The team has thus far maintained it will not be trading the speedy Gardner, but should the Yankees reverse course while the fire is hot?
It is no secret that the Yankees are going to be heavily invested in the pursuit of Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The team is fairly desperate when it comes to starting pitching with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova the only certainties for the rotation. With that, those players each have question marks, making a potential Tanaka signing very important to the club.
What if the Yankees are outbid by another team for Tanaka's services? This is a very legitimate possibility considering the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners are all interested and have deep pockets, not to mention a handful of other teams that could make Tanaka a marquee signing. Will the Yankees feel different about maintaining Gardner's services if they miss out on Tanaka?
The Yanks have clearly stated, with the same force as their claim to want to keep Gardner, they are not interested in anyone among the free-agent group consisting of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana to fill a rotation spot. But the Yankees also know that beyond the three shaky starters up front, they've got nothing solid in their system. Filling the void via trade could be an option.
Gardner, a free agent at the end of the 2014 season, becomes an effective trade chip right now, especially if Tanaka signs elsewhere. Gammons noted that up to six teams, including the Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers, have contacted the Yankees since the Bombers signed Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Gammons does not specifically name any players the other teams would be willing to part with for Gardner.
The Yankees do not have much in the way of MLB-ready resources in the minor league system making Gardner their top trade resource at this time. There may not be a better time than now to use Gardner to acquire a controllable starting pitcher with upside. Gardner might be worth a No. 3 starter from a different organization, which would be an upgrade from what they've got lined up as of now, again if they lose out on Tanaka.
There are concerns with losing Gardner. It would immediately downgrade a very good defensive outfield and eliminate a good speed option in the lineup. Also, it is possible Gardner could be even more valuable midseason.
The Yanks would certainly become less efficient in the outfield if Gardner departed. They could fill the left field vacancy with a combination of Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells, depending on the opposing team's pitcher. The team would prefer to keep Soriano in the designated hitter slot as much as possible. They likely view Suzuki and Wells as insurance for injuries with occasional starts for days off for Beltran in right.
Having Gardner in the lineup provides a positive dynamic to the Yankees' offense. The Bombers will likely still hit Derek Jeter second in the order, thus pushing Gardner, who does a very good job of getting on base, into the nine-hole, creating a speedy nine/one option with Ellsbury. But, if Jeter's bat cannot keep pace, Gardner could fit in behind Ellsbury, moving Jeter down the order.
With Gardner's impending free agency and the possibility of a lucrative contract, do the Yankees see Gardner as a long-term option in the outfield? They've yet to utter such words. The Yanks would be wise to keep listening on Gardner, but if they can hold off until the trade deadline, they may reap more benefits than they'd receive now.
Supposing Gardner has a very good first-half of the season, his value will increase to the extent the Yankees could fill a void even if Tanaka is among their rotation. On the flip side, Gardner might be performing so well that the team could lean toward re-signing him in the offseason. Or even worse, Gardner hits a downturn and loses value.
My feeling is that the Yankees will hold onto Gardner regardless of what happens with Tanaka. They've been building around offense the entire offseason and may be willing bank that it can carry them to midseason with a chance to make a playoff run.
At that point, the Yankees will know much more about their present team needs, as well as their future requirements and Gardner's role with or without the club will be clearly defined.Chris Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work as a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports, Chris created and maintains his own blog site, The Baseball Stance, which provides commentary about all of Major League Baseball. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
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