11:32 am Sep. 19, 2012
In a season filled with high-profile injuries for the New York Yankees, from Mariano Rivera to Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira to CC Sabathia, one significant omission has largely flown under the radar: outfielder Brett Gardner.
Gardner has been missing since April, dealing with an elbow injury that limited him to just nine games this season. But he is set to return, perhaps as soon as Wednesday, and the use he can be to the Yankees shouldn't be dismissed.
Gardner has a pair of skills that are in short supply on the current Yankee roster: he is the fastest man on a slow team, and the best defensive outfielder on a team without many strong defensive outfielders, particularly in reserve.
This should not be mistaken for damning Gardner with faint praise. He'd be the fastest man on many rosters. That has translated to 137 career stolen bases, and more important, and 83 percent success rate. So Gardner as a late-inning baserunning option is a significant advantage for the Yankees, who need every edge they can get in a race against the Orioles for the American League East that's currently tied.
Gardner can also play plus defense in both center field and left field. His work out there is strong enough that though his O.P.S.+ was just eighth among Yankee regulars in 2011, his overall value was more like third or fourth.
A healthy Gardner is also a good bet to help the Yankees in the postseason, should they get there. If Gardner can show manager Joe Girardi that he is healthy and can produce, it will be in the best interest of the Yankees to utilize him next month, too.
So the stories from Wednesday will likely focus on Andy Pettitte, and justifiably so. Brett Gardner's return, however, is awfully significant to the Yankees as well.