Monday, June 30, 2008

Hello Gardner, Goodbye Melky?

The Yankees called up Brett Gardner from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre today in a move that could have longterm ramifications for the team.

The speedy outfielder -- one of the club's top prospects -- batted .287 with three homers, 29 RBIs, 34 stolen bases and a .412 OBP in 80 games for Scranton. A slashing-type player who puts the ball on the ground and raises havoc on the basepaths, Gardner would provide the Yankees lineup with a dimension they haven't had in years.

You have to assume the club didn't bring up a prized farmhand to sit him on the bench, so there's a good chance he's going to play. The next topic to discuss is the reasons behind his arrival in the Bronx. The first possibility is that Gardner is simply a 2008 stopgap with Matsui on the shelf and Damon slowed with a bum foot. This would give him some big-league seasoning without overwhelming him. The second scenario is that the Yankees brass are putting Gardner on display as a potential trade centerpiece for a pitching arm. It's no secret the team is in desperate need for depth in both their starting rotation and bullpen, and with Gardner, Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata all in the system, trading away one of those prospects is certainly within reason.

Then there's the Melky Cabrera Conundrum. Cabrera has regressed offensively the past two seasons, and his inability to consistently get on base -- .246 average, .312 OBP through 80 games -- has surely become a concern for GM Brian Cashman. Cabrera isn't even 24 until August, but has his stunted development erased him from the Yankees' longterm plans?

I personally like Melky, but I've never been convinced that he's an everyday player. When he came up with Robbie Cano in 2006, he provided an important jolt of energy for what had become a moribund Yankees outfield. He plays a solid center field -- he led the Majors in assists in 2007 -- but his plate discipline is below-average and getting worse. Is he beyond repair? I doubt it, but I'm not so sure his ceiling is high enough to warrant the Yankees turning over center field for the balance of the decade and beyond.

Gardner may represent to the Yankees a more dynamic version of Cabrera. Just as Melky boosted the team in 2006, Gardner can become a sparkplug setting up the top of the Bombers order in 2008. If I were calling the shots, which clearly I am not, I'd say roll the dice on the kid.

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