I’ve been hearing a lot of people lately, both in the blogosphere and in the real world, talking about the Yankees trading for a top starting pitcher with a package centered around Brett Gardner. I think this is generally (barring something crazy, like a top-flight locked up Felix-like pitcher becoming available) a very bad idea.
Brett Gardner was worth 5.1 fWAR last season. The majority of that contribution was defense – but you knew that already. Brett Gardner is one the best defensive players in all of professional baseball. While he’s only an average-at-best hitter, Gardner was one of the most valuable Yankees last year according to fWAR, behind only Sabathia, Granderson and Cano. Simply replacing that fWAR would be very difficult next season – neither James Shields or Cole Hamels even reached that mark. And Gardner is under team control for longer than any of those guys. He’s currently paid very little in relative baseball terms, and is unlikely to get huge arbitration raises. That is to say: even if the Yankees trade for a starting pitcher worth as much as Brett Gardner has been, and under control for as many seasons, he’s still going to make more money, preventing the Yankees from adding value elsewhere.
But even if that’s all well and good, you might make the argument to trade from strength to address weakness. The Yankees have a loaded lineup and very few good starting pitcher options even if C.C. Sabathia sticks around. Gardner is a very attractive trade piece. Why not make the swap? There are a lot of reasons not to (not getting fair value for a defensive player in the trade, poor replacement options from the free agent market and the farm), but here’s my big one: trading Gardner makes our pitching problem worse.
Preventing runs from scoring is a collaborative effort between fielder and starting pitchers. The Yankees were, in part, able to get away with guys like Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon (and theoretically, Ivan Nova), because they had an exceptional defense. Brett Gardner was a big part of that. If they go back to 2004-2007 Yankee defense, things start to get ugly quickly. The Yankees can deal with sub-standard pitching a bit better with Gardner on the team. Trading from strength would mean trading someone like Nick Swisher, not Brett Gardner.
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