By Matthew Greenberg
On the surface, it looks like a horrible contract: Four years, $52 Million for a 30-year-old outfielder who hit .273 last year with eight home runs, 52 RBI’s and 24 stolen bases on a team with more outfielders than they know what to do with. Based on those numbers alone, there is no question that the Yankees signing Brett Gardner to an extension like this seems ludicrous. However, when put into a little bit of context, it becomes abundantly clear that the Yankees got Gardner for under his true value on the open market.
When looking for a player’s true value, I like to look more deeply at the saber metrics (specifically Wins Above Replacement) and on-base-percentage, than the show numbers like Batting Average, Home Runs and RBI’s. By doing this, I can compare a player’s contract to what players of a similar caliber received in recent years from their contracts.
As a great defensive outfielder, Brett Gardner’s total WAR gets a 1.1 win boost thanks to his defensive prowess; as a result, Gardner’s WAR from last season ranks him as the 46th most valuable hitter in the league, ahead of one of this off-season’s biggest free agent Shin-Soo-Choo. While at first glance, Choo is clearly the better hitter (.423 OBP, 21 HR VS .344 OBP, 8 HR for Gardner), he is also an extremely poor defensive player, posting -1.9 and -1.8 Defensive WARs for the 2012 and 2013 seasons respectively. Additionally, the two drove in virtually the same amount of runs, and stole a very similar number of bases last season (54 and 20 for Choo VS 52 and 24 for Gardner). Take into account that Gardner is a full year younger than Choo, and in 2010 posted a WAR of 7.4, a full 1.4 wins higher than Choo did during that same year which also happens to be Choo’s best year. Considering that Choo was able to notch a 7-year $130 million deal this offseason with Texas, the new contract for Gardner certainly looks like a steal especially when considering that the Yankees were at one point in the running for Choo.