Sunday, February 23, 2014

Yankees Lock Up Gardner

Well, this is certainly a very un-Yankee-like move.

How many times had we heard that the New York Yankees do not negotiate new contracts until the existing contract expires?

They never offered a contract extension to Derek Jeter prior to the completion of his contracts. Never did it with Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams or Jorge Posada.

It just wasn't the Yankee way.

Well, it is now.

On Sunday, the Yankees and left fielder Brett Gardner agreed to a four-year, $52 million contract with a one-year option for $12.5 million, a deal that is a win-win for both sides. The contract begins in the 2015 season, locking up the speedy, 30-year-old outfielder through his prime years.

Gardner has 52 million reasons to celebrate.

This is the type of forward-thinking, financially prudent move that the Yankees have been lacking.

Last month, I made the case that the Yankees should trade Gardner, writing:

"Look, if the Yankees believe Gardner is going to be part of their of their long-term plan, they should give him a contract extension now. ... But if the Yankees aren't sure about keeping Gardner or intend to let him leave after the season because his skills overlap with Ellsbury, they have to move now. Is it better to get a first-round pick if the Yankees give Gardner a qualifying offer and he leaves after the season, or is it better to get major-league talent in a trade?"
In reaching this extension with Gardner, Brian Cashman and the front office finally showed some understanding of the changing nature of the free-agent market.

The Yankees have long believed that putting on the pinstripes and getting to play for the most storied franchise in sports was incentive enough for home-grown players to stay. It worked in keeping Jeter, Rivera and Williams when they tested the open market.

But it didn't work with Robinson Cano.

The Yankees did open up negotiations with Cano last spring, but by that time it was too late. The Yankees were hoping to leverage Cano's stated desire to stay with the Yankees into a favorable contract. But with the lure of a mega-contract within reach at the end of the season, Cano wasn't about to accept a deal that far below what he ended up finding on the open market.

It bitter loss for the Yankees, but one from which they have learned.

Gardner has been a very productive player of the Yankees, posting a 19.3 WAR over his six seasons with the Yankees. For comparison's sake, Jacoby Ellsbury, whom the Yankees signed in December to a seven-year, $153 million contract, has a career WAR of 21.0 over seven seasons.

The Yankees finally understood that if they wanted to keep this very productive player who has been a catalyst both offensively and defensively, they needed to be proactive and demonstrate to Gardner his importance to the franchise.

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That said, Gardner is not nearly the same caliber of player as Cano, but had he reached the open market he would garnered interest. This winter, the Reds, Tigers and Phillies were among a half-dozen teams that inquired about the outfielder's availability.

However entering the free-agent market would not have been without risk. The Yankees very likely would have made Gardner a qualifying offer, attaching a draft pick as compensation from any team that signed him.

That meant Gardner could have ended up like Stephen Drew or Nelson Cruz -- without a teams as spring training opened. No player wants to be in that spot.

This extension is a perfect deal for both sides. Gardner gets stability, certainty and fair, long-term deal. The Yankees get to keep a player they value with a contract that is reasonable.

And Yankee fans will get to continue to watch a home-grown favorite, who started to emerge as a leader in Jeter's absence last season.

We can only hope the Yankees make more of these types of moves.

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