TAMPA, Fla. — For the group of Yankees fans disappointed in Friday night’s news that Brett Gardner will be back because of the impact it might have on Clint Frazier’s playing time, don’t despair.
"Look, I expect Clint to be our leftfielder and to be in that starting lineup [regardless of] whoever we bring in here," Aaron Boone said Saturday afternoon.
Boone was unable to fully address the signing of Gardner, as the deal won’t become official until the 37-year-old passes a physical. But even in praising Gardner, Boone made clear the organization’s plans for Frazier, a fan favorite ever since general manager Brian Cashman made him the centerpiece of the Andrew Miller deal before the 2016 trade deadline.
"Clint is going to be a regular player for us going into the season," Boone said.
Gardner, who agreed to a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $4 million, is a long-respected voice in the Yankees' clubhouse. He’s been with the organization since he was chosen in the third round of the 2005 draft, and he's been a major-leaguer since 2008.
Boone made it clear that there will be a role for Gardner, still a solid defender and a rare lefthanded-hitting presence in the lineup when he plays.
"One of the things I look at is toughness, the ability to post [every day], the ability to play through things," Boone said. "The premium he puts on being ready to go each and every day. There is a blue-collarness to the way he goes about his business, I think, that is infectious. He's got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder that he plays with."
Boone paused and smiled.
"I don't even know how old he is now, but he's got a young man's body. He's in great shape," he said. "He has aged very well."
Gardner batted .223 with a .354 on-base percentage last year but put together a hot streak in his last eight games, recording a .409/.519/.591 slash line, which helped earn him starts in leftfield in five of the Yankees’ postseason games. He went 7-for-19 with a homer, three RBIs and six runs scored in six playoff games.
Not surprisingly, Gardner’s return has been well-received in the clubhouse.
"It’s huge," said backup catcher Kyle Higashioka, a Yankee since being drafted in the seventh round in 2008. "Gardy’s always been one of my favorite teammates. Just the leadership and the experience he provides is going to be really vital to us. Guys like that are such a great role model for guys coming up. He’s just the ultimate professional."
Will injuries to pitchers increase?
Talk to just about anyone in MLB and the biggest concern for 2021 is the impact last year’s start-stop-start 60-game season will have on pitchers — meaning even more injuries than usual — as their workload soars this season.
Take standout reliever Chad Green, for example. The righthander averaged 71 innings per year his previous three seasons before throwing 25 2/3 innings in 2020.
"I don’t think about it too much," he said. "I think it’s just going to be a guy-to-guy thing. I think everybody’s going to be different. So it’s just going to be about communicating with the staff and how you’re feeling that particular day. I think it’s going to be a continued conversation throughout the year about how you’re feeling."
Call to arms
Boone did not highlight any one pitcher but could not say enough positive things about the arms he’s seen in bullpen sessions three days into camp.
"These guys have looked really good," said Boone, who is in his fourth season as the Yankees' manager. "Maybe it's a little bit routine, but I do feel like this is hands-down the deepest group of arms we've had since I've been here. I thought last year we were a lot better than the year before, and I certainly feel that way this year. Almost across the board, guys are standing out with that [throwing]. As far as a name, check back with me in a couple days because everyone, [in] their first bullpen, has looked as good as we could have hoped."