July is when baseball fans like yours truly embark on some serious mental acrobatics with respect to trade rumors and proposals. Since the 2017 All-Star break is upon us, today is a good day to jump down the rabbit hole.
The Yankees have a lot of decisions to make with the non-waiver trade deadline only 3 weeks away. The rumor mill is rife with speculation regarding what the team might do to stabilize the bullpen, or upgrade at one of the corner infield positions. One way to upgrade these areas and avoid dealing prospects might be to deal a veteran from the outfield. When Aaron Hicks returns they will have 5 outfielders, thus something has to give.
Brett Gardner has been mentioned as a trade candidate for months. The 33-year-old left-handed speedster is currently making $12,000,000 and is due to make another $11,000,000 next year before hitting free agency in 2018. As a guy with a reasonable salary who is hitting .256 with an .800 OPS, 15 homeruns, 40 RBI, 12 stolen bases, 0 errors and a 5.5 UZR in LF (ranking 3rd in the majors among left fielders) he could be quite useful to any team with an immediate need in the outfield.
Typically, a team that deals a player like that at the deadline has thrown in the towel and is looking for prospects in return. But in the Yankees case with Gardner, they should probably move him either way, given the apparent roster crunch at the position. Clint Frazier, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge have already shown they deserve to stay for good, and Jacoby Ellsbury isn’t going anywhere.
That said, any potential suiter for the career Yankee would most likely be a contender and, assuming the Yankees are still in the hunt by that point, this would make things complicated. The Yankees don’t want to necessarily help a potential playoff opponent, and neither would any trade partner. A National League team with a need in the OF could possibly be a fit if the stars align, however.
One potential suiter for Gardner could be the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he would represent a clear upgrade over the journeyman parade they’re currently running out in left field. New York has done quite a bit of business with Diamondbacks in the past, most notably the deal for Tyler Clippard last year and the three-way trades that brought OF Curtis Granderson and later SS Didi Gregorious to NY, although it is unclear what the Yankees would ask for in return. Perhaps they would be willing to let go of 27-year-old lefty reliever Andrew Chafin and his 1.80 ERA (40 K’s in 30 IP this season). Arizona might balk at the prospect of losing one of their best relievers. But then again, Gardner could see a boost in his production in the NL West where pitching is sketchy at best.
Sure, it’s risky to give up a guy like that but Arizona has one of the best pitching staffs in the league right now and you have to give to get. Not to mention New York would be giving up their only prototypical leadoff hitter (higher OBP and pitches seen per PA than Jacoby Ellsbury). Maybe instead of Chafin they just take back Tyler Clippard along with his remaining salary and we can call it day. One can dream, right?