The Yankees have declined their $10MM club option on outfielder Brett Gardner, reports Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link). He’ll instead receive a $2.5MM buyout. The Yankees have interest in bringing the 37-year-old back to the Bronx, Heyman adds, but it’ll have to come at a cheaper rate than his option price. Given the buyout figure, the Yankees opted against bringing Gardner back on what amounts to a $7.5MM decision.
The longest-tenured Yankee player, Gardner has been in the organization since they selected him in the third round of the 2005 draft. He has gone on to a long, very productive career as a high-OBP hitter with a little bit of pop who plays excellent defense in left field. Gardner reinvented himself as something of a slugger in 2019, when he hit .251/.325/.503 with 28 home runs over 550 plate appearances. That strong season prompted the Yankees to guarantee him $12.5MM on a one-year deal with this option last offseason.
Gardner was still fairly productive in the abbreviated 2020 season, hitting .223/.354/.392 with five home runs over 158 plate appearances. His power took a step back from its 2019 heights, but Gardner’s .169 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) was still solid. His strikeout and whiff rates were each at career-high levels, but both remained lower than league average. And the ever-patient Gardner drew a boatload of walks to prop up his on-base numbers.
That said, the Yankees declining the option isn’t much of a surprise. A few teams have already declined options that would typically seem reasonable on the heels of massive revenue losses due to a season with no fans. The New York organization itself seems likely to scale back payroll this winter. With Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier in the fold already, the Yankees aren’t hurting for outfield help, although it’s arguable Gardner’s left-handed bat fits well in the Yankees’ righty-heavy lineup.
It’s hard to imagine Gardner in anything other than a Yankee uniform, and the door seemingly remains open to a return. But he’s now free to explore his options with all thirty clubs. At his age, it’s doubtful anyone will see Gardner as an everyday center fielder, but he’s still capable of playing up the middle when needed and should be above-average in left. Plenty of teams figure to have interest in Gardner as a short-term upgrade, at least as the strong side of a platoon arrangement.