Could Brett Gardner be a fit for the Nationals?


One of the trade suggestions that Bill Ladson touched upon in his most recent mailbag post at MLB.com caught my attention enough that I needed to look into the idea further. A reader inquires about the possibility of New York Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner becoming a trade target of the Nationals in their search for a new center fielder. Ladson agrees with the initial idea that Gardner could be a good fit, but quickly notes that he’s heard nothing to support the idea that the organization is considering it.

But, it’s an interesting thought. Especially considering Gardner has quickly become a favorite for many Yankee fans, like myself. In all likelihood he isn’t a player the Yankees would consider dealing at this point in time unless it were as a part of a much larger deal. However, that’s the beauty of the Internet – we’re allowed to speculate.

Image: sports.espn.go.com

Before we can get into the viability of such a deal, the question had to be answered as to who the Nationals might have to part with in order to acquire Gardner. So, I took the idea to Mike Axisa over at River Ave. Blues for his thoughts.

Mike’s entire post is worth your time to read but the abridged version is this:

Just to get this out of the way, we can forget all about Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. That’s not going to happen unless the Yankees really sweeten the pot. It would be a backwards move if the Yankees traded a starting center fielder with three years of team control left for a reliever or two, so forget about that as well. Their bullpen isn’t exactly a problem. Looking at Washington’s 40-man roster, there’s only two names that make any kind of sense for New York: John Lannan and Ross Detwiler.

Mike continues on to a conclusion that ultimately a deal doesn’t seem likely. Lannan and Detwiler profile at best as back end starters in the American League, especially in the tough AL East. But assuming for the sake of argument that they would interest the Yankees, is it even a deal worth doing for the Nationals?

The easy answer is yes. Gardner would solve two problems for the Nationals – center field and a leadoff hitter. Since making his MLB debut in 2008, Gardner has batted .264/.353/.368 in 1,582 plate appearances. While he doesn’t hit for much power (5 HR/162 games), he makes up for it with great speed (48 stolen bases/162 games). He’s averaged 61 walks and 93 strikeout a season. And by most defensive metrics he’s an above average defender. As Mike pointed out, he’s also under team control for at least three more seasons.

The other side of the equation, of course, is whether the Nationals have the depth to afford to part with both Lannan and Detwiler. The easy answer there is also yes.

Based on some of the starting pitching options I briefly discussed last week, there would still be four internal candidates to fill out the 2012 starting rotation for the Nationals: Chien-Ming Wang, Tom Milone, Brad Peacock, and Tom Gorzelanny. More importantly, if the Nationals were able to complete this trade it would permit them to focus on the starting rotation this offseason. They could seek another trade partner in an effort to acquire a pitcher. Or, they could sign someone through free agency. Center field and a leadoff hitter would be addressed on a cost-affordable solution so the team would have more potential dollars available to find a pitcher.

Presumably it would be no significant loss for the Nationals to lose both Lannan and Detwiler if the deal brought back Gardner. I, for one, don’t think the pair of pitchers would be sufficient. I’d expect at least another minor leaguer to be included in some capacity in order for the deal to work.

But ultimately I don’t expect a deal to be a real possibility. Gardner seems unlikely to be available. And one would have to assume that if the Yankees were to make him available then there would be offers out there that would be far superior to a Lannan/Detwiler offer from Washington. But it’s fun to speculate.

Tags: Brad Peacock Chien-Ming Wang John Lannan Jordan Zimmermann Ross Detwiler Stephen Strasburg Tom Gorzelanny Tom Milone Washington Nationals