There have been several rumors stemming from a tweet by Peter Gammons that the Yankees could be looking to swap Brett Gardner for former prospect and now Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson. As with any rumor, take this one with a grain of the tiniest salt imaginable. When you investigate a bit further though, the trade would make some sense for both teams.
For the Tigers, they would get Gardner. They just signed Rajai Davis and are in need of a lefty bat at the top of their order. Their first four right now are all right handed (Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Ian Kinsler). While they just got rid of a big contract in Fielder, they also could be looking to dump more money in the future. Gardner would be cheaper both short term and long term for the Tigers, and they would have an easier time re-signing him to a long term contract than Jackson. Jackson also had a poor playoff performance with Detroit, and they may be looking to move on from him for that reason.
Then you have the Yankees. They just picked up Jacoby Ellsbury, a souped up version of Gardner who hits for more power, steals more bases, and hits for a better average. The Yankees could use a right handed presence in their lineup, and Jackson would fit the bill. Jackson is also under contract for two years. With Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano’s contracts expiring after this season, and Ichiro & Wells on the first train out of town hopefully this offseason, there is a vacancy in the outfield coming next year. Jackson could fill that opening.
Some might argue that this deal wouldn’t accomplish what the Yankees need; to obtain pitching, a second baseman, or a third baseman. That would be an accurate statement. It also, however, does not prevent the Yankees from continuing to pursue that goal via trade, free agency, or otherwise. What it does do is give the Yankees an outfielder who performed as well if not better than Gardner in 2013 and has far more upside in the future. On top of that, he is under contract for two more years, not just one like Gardner.
The main knock against this trade is that it prevents the Yankees from trading Gardner for a third starter. There are two problems with this argument. First of all, what you want in a trade and what you can get in a trade are two completely different things. No one is offering a legitimate third starter for Brett Gardner or Cashman would already know about it. You can’t create a trade out of thin air, and the teams who like Gardner might not have a number three they’re willing to give up. Furthermore the teams who have a number three starter they’re willing to give up may not like Brett Gardner.
The other problem with the above argument is the fact that it doesn’t prevent the Yankees from trading for a third starter. In fact, it actually makes it more feasible. Austin Jackson likely has more value on the trade market than Gardner. He has more years, more upside, and more star power. No one is giving the Yankees a good third starter for Gardner, but I’d be willing to bet Cashman could get one for Jackson. Why not work a three team deal, or just hold onto Jackson and either see what you can get for him or go into the season with AJax as the starting left fielder. It’s a win-win for the Yankees.
When it comes to one for one deals, you always take the deal if you are the Yankees and you are getting the better player. This is of course provided that the player’s contract is not an albatross. Austin Jackson’s contract is not. Of course the Tigers may be asking for prospects on top of Brett Gardner. Depending on the prospect, I still do the deal. I’d add on a top 20 prospect and take Jackson in a heartbeat. He is the better player now and in the future, and on top of that he has more trade value.
Finally, this trade would allow the Yankees to pursue what they really want anyway. To trade Ichiro. They will have the option of trading Jackson in their back pocket, but they can more believably say that he is their outfielder of the future and they are not interested in trading him. This will bring Ichiro to the forefront, and teams will stop pestering the Yankees about Brett Gardner hoping to pry away the better asset. A market for Ichiro will develop and someone will pick up anywhere between $3-5 million of his contract. The Yankees won’t get a prospect return, but who cares? They can take that $3 million in salary cap space and sweeten the pot for a Masahiro Tanaka contract. If Tanaka doesn’t get posted, they can take that money put it towards the stopgap of their choosing for 2013. This is the most farfetched, but still possible scenario in a Gardner and Austin Jackson trade.
Overall, I can’t think of a single negative in trading for Austin Jackson, depending of course on what deal is on the table. If Cashman turned down this deal, hopefully he has a reasonable explanation as to why. As with all trade rumors, we may not know all of the answers and information until a time when no one will care anyway. This is one avenue (other than Rivera Avenue), that the Yankees will hopefully go down soon though.