner might bother some Yankees fans who value tradition and sentiment over winning. Cashman and the front office clearly made the right move here. The chances of him providing $10 million of value in 2021 are minimal. If they can bring him back for less, it could make sense for the franchise. Otherwise, the Yankees should find a younger, cheaper fourth outfielder who can give them more upside on the field of play.

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