Over the course of this past week, the New York Yankees have signed two all-star outfielders. The week began with the Yankees signing Jacoby Ellsbury to a 7-year deal worth $153 million on Tuesday, and on Friday, the Yankees signed Carlos Beltran to a 3-year deal worth $45 million.
The Yankees now have an outfield group that consists of Ellsbury, Beltran, Ichiro, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, and Brett Gardner. Chances are the Yankees will not enter spring training with all six of those outfielders on their roster. Considering the less than desirable trade values of Ichiro, Soriano and Wells; Gardner may have become trade bait for the Yankees after the team’s signings this week.
According to a report from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Yankees are interested in trading Gardner for a starting pitcher. Enter the Chicago Cubs who have a need for a center fielder.
Gardner spent 2013 as the primary center fielder for the Yankees due to Curtis Granderson spending 100 games on the disabled list. In 609 plate appearances with the Yankees last season, Gardner hit .273/.344/.416 to go along with a wOBA of .335 and a 108 wRC+. Gardner did record 24 steals with the Yankees as well last season. Gardner also had a WAR of 3.2 last season.
Gardner was a tick better in 2013 than his career numbers would indicate as the outfielder has a career wOBA of .329 and a 101 wRC+.
Ideally, Gardner would slide into the lead off spot for the Cubs while playing center field. That would allow Junior Lake to shift back to left field. Lake is a statistically better left fielder than he is a center fielder. Lake’s UZR of 5.8 and DRS of -1 in left field last season for the Cubs is far better than his UZR of -2.1 and DRS of -3 while playing center field in 2013.
By comparison, Gardner had a UZR of -0.5 and a DRS of 6 while playing center field for the Yankees last season.
So with the additions of Beltran and Ellsbury, the Yankees are in a position to deal Gardner. Expect the Cubs to at least have a conversation with the Yankees next week at the winter meetings regarding Gardner.