One way or another, the Yankees are going to lose an outfielder in the next year or two and the decision on which one could be made by this time next year. Nick Swisher‘s contract is up at the end of the year and given his performance, he may be “too rich” for the Yankees’ $189M blood. This is unfortunate because Swisher is essentially perfect for the Yankees: he’s a well above-average producer and is, by all accounts, a a great teammate and a joy in the clubhouse. There’s also Curtis Granderson, who’s got an option for 2013, but nothing after that. Like Swisher, Granderson has an enviable blend of skill and personality that suits him perfectly for the Bronx. Like Swisher, though, his contract demands could leave him out in the cold. The Yankees are going to have to make a decision: Which outfielder do they want back? I’m sure they have plans and contingencies that involve keeping them/losing them in some combination. For a minute, let’s focus on the other outfielder the Yankees have in their starting nine: Brett Gardner.
In his own way, Grander has been plenty productive for the Yanks. He’ll probably never hit for real power, but he can slap his way to the occasional extra base hit and is patient (to a fault at times) at the plate and swipes bases with the best of them. And, of course, he plays remarkable defense. With an eye on 2014, might it behoove the club to reconsider it’s “no extensions” policy in regards to Gardner?
The policy itself is sound enough. While the team risks big arbitration raises, it knows it can cover said raises. The act of not extending players also reduces the Yankees’ exposure to player injury or a lack of performance. As the team gets more budget conscious, though, taking a risk may be worth the slightly lower salaries. Gardner is a potentially interesting case in this debate (that I’m completely fabricating right now). He’s not likely to break out in a big way (especially at his age) and his skillset is not one that an arbitration panel is likely to reward. The Yankees and Gardner settled this year, though. Gardner submitted a figure of $3.2M and the Yankees submitted $2.4M; they settled at $2.8M. Assuming typical Gardner production, it’s not unrealistic to envision Gardner making ~$6M by the time he’s in his last arbitration eligible season (2014; FA after that season).
After much (liberally used) thinking, I settled on a 3/$10.5M extension for Gardner, which would mean a $4.5M AAV to count against the luxury tax. If the team were to do that after this season, they’d be buying out one (2015) of Gardner’s free agent years. The raise wouldn’t be that high, but that’s the trade-off for players when signing extensions. The security trumps the money in those cases.
While saving money is always nice, especially when a team is working with a budget, I’m not sure if the Yankees would be saving significant enough money in this case to consider extending Gardner now. That doesn’t mean he won’t continue to add value to the team, though. If Granderson leaves, Gardner could shift into center field and the defense wouldn’t miss a bit. In fact, that might be worth discussing even if Swisher’s the one to leave. Perhaps the Yankees could move Granderson to replace Swisher’s RF production, move Gardner to the middle, and go searching for a left fielder. Regardless of the combinations of stayings and goings, the Yankee outfield is more than likely going to look quite different in the next two-three years.
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