Another day, another setback in Brett Gardner’s rehab from the elbow strain and bone bruise suffered way back on April 17th while making a sliding catch. Crazy, considering how insignificant the injury initially looked, at least from the upper deck, where I was watching the game from.
On Thursday, the Yankees released a statement acknowledging that Gardner had received a platelet rich plasma treatment as well as a cortisone shot in that balky elbow and will be shut down for three to four weeks before restarting any sort of rehab. Because of Gardner’s inability to play more than two rehab games in a row without any more instances of pain, the Yankees will take it slow with the speedy outfielder once those four weeks are up, meaning that he is probably six to eight weeks away from returning to the lineup at the earliest.
The Yankees, owners of the American League’s best record, may not really miss him as of now, but his absence will knowingly be felt as the summer progresses. Not having his legs on the basepaths or his glove in the field is already evident in the stat sheet, and it’s hard to imagine the revolving door of left fielders not becoming a detriment to the team at some point in the next two months. There are three ways the Yankees can address Gardner’s even-more-prolonged absence, and it begins with leaving things as they are.
Like I said last week, I have to tip my cap to Raul Ibanez. He’s been everything the Yankees have asked for and more, but he’s been really slowing down as of late. Despite the Yankees’ 16-4 record since May 21st, Ibanez only has one home run, four RBI’s, and two multi-hit games since that date, and he’s shaky at best in the outfield. I’m not advocating for Ibanez to be taken out of the lineup or anything, but maybe a slight deduction in playing time will allow him to keep his bat fresh, which would make for more production throughout the rest of the season. Addition by subtraction.
Andruw Jones has been slightly better than Ibanez since I turned 21 on the 21st, keyword slightly. In limited playing time, Jones has two home runs, five RBI’s, but he’s still hitting a meager .224 as compared to .226 twenty games ago. He plays a better outfield than Ibanez does, but he’s hardly the Andruw Jones of old. But it’s not like the Yankees can really take some of Ibanez’s playing time and give it to Jones though. In a complete reversal from last year, Jones is hitting a weak .193 against lefties as opposed to .286 against righties, the exact mark he had against southpaws in 2011. You would think those numbers would sort themselves out, but in the small amount of playing time he gets in between stretches where he just sits on the bench getting older, are we really sure it will? Don’t get me wrong, I like Andruw Jones. I really do have a strange affection for him. But I’m not entirely sure that the Ibanez/Jones platoon will work as well in July and August as it did in April and May.
So this brings us to our second option, an internal candidate to absorb playing time and maybe even produce a little bit. Unfortunately, it is Dewayne Wise who currently occupies the fourth outfielder/pinch runner role while his elders platoon in left. Wise can’t hit. Flat out can’t hit. I don’t even need to bring up any statistics to prove that one. Defensively, he isn’t all that good either. If he didn’t make that incredible catch to rob Gabe Kapler of a home run in the ninth inning of Mark Buehrle’s eventual perfect game in 2009, people wouldn’t think he’s some sort of defensive wizard either. Aside from his career high defensive WAR total of 1.3 in 2009, Wise has never registered a total higher than 0.7, and has had five seasons of negative defensive WAR. He’s useless with the bat and nearly useless with the glove, and I believe that Chris Dickerson would certainly be an upgrade over Wise.
Dickerson certainly is no superstar and he’s nowhere near being an everyday player, but he can definitely help this team out in the limited role he would play. With a career .266 average and a .351 on base percentage, including a .260/.296/.360 slash line last year, he has some life in his bat. At least more than Wise has. Dickerson has slightly more speed and range in the outfield as well, and he could make for a better pinch runner and defensive replacement too. But neither Wise nor Dickerson would take any real playing time away from the aging veterans Ibanez and Jones. So the final option the Yankees have, which is definitely an option despite Brian Cashman’s casual dismissal of it actually being one, is exploring the trade market.
With Carlos Quentin’s name already being floated around the rumor mill, it wouldn’t be a bad idea at all to see what relatively decent outfielders could be had for cheap. Considering Quentin’s explosive last four weeks, the price for him might have been too steep and the Yankees wisely have no interest in him. While browsing Twitter the other day, though, there were a few intriguing names I came across, courtesy of some friends and other assorted Yankees related followers, with the first name being Denard Span.
With the Twins being 11 games under .500 already, it’s conceivable that they will be sellers at the trade deadline. Yes, Span signed a 5 year contract extension with the Twins prior to the 2010 season, but if the right offer comes around, Minnesota could and should consider moving the 28 year old. He and Brett Gardner come from the same mold, with speed and defense each being their strong suit. Span is a tad stronger with the bat (a .286 career average and two seasons of more than 165 hits), but he plays tip top defense just like Gardner. If the Yankees are serious about possibly letting Nick Swisher walk at the end of the season, Span might not be a bad option to inherit right field at Yankee Stadium for the next few years at just a few million dollars a season.
A second name that might be feasible is Reed Johnson of the Chicago Cubs. I’ve always been a tremendous fan of his, and I was internally rooting hard for the Yankees to sign him (as well as Carlos Pena, but alas) during the offseason. He’s quick with a knack for solid glove work as well as the occasional Baseball Tonight web gem of the night award, and he’s got a lively bat for a third or fourth outfielder as well. He’s hit over .300 in three of the last four seasons where he played more than 100 games (2006, 2008, 2010, and 2011) and he’s hitting at a .301 clip through 113 plate appearances this season too. His career .341 on base percentage isn’t bad either. He could easily eat up some innings in left field while providing some decent at bats out of the nine hole for 2 months before Gardner returns, which at that point he would then become a solid fourth outfielder. At 21-41, the Cubs are downright awful and have no real incentive to keep Johnson, as he’s a free agent at the end of the season. The Yankees would be able to trade next to nothing and still have a productive replacement for Gardner. I see no harm in this move.
At the end of the day, there is no one in the Yankees system or legitimately on the trade block that can replace Brett Gardner. He’s an integral part of this team and I miss seeing him out there every day. Get well soon, Brett. We all can’t wait to see you and your terrible hairline out there in left field again.