A reunion between Brett Gardner and the Yankees has not been ruled out as the sides have remained in contact, according to sources, but general manager Brian Cashman sounds ready to play 2021 without the team’s longest-tenured player — and with a bigger role for Clint Frazier.
Asked about Gardner during a Friday Zoom call, Cashman said “he’s been a great Yankee. We’ll see how things transpire over the coming weeks.”
Later, speaking with WFAN, Cashman was effusive in his praise for Frazier, who could be the team’s starting left fielder, with Aaron Hicks in center and Aaron Judge in right.
“Clint Frazier has continued to reinforce that he is a force and has gotten better and better,’’ Cashman said. “This past year was another testament to that. Going into this, without a doubt, he’s solidified himself as the guy, and he’s been a guy that’s been saving us quite a few times when injuries hit.”
Frazier in the lineup would make the right-handed heavy Yankees even more right-handed, with only the switch-hitting Hicks providing a left-handed bat, in addition to Mike Tauchman and Tyler Wade, potentially, off the bench.
But Cashman made it clear Friday he wasn’t willing to add balance to the lineup just for the sake of it.
“We have tried to address [balance] as we have in previous years, but we have not found a match that has made enough sense for us to downgrade from the talent-level that happens to be right-handed just to force in that balance,’’ Cashman said. “It’s up for interpretation if that’s a smart strategy by us or not.”
Gardner played well in the latter part of 2020. After getting off to a bad start, with just a .592 OPS and seven extra-base hits in his first 116 plate appearances, Gardner finished strong, going 13-for-33 with a 1.190 OPS and four extra-base hits in his final 42 plate appearances of the regular season. And in the playoffs, Gardner went 7-for-19 with a 1.079 OPS.
Frazier, 26, also had a strong 2020 after years of teasing the Yankees with his talent. He was one of their best offensive threats, but finished the regular season in a 1-for-20 slump.
In the past, he’s struggled with consistency and staying healthy and Cashman believes the aftereffects of the concussion he suffered in 2018 are behind him.
“When we acquired him, he had a high ceiling, but he wasn’t a finished product,’’ Cashman said. “He’s closing the gap on all that.”
When the Yankees traded for Frazier in 2016 in the deal that sent Andrew Miller to the Indians, Cashman famously raved about Frazier’s “legendary bat speed.”
His Yankee career has been up and down and he spent most of the early part of last season at the alternate training site until Giancarlo Stanton hit the injured list with a hamstring strain that Frazier was recalled.
“He had a hell of a year,’’ Cashman said of Frazier. “He’s working his tail off this winter. He’s hungry. He wants to keep getting better.”