TAMPA, Fla. — Brett Gardner knew the deal when he re-signed with the Yankees late last month.
"I know what our outfield picture looks like, I know how talented those guys are," Gardner said shortly after position players reported.
Still, the 37-year-old outfielder, a Yankee since being chosen in the third round of the 2005 draft, has been around long enough to know something else: Circumstances can change, and often do.
As Gardner put it: "Things happen."
And so, even while acknowledging that his everyday-player days likely are behind him with leftfielder Clint Frazier and centerfielder Aaron Hicks secure in their starting jobs, that doesn’t change his approach to spring training and beyond.
"We've seen this kind of thing before . . . and it doesn't always unfold the way that you draw it up," Gardner said. "You have to deal with injuries and, obviously, the more depth that you have, the better. Again, I'm excited to be a part of this group of guys, and I'll be ready to play every single day, do the best I can to continue to do that. And whenever my name is called, I'll be ready."
Gardner, brought back on a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $4 million with a player option for 2022, was plenty ready Sunday.
Appearing in his third exhibition game, he sent a charge through the Steinbrenner Field crowd of 2,448 with a second-inning grand slam off Zack Wheeler that highlighted a 4-0 victory over the Phillies.
The grand slam to rightfield sent a charge through the Yankees' dugout, not a surprise in that Gardner, the last remaining player on the roster from the 2009 World Series championship club, is among the team's most popular players.
With the count 1-and-2, Gardner dropped the bat head on a down-and-in breaking ball from Wheeler and pulled it down the line. "That was quite a swing," said Aaron Judge, one of Gardner’s closest friends. "An impressive swing by him, especially in that situation. He got us going today."
Gardner, like so many players, had an up-and-down 2020. He batted .223 with a .354 on-base percentage but got hot toward the end of the season, putting together a .409/.519/.591 slash line in his last eight games. That ended up earning him a start in leftfield in five of the Yankees' seven postseason games and Gardner produced, going 7-for-19 (.368) with a home run, three RBIs and six runs scored in six games.
"I know what I’m still capable of doing," Gardner said toward the start of camp. "And if I didn’t think I was capable of doing it at a high level, I wouldn’t be back here."
He later added: "I’m planning on playing every day. Obviously, that’s not realistic. I know that’s not going to happen."
Re-signing Gardner was low on the Yankees' priority list and, even then, it was going to happen only if he agreed to a deal that would keep the Yankees under the $210 million luxury tax threshold.
He expressed some frustration with the length of the contract talks, but no bitterness. "I've never been shy about my desire to finish my career here," Gardner said.
General manager Brian Cashman praised Gardner for what he’s meant to the franchise but said that wasn’t the motivation to re-sign him.
"We didn’t bring him back as a reward for what he’s done in the past. We brought him back because we think he’s going to impact us in the present," Cashman said recently. "We’re lucky that he loves being here because I guarantee he had a chance to go elsewhere and probably make some more money than we had in terms of flexibility. I’m glad we’re still working together."