Last winter, the Yankees did not re-sign Johnny Damon. Instead of picking up another left fielder, the Yankees broke camp with 26-year old Brett Gardner as the starter. Many believed Gardner was just keeping the spot warm as most assumed Carl Crawford would sign with the Yankees as a free agent following the season.
But then a strange thing happened: Gardner was actually pretty good. And now, some believe the Yankees will pass on Crawford and keep Gardner.
In 150 games, Gardner hit .277 with 5 home runs and 47 stolen bases. He also won the Fielding Bible Award as baseball’s top defensive left fielder.
Meanwhile, Crawford posted career-highs with a .307 average and 19 home runs. He added 47 stolen bases and finished second to Gardner in the voting for the Fielding Bible Awards. Crawford has won the award three times previously.
According to Fangraphs.com, Crawford was worth 6.9 Wins (Wins Above Replacement, WAR) to the Rays this season. That was 1.5 wins more than Gardner was worth to the Yankees (5.4 WAR). A win is worth about $4 million, so Crawford was worth about $6 million more than Gardner this past season.
Brett Gardner is essentially a poor-man’s Carl Crawford. But that is the problem with this scenario. The Yankees have never settled for second-best, even if second-best was the better value.
With Gardner set to make close to the league-minimum in 2011 (~$400K), it wouldn’t make sense for most teams to pay Crawford $15 million each season just for the extra 1.5 wins that Crawford may provide.
But that is not how the Yankees usually operate. They are the one team that will overpay for that extra one or two wins. And in the AL East, those extra wins can be the difference between winning the World Series or missing the payoffs completely.
But, these are not Hal Steinbrenner’s dad’s Yankees. These Yankees have a budget. And while they will still overspend for one or two extra wins, there is apparently a limit on how far they are willing to go.
So for the Yankees fan that wants a future Hall of Famer at every position, you may have to just settle for Cliff Lee this year.
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