When full-squad workouts officially begin on Monday, Feb. 19 down in Tampa, veteran outfielder Brett Gardner will enter his 11th season with the Yankees, remaining the longest-tenured player in the organization.
With a star-studded, overstocked outfield — which general manager Brian Cashman considers to be the club’s position of strength — Gardner hopes to return to New York once his contract expires after this upcoming season. But in the meantime, the 34-year-old is eager to pursue another championship.
“I think the expectations for our team are super high, sky-high,” Gardner said in a Q&A with New York Post’s Steve Serby. “I feel like we had a much better season than a lot of people kind of predicted and a lot of people thought we would kind of have. We proved a lot of people wrong. … I think anytime with the Yankees, any years you don’t win the World Series it’s a disappointment, but this year we obviously didn’t even make it to the World Series but it didn’t feel like so much of a disappointment.
“With some of these young kids that we have, just seeing the talent that they have and what they have between their ears and what they have inside of ’em, the way they play the game, it’s exciting for us as veteran players and the coaches that not only at the big league level but have helped them all along the way through the minor leagues, and I think most importantly it’s just exciting for our fans. The way that we played last year with such energy and excitement and being able to make it back to October, that’s what it’s about in New York and it was a lot of fun.”
This past October, the Yankees fell just one game shy of their first World Series appearance since 2009, as the Houston Astros won the decisive Game 7 of the ALCS and ultimately claimed their first world champioship. Last February, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA season projections listed New York as an 82-win team. This time around, PECOTA has the Yankees projected as American League East champions with 96 wins.
Since Gardner arrived in 2008, all five AL East teams have clinched a division title at least once. The Yankees haven’t done so in the last five seasons, but Gardner believes his team is suited for a few champagne celebrations in 2018.
“I don’t think that the expectations should ever be lowered,” Gardner told Serby. “I think that the AL East and the American League and baseball in general is as competitive as it has ever been, at least as competitive as I have seen in my 10 years. It’s a tough battle every year, but that’s our goal, is to win the division and get back to the playoffs and do everything we can to make it back to the World Series and win the World Series. So with the guys that we have in place, I think that we’re definitely capable of doing that.”
Back in 1961, the Yankees’ outfield duo of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris — known as the “M&M Boys” — hit a momentous 115 home runs combined in the regular season, en route to the franchise’s 19th World Series title.
“I think that Stanton obviously is a guy who’s still young but he’s been around a little longer, obviously had more success than Aaron to this point,” said Gardner, who happened to hit a career-high 21 homers last season. “They’re very similar players in so many ways. Everybody wants to compare ’em because they’re as big as they are … the position that they play and the way that they play and the way that they hit, and just the sheer power that they have, I think that Giancarlo is definitely somebody has already started to pick his brain and is gonna continue to, and continue to learn from him.
“The other side is Giancarlo, he’s probably never played in an atmosphere that some of us guys played in just as recently as last September and October. I know that he’s super excited to get to New York and to experience the bright lights and the big city. He’s a guy that is very, very, very competitive and to this point in his career, he’s never had a chance to go into the postseason and do those things that he aspires to do, and hopefully we get a chance to do that together this year.”
Although the Yankees’ roster has seen little changeover this winter (aside from the addition of Stanton), the majority of the coaching staff has been remodeled. In November, the club elected to not retain manager Joe Girardi for an 11th season, and in December, Cashman and executives selected former major leaguer and ESPN analyst Aaron Boone to be Girardi’s successor.
“Very excited about getting to know him better, playing for him,” Gardner said of Boone. “I’ve never played for anybody else in the big leagues except Joe Girardi, so it’ll be a little different for me having a different coaching staff. That’s something that us as players, we have to just continue to stay motivated and continue to adapt to different changes, and I think we’re poised to have a really, really great season, and I know he’s excited to lead us into the season.”
The Yankees enter spring training with several intriguing storylines, but Gardner’s message to fans is this: Show up early, and show up often.
“Come out early and watch these guys take BP. I think it’s gonna be fun,” he said. “I think I’m gonna start taking batting practice inside so those big guys don’t make me look bad. Not just Giancarlo Stanton, but you’ve got guys like Tyler Wade and Gleyber Torres competing for a job in the infield and possibly both those guys could potentially be in the lineup Opening Day, and just a lot of young guys that have got a lot of talent and are ready for their chance, and we’re excited about it.”
The entire Q&A between Gardner and Serby can be accessed here.