SAN DIEGO — The Yankees left the winter meetings having crossed two significant items off their offseason to-do list.
One, obviously, outshined the other.
Two days after reaching an agreement with ace righthander Gerrit Cole on a record-setting contract for a pitcher — a nine-year, $324 million deal — the Yankees agreed to terms with outfielder Brett Gardner, 36, on a one-year, $10 million contract with a team option for $10 million in 2021, a source confirmed. He is guaranteed to make $12.5 million as there is a $2.5 million buyout included in the 2021 option.
Neither contract will become official until the players pass their physicals. Cole, 29, arrived in New York on Wednesday, and an introductory news conference is expected early next week at the Stadium.
“We feel good,” assistant general manager Michael Fishman said after Thursday morning’s Rule 5 draft brought a close to the winter meetings (general manager Brian Cashman departed San Diego in the early-morning hours). “We came into the offseason in a pretty good spot with the roster and had some good conversations and progress on a number of things here, so [we] feel like we’re in a good position heading into the rest of the offseason.”
Cashman did not speak in specific terms on Wednesday regarding Cole because the contract was not yet official, and Fishman did the same with Gardner on Thursday. But he still provided insight into the club’s desire to bring him back.
“He’s significant in so many ways,” Fishman said. “He’s been on the team longer than anyone else and the constant that he is means a lot to the organization as well as the production on the field. He’s coming off one of his best seasons. Not just the additional power he had last year but the continued excellent defense that he’s displayed throughout his career. He’s a big part of our team.”
Gardner, who will turn 37 on Aug. 24, was a third-round pick of the Yankees in 2005. . Expected to be a reserve in 2019, he ended up playing 141 games because of the onslaught of injuries and had 28 homers, 74 RBIs and an .829 OPS, all career highs. He’ll likely be the primary centerfielder for at least the first two months of the 2020 season — and maybe a bit more — as Aaron Hicks recovers from offseason Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Gardner entered 2019 with a reputation for fading in the second half, but he hit 10 home runs and drove in 20 runs in 23 September games, compiling a .647 slugging percentage and .966 OPS.
Additionally, the fiery Gardner has long been a respected clubhouse leader, a department that took a hit this offseason when CC Sabathia retired and Didi Gregorius signed a free-agent deal with the Phillies.
“He’s well-loved by all of his teammates,” Fishman said. “It means something, what he’s been throughout his time with us. The passion, it’s a part of who he is and what he brings to the team.”
What is left to bring to the team?
Cole give the Yankees the true ace they’ve been searching for, and what lines up behind him looks pretty good — James Paxton, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ. The latter and his $17 million salary still could be moved to help bring the Yankees under the third luxury-tax threshold of $248 million, but as the meetings closed, nothing seemed imminent.
With Austin Romine reportedly having reached agreement with the Tigers, Fishman said the Yankees are comfortable with Kyle Higashioka as Gary Sanchez’s backup — the analytics department has long been a fan of Higashioka's — but the team has expressed an interest in Martin Maldonado, Cole’s de facto personal catcher with the Astros.
“I would say there aren’t necessarily weak spots on the roster, but there’s always room for improvement,” Fishman said of speculation that the Yankees’ offseason heavy lifting is done. “And that can be on the pitching side, the position player side, the bench side. There’s always ways to improve the roster and it’s our job to constantly explore.”