Years ago, Brett Gardn er checked a lot of boxes for the Cubs. Now, not so much.
Lately, it seems like if you were an above-average player half a decade ago, but are on the wrong end of your 30s and looking to stay in the game, you were probably a target of the Cubs. With the front office working with a budget that’s been hampered by some less-than-ideal contracts that haven’t panned out and ownership pulling the purse strings, Theo Epstein has tried to get creative.
Guys like Carlos Gonzalez, Daniel Descalso, Steven Souza Jr., Junichi Tazawa and Jonathan Lucroy are just a handful of such moves that haven’t paid dividends in recent years. But knowing the front office is going to be working with more limited resources than ever before has me worried it’ll be more of the same this offseason. One guy who made sense back then but doesn’t in the slightest now? Brett Gardner.
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Gardner, 37, saw the New York Yankees decline his $10 million option for 2021 in lieu of a $2.5 million buyout. Obviously, the Yankees are facing the same grim financial prospects as the rest of the league after a fan-less 2020 campaign. Paying an aging outfielder, regardless of his place in franchise history, is a no-brainer.
After a power breakout in 2019, in which he blasted a career-high 28 long-balls, Gardner came back to earth this year, batting just .223. Of course, where he’s always been solid is getting on base – and that was no different this season, evidenced by his .354 OBP.
His walk rate – 16.5 percent – marked his highest of the Statcast era and in the top five percent of the league. Obviously, the Cubs do need more hitters with such an approach. But simply plugging in another guy who’s clearly nearing the end of the line isn’t the answer. I know we’ll probably see Chicago run back the same group one last time next season, but that doesn’t mean we should sacrifice the long-term for potentially catching lightning in a bottle in someone like Gardner.
Reportedly, the National League will lose the designated hitter once again in 2021 – after a one-year experiment that was largely geared toward keeping pitchers healthy in the shortened season. This means, looking at the Cubs’ outfield picture, Kyle Schwarber will likely handle the bulk of the reps in left field – with Ian Happ and Jason Heyward rounding things out in center and right, respectively.
Let me be clear – the team does need more outfield depth. But rather than tap a guy like Gardner, regardless of his lengthy list of career accomplishments, it’s time to make moves that are more geared toward the future. Bring in some younger guys off what will undoubtedly be a massive non-tender list in December and see if you can find an outfielder of the future, rather than one of the past.