The Yankees wanted their longest-tenured player back, just not quite at such a steep price.
Not surprisingly, the Yankees declined to pick up the 35-year-old’s $12.5-million option for 2019, but they did come to terms on a one-year deal for next season worth $7.5 million.
Combined with the $2 million buyout that was a part of the four-year, $52-million deal he signed before the 2015 season, Gardner is in line to make in the range of $9.5 million next season.
The agreement keeps Gardner, a third-round pick in 2005 who made his big-league debut in 2008, a part of the only franchise he’s ever played with and one he made clear he wanted to stay with.
Gardner hit just .236 last season in 140 games, his lowest average since hitting .228 in 40 games in 2008, but managed a .322 on-base percentage, even with a horrendous second-half slump, in large part because of his ability to make opposing pitchers work.
Gardner saw 4.24 pitches per at-bat, which ranked him ninth in the majors. He also continued to play solid and at times spectacular defense in left, which allowed him to be named a Gold Glove finalist. Gardner won a Gold Glove in leftfield in 2016.
The veteran will be part of a crowded outfield mix when spring training arrives. Aaron Hicks is cemented as the starter in center and Aaron Judge will start in right. Giancarlo Stanton again figures to see time at DH and also in left.
Prospect Clint Frazier could be a factor if he finally sheds the concussion symptoms that plagued him all of last season. And Jacoby Ellsbury, who missed all of 2017 with various injuries, is expected to be healthy by the spring.
Gardner, along with CC Sabathia considered the leaders of the Yankees clubhouse, said throughout the season’s second half that he wanted to play next season and hoped it would be with the Yankees.
He repeated that after the Yankees’ four-game loss to the Red Sox in the Division Series.
“I’m not going to stand here and say that I don’t want to play anymore,” Gardner said after the 4-3 loss in Game 4 eliminated the Yankees. “My body feels great, I feel healthy. I would love to be back. We’ll sit down and figure that out at the right time.”
He later said: “This is a really good team in here. It’s going to be a good team next year. We just got to find a way to get a little better. I think that we will.”