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Brett Gardner has become over-hated

I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been a pretty big critic of Brett Gardner since his down year in 2018. The time since has included a bounce-back 2019, followed up by a poor playoff performance, and a 2020 season with mixed results. Despite respecting all Gardner had done for us, I felt like it was time to move on. However, I realized this offseason that I was hating on Gardy for no reason. What I really hated was the opportunity he was taking away from Clint Frazier.

Frazier has worked hard to get where he’s at right now. He battled a concussion in 2018 and defensive woes in 2019 before putting up a very solid 2020 campaign. While I won’t put too much stock into a 39-game sample size, it’s clear that Frazier deserves a chance to be the everyday left fielder. He’s shown promise since he debuted in 2017, and he’s put himself in the position to be a starter. Luckily, that’s exactly what Aaron Boone said last week.

So with Frazier being the starting left fielder, what reason is there to have beef with Gardy? That is, of course, assuming he doesn’t take a significant chunk of Clint’s playing time, which I don’t think he will.

Here are a few reasons to like the fact that #11 is back in pinstripes.

He provides much-needed depth

Before Gardner re-signed, the Yankees’ choices for their fourth outfielder consisted of Mike Tauchman, Greg Allen, and Estevan Florial. Jay Bruce and Derek Dietrich can both play corner outfield, and still figure to have a shot at making the team as lefty bench bats. Neither of them play center field though, leaving the choices limited to Tauchman, Allen, and Florial.

If you told me we were getting 2019 Tauchman, I’d be all for it. He had an .865 OPS in 87 games, and provided a huge boost for most of the season. Tauchman’s OPS dipped to .648, and he was helpless against fastballs down the middle.

I need to see more from Tauchman before I can trust him.

Allen has a career OPS+ of just 71, hardly a guy that can be asked to play on a regular basis. The Yankees just cut him to make room on the roster for Justin Wilson.

As for Florial, the once highly-touted prospect is still intriguing. But he’s literally played one major league game. I’m not ready to have him play on a consistent basis just yet.

The Yankees’ outfield depth was questionable at best before Gardner re-signed, and the way the Yankees are structured, outfield depth is a key.

The starting outfield is injury-prone

Aaron Judge has missed significant time due to injuries in each of the past three seasons. Aaron Hicks was hurt in 2017 & 2019, and would’ve missed a good chunk of 2020 if not for the pandemic. And whether Giancarlo Stanton is still an “outfielder” or a full-time DH at this point, he’s spent plenty of time on the IL the past two seasons. I am literally praying that these three can give us full, healthy seasons in 2021. But, in the case that one of them goes down, your fourth outfielder is suddenly playing every day. That’s what makes it such an important role.

Not only will the Yankees’ fourth outfielder see action if one of their starters goes down, but he’ll need to play a ton to try and prevent that exact scenario from happening. Baseball is a 162-game grind, and it’s a must to get Judge, Stanton, and Hicks off their feet regularly to help them stay healthy. If your bench outfielder is going to be starting multiple games a week, why not have someone who can play great defense and give you professional at-bats like Gardner?

He stays healthy & plays hard

I thought this tweet from Sweeny Murti last week really spoke volumes about the kind of player Gardner is.

I just talked about how much time the Yankee outfield has missed due to injuries the past few seasons. Gardner has played 140 games or more every season since 2013. Obviously with the exception of 2020, where he appeared in 49/60 games. In a time where we constantly complain about lackadaisical play, whether it be in the field or on the bases, Gardner consistently plays the game hard.

Sweeny is right, Gardy isn’t and has never been a superstar. I’m not sitting here advocating for his number to be retired like some people are. There’s no doubt Frazier has more upside at the plate right now. But how do you not want a guy like him on your team? Not only that, but he’s making just $4 million guaranteed this year.

I don’t want Gardner taking significant playing time away from Clint, batting 3rd in a playoff game, or even starting a game in October. But at the end of the day, I’m glad he’s a Yankee again.

There’s no reason to hate on Gardy.