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Will the Blue Jays sign Brett Gardner?

At any point before yesterday, had you told me that the Blue Jays were interested in acquiring Brett Gardner, I would have said you were crazy.

However, this is apparently the case according to New York Yankees beat writer, Erik Boland. Which begs the question, why?

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What does Gardner offer:

The 38-year-old outfielder was drafted in the 2005 draft and has spent his entire career in the Yankee organization. Gardner made his MLB debut in 2008, back when I was 10 years old. Interestingly, I think I was a Phillies fan at the time, I was weird.

With the bat:

Anyway, he’s slashed .256/.342/.740 (I used OPS at the end, by the way) in over 6000 plate appearances in his career. Obviously, the outfielder is 38, meaning that the speed he once had is no longer a tool in his game. However, he does still get on base, as he slashed .222/.326/.689 in 2021. The season prior, he had an on base percentage of .354, his OBP in his career.

His career high in home runs actually came in the 2019 season, where he hit 28 in his 550 plate appearances. While he’s only hit 15 in the past two seasons, or 619 plate appearances, he still has some pop left despite his age.

His career walk rate stands at 10.6%, but he surpassed that in 2021, walking 13% of the time. In the COVID shortened season, it was  a career high 16.5%. However, his strikeout rate has also increased in the past two seasons, as he struck out 22.2% of the time in 2020 and 21.7% of the time in 2021.

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Defensively:

In years prior, the outfielder registered some pretty high Defensive Runs Saved, including a 33 in 2010, 23 in 2011 and 21 in 2017. In fact, 2021 was the first season where the then 37-year-old recorded a net negative in the outfield.

You’d think because of his age, Gardner would be moved to a corner outfield, but that isn’t the case. He played 816.1 innings in centre field, and while his range at the position has always been questionable, he only registered a -1 DRS at the position.

Another defensive metric I’ve been using recently is Outs Above Average. In 2021, his OAA sat a -1 in centre field. While both these metrics were below average, it’s important to remember that Gardner is in his late 30s. To me, the fact he’s marginally below average is quite impressive.

Does he fit a need?:

The Jays have one need and one need only, they need a left-handed batting outfielder.  Does Gardner fit that need? Absolutely. While Gardner will never hit 20 homers again, the 38-year-old is a spray hitter, as he can hit the ball to all sides of the field. While his average has declined, he still gets on base and you know that the 38-year-old will hit a few home runs each season.

Despite being 37 last season, he was tied for the 81st highest sprint speed in the MLB. On average, he moved 28.6 feet per second, the same as former Blue Jays, Marcus Semien. Oddly enough, using Baseball Savant’s metric on sprint speed, Semien was the fastest Jay last season.

Defensively, like most Blue Jays outfielders (except for Grichuk and Springer), Gardner is slightly below average. He certainly wouldn’t be an every day outfielder, so his defense doesn’t matter nearly as much as one would expect.. Not just that, but this need doesn’t really focus on defense, as the Blue Jays were interested in Kyle Schwarber before he signed with the Phillies.

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Should the Jays sign Gardner?:

So should the Jays sign Gardner? 

He fits their needs as he’s a left-handed bat who plays outfield. Not just that, but he’s good for double digit homers, he has the ability to spray the ball and at 38, he could be one of the fast Jays. 

I understand the hatred for the career Yankee, but in my opinion he does make this team better. If Gardner is to be signed, the Jays may have to move one of their current outfielders. Perhaps one of them would be packaged in a deal for Jose Ramirez?

In any case, I think Gardner could definitely help this young team.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter @Brennan_L_D. I would still like Marte or Jose Ramirez. Hoping that happens soon.