Brett Gardner is very happy to be a Yankee again, and was smart enough to make that possible by quickly re-upping on a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $9.5 million, thus sparing himself another rough winter for the sport’s middle-class free agents.
What Gardner is not so thrilled about is the current title drought in the Bronx. And as one of two remaining holdovers from that 2009 World Series crown — the other being CC Sabathia — he’s fed up with the Yankees not reaching their ultimate goal in October.
“It has flown by, but it’s been way too long,” Gardner said Thursday. “I know the front office and the ownership, obviously, they go out of their way to try and put the best possible team on the field every year and it’s been a disappointing 10 years. And I know for our fans it’s been disappointing, too.
“But as one of the guys that’s been in this room the whole time, it’s been just as disappointing, if not more so for me. And I’ve lost probably more sleep over it than just about anybody. So yeah, we’re trying to get back there, and anything short of that is not acceptable.”
Maybe you’re questioning why the Yankees brought back Gardner in the first place instead of giving $300-plus million to Bryce Harper. He’ll be 36 in August and is coming off the worst season (.236 BA, .690 OPS) in his 11-year career, and the club seemingly has a ready-made replacement in Clint Frazier, who finally seems clear of his lingering concussion woes.
Brian Cashman easily could have moved on, and certainly would have if Gardner had chosen to push the issue after the Yankees declined his $12.5 million option for 2019. But here’s a case in which the team recognized the importance of a clubhouse leader — at the right price — and the player understood the real value of being in a place he wanted to be.
For Gardner, the decision was a no-brainer. He said his mind was made up in a matter of hours. He knew Frazier would be pushing him for a job, but whatever role awaited Gardner in the Bronx, he’d still be on a championship-caliber club, with first-class treatment.
“To be honest, I don’t want to go anywhere else,” he said. “I kind of knew it was going to be CC’s last year and I remember what happened 10 years ago — we’re trying to get back to that place. I think we’re better this year than we were, and I think we’ve got a better group of guys in place than we’ve had — maybe than I’ve ever seen.
“And the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I’ve played with quite a few people who have come from other places and can’t believe the way we do things around here. I’ve played with people here that go other places and call me and say, ‘Hey, you don’t want to come over here.’ ”
When playfully prodded, Gardner declined to elaborate on those less desirable franchises. The Yankees are the only organization he’s known, and that lineage has made him the perfect bridge to the next generation of players, including an ideal mentor for Frazier.
Some vets could make such a competition awkward, but that’s not in Gardner’s DNA. He believes he has a responsibility to help Frazier develop, just as others once did for him.
Frazier considers himself lucky that it’s Gardner he’s battling with.
“He sets the precedent as to what a professional is like,” he said. “I’m showing him that I’m trying to go about this the right way, just trying to put myself in a good position just like he is.
“I pulled him aside [Thursday] and just wanted to let him know, I’m not trying to make this about him and I. I’m trying to just answer the questions in a respectful manner and go out there and just play. Gardy’s a great man, and I’m just glad I get to at least stand next to him in the outfield when we’re shagging because it’s an honor to be out there with him.”
Gardner, for his part, hasn’t been in a competition like this for a while. But his mindset hasn’t changed, nor his team-first attitude, which has always been a huge part of his appeal to the Yankees.
“There’s no hard feelings,” Gardner said. “I mean, we’re on the same team. We’re all trying to do the same thing here.”
And he’s anxious to get it done.