New York Yankees: Are the Yankees going to be “left” out without Brett Gardner

New York Yankees, Brett Gardner
Oct 4, 2019; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner (11) hits a solo home run during the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins in game one of the 2019 ALDS playoff baseball series at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees, after having a near-silent offseason, have now accomplished their biggest needs. The Yankees offered the second baseman and baseball batting title winner DJ LeMahieu a $6.9 million raise as a qualifying offer, the only one given by the Yankees. He would have earned $18.9 million for the 2021 season, but he refused and became a free agent. With money being a second consideration, DJ wanted a long contract that the Yankees did not want to give the 32-year-old. In the end, both sides got what they wanted. The Yankees got a low $15 million annual investment, and DJ got a six-year deal.

The other big need was to sign a number two-like starting pitcher to back up ace Gerrit Cole. After the Yankees lost Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ, they were left veteranless. With plenty of arms to choose from, all they had were inexperienced arms that probably wouldn’t carry them into the postseason. As soon as the New York Yankees knew more about their finances after the signing of DJ LeMahieu, they immediately signed two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to an $11 million one year low risk, high reward contract. This signing will give the Yankees another season to evaluate returning Domingo German, Luis Severino, and the developing young arms.

That leaves the Yankees needing additional bullpen help caused by the suspect relief of Adam Ottavino and the loss of Tommy Kahnle, who signed a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But today, we are going to discuss what some might consider a minor need. Plain and simple, the New York Yankees need at least one if not two left-hand producers in the lineup.

With the loss of Brett Gardner to free agency when the Yankees refused his 2021 option, the Yankees are left with no true left-hand batters that can impact the lineup. Yankee fans might be surprised that last year with Brett Gardner and switch hitter Aaron Hicks in the lineup, the team had fewer lefty plate appearances than any team in baseball.  In fact, only five teams in the history of baseball have had fewer left-hand plate appearances. So why is the lack of left-hand hitters important? For two reasons, It allows the opposing team to set up their pitching with less guesswork and doesn’t allow the Yankees to take advantage of the short porch at Yankee Stadium as much as they should.

It’s not that the Yankees don’t have left-hand hitters on the bench; the problem is, for the most part mixing and matching lefties from the bench doesn’t work when they don’t hit. Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford, Tyler Wade, and Estevan Florial are all left-hand hitters, but last season they combined for a slash line of just .188/.291/.296 and a mere .588 OPS. Stats like that are not going to win games. Please make no mistake about it. It should be obvious that the Yankees have done well without left-hand hitters. But wouldn’t it be smart to have some to throw the opponents off a bit?

The obvious answer to solving the problem is to bring back Brett Gardner, then at least they would have one lefty in the lineup. Two would be better, but one is better than nothing. Gardner has been with the Yankees since 2005, the last remaining player from the 2009 World Series-winning team. Gardner would like to end his career with the Yankees and has shown little interest in playing for another team. Like many players, he didn’t have a great year last season, but in 2019 he had a career-high number of home runs. Even if Gardner does get a hit, he does manage to get on base.

Despite a career-low .223 batting average in ’20, Gardner’s excellent 16.5% walk rate (and .354 OB) still gave him a 108 OPS +, making him slightly above average and similar to the 103 OPS+ he put up from ’17-19. Gardner had a $10 million option with a $2.5 buyout feature, the Yankees declined. With Garder’s desire to play another year and the fan’s love of their veteran that plays so hard, the Yankees can come to deal if they truly want him back. He is still an above-average defender in both left and centerfield.

If the New York Yankees don’t want Gardner back in the lineup, they have other options. Probably the best left-hand hitter out there that the Yankees can afford is free agent Joc Pederson. The former Los Angeles Dodger destroys right-hand pitching and would be the perfect fit for Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right. He is not the defender that Gardner is, but his bat makes up for that. Against right-hand pitchers in 2020, he hit .382/.432/.559 in 37 plate appearances. If there is a problem, it’s that he can’t hit off lefties. Last year he batted .190 off lefties. That would be less of a problem with the Yankees as their right-heavy lineup seldom faces lefty pitchers. With an incentive-laden contract, the Yankees could probably land Pederson for $6 million on a one year contract. By the way, he is a Luke Voit look alike.

There are other options out there, a reunion with Didi Gregorius is financially unlikely and also has too many moving parts now that the Yankees have resigned DJ LeMahieu. There are other left-hand hitters available that are also ruled out for the same reason.

One interesting possibility is Tommy LaStella, the former Angel and Athletics infielder. He would be backup for the New York Yankees to play any position in the infield should any of the Yankee infielders be injured or need a day off. Coming to the Yankees would be like a homecoming for the northern New Jersey native. Last year with the Angels and Athletics, he hit .281 with 5 home runs while striking out only 12 times in 228 plate appearances. In the postseason, he hit .273 in the wild card and .313 in the ALDS. While there are others available, these are my best two fits for the Yankees.

The photo below is of the Luke Voit look-alike Joc Pederson.’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.