Gardner and Cabrera are very similar players. They both have some positives but they also have some big time negatives. Let’s roll with the positives first:
–Both are good defenders. Melky’s just about average in center, but better in right and left. His arm strength is also a positive at the corners. Gardner has a less powerful but more accurate arm and, with his great speed, covers more ground and possesses more range than the Melk man.
–Both are still pretty young. There’s definitely time for them to develop into more than they are now (though I’ll touch on this later).
–Cabrera is an almost ideal fourth outfielder. He’s not good enough to start in left field on a team like the Yankees–unless backed up by a big DH bat in the lineup–but, he can play all three outfield positions competently and isn’t a complete and total embarrassment at the plate (well, some of the time at least). The same goes for Gardner, though he’s more suited to start than his counterpart because of his defense.
–Gardner has options left. It’s not necessary to trade Brett Gardner because the Yankees can still stash him away at Scranton-Wilkes Barre for a rainy day.
Now the negatives:
–It’s unlikely that Cabrera gets any better. We’ve seen over 2,000 plate appearances from Melky and not much has changed. The only consistent thing in his career has been inconsistency.
–Though the sample size is much smaller, it’s hard to see Gardner getting much better than he is now. He plays good defense and has displayed decent on base skills and good base stealing skills, but once pitchers figure out they can just throw it by him because of his lack of power, the former will be negated and, in turn, so will the latter.
–One of them likely doesn’t have a spot on this team. With the acquisition of Jamie Hoffmann through the Rule Five Draft, it would seem that there isn’t going to be room for one of them. Since the Yankees will likely lose Hoffmann if they take him off the 25 man roster, I’d assume they’ll try to keep him over one of Cabrera or Gardner.
So, what should be done with the potential extra outfielder? To quote Michael Corleone: “My offer is this: nothing.” That’s right. The Yankees should do nothing about this situation until after Spring Training. Why? The trade market for both Gardner and Cabrera is likely not great, even though the Royals have expressed interest in Gardner and the Cubs in Cabrera. However, what are the Yankees going to get back for either player? Chances are, it’s not going to be something that will drastically help the team.
Spring Training will show us what’s what. If Hoffmann shows he can handle a bench role in the Majors, then Brett Gardner should be optioned down to Scranton-Wilkes Barre and kept just in case they need him. Melky Cabrera and Jamie Hoffmann would be good bench outfield options and the Yankees would not have to lose anyone. If Hoffmann is incapable of handling the job, he can be taken off the roster and returned to the Dodgers and the Yankees could have the same outfield rotation they had with Gardner and Cabrera in ’09.
There is also a scenario in which all three players could stay with the Yankees. If the Yankees don’t bring in someone to play left field, it would mean that one of Hoffmann, Gardner, and Cabrera would be playing left field every day. This scenario, though, seems unlikely.