Given the outfielders currently on the Yankees roster—Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki and Gardner—it’s easy to look at the one player who would have the most value on the market and is expendable and say to trade him now to fill a glaring hole before the season starts. But that would be a mistake. Here’s why:
Ellsbury’s talent is undeniable. Nor is his penchant for winding up on the disabled list. In fairness to him, the injuries that cost him large chunks of the 2010 and 2012 seasons with the Red Sox were impact injuries. He’s also had problems with his wrist and his core in the past, so while he’s not a malingerer, he’s a risk to get hurt and miss a couple of weeks to a month at least.
If the Yankees trade Gardner and Ellsbury gets hurt, they’ll be relegated to playing a combination of Ichiro, Beltran, Zoilo Almonte or whatever short-term center field option they can find. Beltran has stayed healthy for the past three seasons, but he’s about to turn 37. There will be junctures in the season when he’s unable to go even without a serious injury. Having a legitimate outfielder who can play center field is not something to dismiss or deal away because there are other holes and a passable offer has been made.
Versatility, defense and speed
Without Gardner, the Yankees have no everyday player who can run at all. Beltran can still steal bases with canniness. Who knows what Derek Jeter’s legs are going to tolerate after his injury? Ichiro can steal 20 bases, but he’ll play three times a week, if that.
Without Gardner, they’re a plodding and limited lineup. Naturally the idiocy that permeated the fan base and media that the team would be better with more small ball and fewer home runs in 2013 was proven to be a disastrous exercise in baseball cluelessness, but to have no players who can run leaves the club as a station-to-station and vulnerable entity. If they encounter a team that keeps them in the park, there won’t be any stealing of runs through a Gardner walk, stolen base, bunt to third and sacrifice fly. The 4-5 games that can be decided through the talents that Gardner brings to the table could be the difference between winning the division, getting the Wild Card or being left out in the cold entirely.