Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gardner Vs. Granderson

He may not have shiny power numbers, but Gardner's still very valuable
Just when you thought the Yankees were done spending for the winter, they go out and drop $52 million on Brett Gardner to lock him up for the four seasons after this one. That's only $8 million less than the crosstown Mets paid to acquire Curtis Granderson, the man Gardner's replacing in center field.

So did the Yankees make the right call in letting Grandy go but keeping Gardner? Despite very different skillsets, they've provided nearly identical value over the past five seasons. Granderson's been worth 18.4 bWAR, and Gardner's been worth 18.1. But since Gardner was cheaper and is two and a half years younger, I think New York was wise to keep him instead of Granderson.

Especially since Gardner projects to provide more value over the life of his contract. Speed tends to age well whereas power does not, and there are (or should be) serious doubts about whether Granderson can bounce back from an injury-plagued 2013. It's possible that Granderson, a strikeout prone slugger with diminishing wheels and defense, may never be the same. He could go the way of Jason Bay.

Gardner's best comp is probably Michael Bourn, who signed a similar four year deal worth $48 million with the Cleveland Indians last year. Neither one hits for high averages or much power, but both speedsters offer elite defense, baserunning and good on-base ability. They also strike out a lot for guys with no pop:

Bourn '10-'13: 584 G, 106 2B, 32 3B, 19 HR, 195 RBI, 222 BB, 178 SB, ..275/.339/.375 (97 OPS+) 17.3 bWAR
Gardner '09-'13: 578 G, 80 2B, 31 3B, 23 HR, 161 RBI, 222 BB, 148 SB .270/.356/.387 (100 OPS+) 18.1 bWAR

Both signed their deals prior to their age 30 seasons, too. Bourn struggled in his first year of his new contract, but that could be attributed to the league-change combined with injuries that caused him to miss 32 games. Gardner's had his own injury issues--he played just 16 games in 2012 and ended last season on the Disabled List--which may explain why he stole "only" 24 bases after averaging twice that many in 2010-'11. But he was still worth better than four wins last year and should provide similar value in the coming seasons so long as he stays on the field.

Whatever Gardner does over the next half-decade, one thing's for certain: nobody can say he's under-appreciated anymore.

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