SAN DIEGO — Outfielder Brett Gardner, the longest tenured Yankee and now the lone holdover from their last championship season, in 2009, is returning for his 13th major league season with the team. The deal, which both sides wanted, was completed on Thursday, with Gardner agreeing to a one-year contract that guarantees him $12.5 million.
Gardner will earn $8 million in salary plus a $2 million signing bonus next season, according to a person with direct knowledge of the deal who requested anonymity because it had not yet been announced. The deal also includes a $10 million option for the 2021 season with a $2.5 million buyout.
Returning for his 16th year in the organization, Gardner, 36, was drafted by the Yankees in 2005, reached the majors in 2008, won a World Series ring the next season and has been a team leader for many years. With the retirement of pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who also played on the 2009 Yankees, Gardner will continue to play an important leadership role in the clubhouse.
Not that he will not be valuable on the field, as well: He is a left-handed hitter in a lineup filled with right-handers and a capable center fielder, a position of need for the Yankees while Aaron Hicks recovers from Tommy John surgery, which may keep him out until the second half of the season.
“The constant that he is means a lot to the organization as well as the production on the field,” the Yankees’ assistant general manager Michael Fishman said on Thursday, the closing day of baseball’s annual winter meetings.
Gardner re-signed with the Yankees before the 2019 season on a guarantee of $9.5 million, which seemed at the time like a lot for a player coming off the worst season of his career (.236 average and .690 on-base plus slugging percentage, the lowest mark since his 42-game rookie campaign in 2008). But the Yankees valued Gardner, and he rewarded their faith with the best season of his career: Hitting .251 with a career-high .829 O.P.S.
The biggest jump was Gardner’s home run production: He smashed 28 home runs, blowing past his previous high by seven. Like many players in baseball (and with the benefit of a so-called juiced ball), Gardner changed his hitting approach to hit more balls in the air. His jump from 8.4 degrees in average launch angle in 2018 to 13.6 degrees in 2019 was among the biggest increases in the major leagues.
Gardner returns to a team that is perhaps the early World Series favorite for 2020. So far this off-season, the Yankees have made nearly $355 million in new commitments, including to the ace Gerrit Cole, closer Aroldis Chapman and Gardner.
The Yankees let two veteran players depart via free agency this winter: the backup catcher Austin Romine — who reached a one-year deal worth just over $4 million with the Detroit Tigers on Thursday, according to multiple reports — and shortstop Didi Gregorius, who agreed to a one-year, $14 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies this week.
The move reunited Gregorius with Joe Girardi, the former Yankees manager who was hired by the Phillies for the same position in October. The Yankees are expected to use infielder Gleyber Torres, a younger and better hitter than Gregorius, as their primary shortstop next season.