Part 8 in a series analyzing the New York Yankees
Brett Gardner was in line not just to continue a remarkable run of durability and success in the latter stage of his career heading into 2020, the 36-year-old is also on the cusp of some significant career milestones before the regular season was pushed back indefinitely by the coronavirus pandemic.
If he plays in 11 games, Gardner would pass Alex Rodriguez for 17th overall in games played as a Yankee and he’s 37 away from moving past Graig Nettles.
But Gardner, the team’s oldest position player, hasn’t simply been compiling stats lately.
While other — younger — outfielders like Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, not to mention Jacoby Ellsbury, have had trouble staying on the field, Gardner is coming off a season in which he set career highs in homers, RBIs and OPS.
And with CC Sabathia’s retirement, Gardner became the longest-tenured Yankee.
Drafted in the third round of the amateur draft in 2005, Gardner made his MLB debut in 2008 and signed a new contract this offseason.
“It’s crazy, man, it really is,’’ he said this spring of his position as the Yankees’ elder statesman. “It’s hard to believe I’ve been here as long as I have. It’s not something I take lightly. It means a lot to me to still be here, and I’m very happy to have an opportunity to come back here and try and finish some unfinished business.’’
And he’s not looking too far ahead.
“At this point, I’m just kind of taking things one year at a time,’’ Gardner said this spring. “I’ve really always looked not too far into the future, obviously. The contract that I signed, the Yankees have a team option on me for next year. In a perfect world for me, I stay healthy and have a good season and they pick that option up and I come back and do it all over again.’’
He’s already become one of just five players drafted by the Yankees with at least 1,000 hits with the team, joining Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Gardner and Jeter are the only two players in franchise history with more than 100 homers and 250 stolen bases as a Yankee.
And Gardner is one of only four players in the majors to play in at least 140 games in each of the last seven seasons, along with Brandon Crawford, Anthony Rizzo and Carlos Santana. Gardner and Mike Trout are the only two players with at least 80 runs scored in each season since 2013.
Last year, Gardner was the oldest player in MLB to make at least 100 outfield starts.
“His ability to stay on the field, especially at that position, is very valuable, especially with all the other injuries they’ve dealt with in the outfield the last couple of years,’’ said an AL scout. “I think a lot of us have been waiting for him to break down or slow down in his production, but it’s easy to see why they want him around. [Gardner] has found a way to thrive — and not just offensively. He’s still above-average in center.’’
Before spring training was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gardner was again proving himself to be a key member of the outfield, as Judge was sidelined with a fractured rib and punctured lung and Stanton missed time with a strained calf. Ellsbury — a few weeks younger than Gardner — hasn’t played a game since 2017.
Gardner, meanwhile, has played at least 140 games every season since missing most of 2012 with an elbow injury.
Whatever becomes of the 2020 season, if it ever starts, Gardner will no doubt be relied upon heavily, with injury concerns surrounding most of the rest of the outfield regulars.
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