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Does Brett Gardner re-signing with Yankees impact Bryce Harper's free agency?

Mark Townsend
·Yahoo Sports Contributor
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Some of the earliest offseason dominoes started falling Wednesday as players and MLB teams reached the deadline to opt-in and extend their contractual agreements or move on.

The biggest name who will make that decision on his future is Clayton Kershaw. But there were other opt-in decisions that could impact how teams will approach their offseason.

Among them: Brett Gardner.

Most offseasons, the veteran outfielder’s status would be news on its own because he’s been with the New York Yankees for his entire 11-year career. This offseason, it became a little bit bigger news because there’s a certain free agent named Bryce Harper who’s expected to be on the Yankees radar and who also plays outfield, just like Gardner.

As the New York Yankees announced, Gardner will remain with the team in 2019. His $12 million contract option was actually declined by the Yankees, which forced the team to pay him a $2 million buyout. However, he was quickly re-signed to a one-year, $7.5 million contract.

Knowing now that Gardner will remain with the Yankees, a natural question to ponder is how the deal could impact the Yankees’ pursuit of Harper, which in turn could shape the entire landscape of this winter’s huge free-agent class.

Let’s take a deeper look.

Will the New York Yankees outfield have room for Bryce Harper after the team re-signed Brett Gardner? (AP Photos)
Will the New York Yankees outfield have room for Bryce Harper after the team re-signed Brett Gardner? (AP Photos)

Will Yankees loaded outfield have room for Bryce Harper?

The Yankees outfield was already going to be loaded with or without a Gardner return. Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton made up the core rotation with Gardner in 2018, and all will be back in the mix. The Yankees also have Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier locked in. Both were on the outside looking in during 2018 due to injury, but would be options if they prove healthy in the spring.

That’s six potential outfielders. Bryce Harper would make seven. But Bryce Harper would also clearly elevate the Yankees’ already exceptional talent level. In other words, they’ll be in play if the price is right, and they’ll happily sort out the mess if and when it becomes a reality.

If the Yankees did remain on the outside of the Harper sweepstakes, that would obviously change the entire landscape. It would be good news for the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies, especially. They figure to be the other main teams in pursuit of Harper. But we shouldn’t make the leap that the Yankees will be out based on Gardner’s deal.

At this point, bringing back Gardner is more of an insurance policy than any clear sign of Harper’s future. The 35-year-old has always given the Yankees stability in the outfield. If Harper comes, Gardner slides into a bench role or becomes a potential trade chip. The latter would certainly hinge on Ellsbury’s or Frazier’s health. And let’s face it, we all know Ellsbury is nearly impossible to trade. He’s still owed nearly $42 million over the next two seasons. Given his health, Gardner and/or Frazier would be the trade chips.

If Harper isn’t an option for the Yankees, Gardner continues starting in left field. Simple as that.

It all makes sense, and here’s perhaps the most important part of Gardner’s deal to the Yankees.

The Yankees saved money

It’s only a $2.5 million savings for one year. That’s not the type of money that would impact a Harper deal with him expected to pursue $350 million over 10 years. It does give New York a little more flexibility to make a play for an underneath free agent, or to help pay off arbitration increases. Neither are small things to the Yankees.

The Yankees have actually done a good job cutting back salary despite adding Giancarlo Stanton last winter. They stayed under the luxury-tax threshold for the first time ever in 2018. That won’t happen again in 2019 if they land a big a free agent or two. But they continue doing a good job organizing their money with the long-term goal of building another baseball empire.

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