The Yankees gave 30-year-old center fielder left fielder, Brett Gardner 52 million reasons not to test free agency next season. The Yankees’ speedy left fielder agreed to a four-year, $52 million contract that will keep Gardner in pinstripes through 2018. The contract includes a team option for a fifth year. The signing may come as a surprise. The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a $153 million contract in December which solidifies center field for the foreseeable future. Gardner has been adamant about his desire to play center field, but he actually grades out better as a left fielder. Gardner does not fit the prototypical, power dependable mold for left fielders. Gardner hit a career high eight home runs and drove in a career high 52 runs in 2013. However, baseball is always evolving and this signing is a microcosm of this notion. Relative to his peers, Gardner’s signing tell us a lot of the future of the game. After the jump, I’ll show why the Yankees did a great job by locking up of their home grown players at a very reasonable price.

After missing nearly the entire 2012 season due to injury, Garnder had a rough time at the plate and on the base paths during 2013. Gardner stole a career low 24 bases and only concerted 75% of his stolen base attempts. Gardner’s strikeout rate (20%) increased while his walk rate (9%) drastically declined. This inverse relationship, coupled with Gardner’s increasing fly ball rate (35%), is cause for concern. However, two metrics, Gardner’s defensive measureables as a LF and his speed, brings value. Gardner hasn’t played as the full-time left fielder since 2011, but his past performances are a reason for optimism. Gardner boasted a whooping universal zone rating of 26.1 in 2011 and 25.2 in 2010 as a full-timer in left field. Gardner saved nearly 52 runs per season, which easily paced baseball. Gardner speed makes him an asset in the field and at the plate.

Despite an increasing fly ball rate, Gardner still boasted a .344 batting average on balls put into play which bodes well for his future propsects. Gardner hit just .271 last season, but a high BABIP indicates a mix of luck (in terms of ball placement) and speed. Gardner is one of the fastest players in the game and teams are starting to build around speed and defense. The Yankees made sure it locked up one of the best defensive/speed combos in the game for a modern price.

I’d like to think Gardner’s 2013 season was more of an aberration than a sign of things to come. The Yankees are obviously betting Gardner will start taking more pitches and becoming more confident on the base paths. Fangraphs projects that Gardner will be worth 3.5 wins during 2014. Let’s extrapolate his numbers to derive a value for this contract.

Assumptions:

  • $6.0 million per win in 2015;
  • 5% inflation, year-over-year; and
  • 0.5 win decay over time.
Age WAR $/WAR Value
31 3.3 $6.0 $19.8
32 2.8 $6.3 $17.6
33 2.3 $6.6 $15.2
34 1.8 $6.9 $12.5
Total 10.2   $65.2

Based on these measurables, both the Yankees and Gardner should be happy with this contract. Last season, center fielder, Michael Bourn signed for the same, four-year, $52 million deal that Gardner inked. Bourn had a bigger season before signing his $52 million contract, but Gardner’s age and current financial landscape in baseball make this deal a little more advantageous. In addition, left field bopper, Nelson Cruz was only able to muster a one-year, $8 million contract from the Orioles. Cruz has hit at least 22 home runs and 76 runs over the last five seasons. Cruz was suspended for steroids, but Jhonny Peralta, who was also linked to steroids, received $52 million from the Cardinals in free agency. Cruz grades out a very below average defensive left fielder, which seems to be one of the main red flags. The Cruz-Garnder contract comparison tells fans all they need to know about the current baseball landscape. Speed and defense are in demand. Congrats to the Yankees for locking up one of the better multi-talented outfielders in the game.