Yanks' Brett Gardner surprised by Jacoby Ellsbury signing


Brett Gardner grew up on a South Carolina farm, but his baseball career has been raised and nurtured by the New York Yankees. Gardner’s not new to the Bronx. He knows how things work around here. He’s seen the players come and go.

But forgive him for being a little shocked when the Yankees handed seven years and $153 million to Jacoby Ellsbury, who’s basically a more expensive — and, granted, more established — version of Gardner himself.

“I was surprised at first,” Gardner said at Tuesday’s Thurman Munson Awards Dinner, where he was recognized for charitable work with children. “I didn’t really see that coming. But, listen, he’s a great player. You put him on our team or any other team across baseball, and he makes them better. … I’m looking forward to playing alongside him and pushing each other and getting the best out of each other.”

Gardner was one of the Yankees few bright spots last season. Finally given an everyday job in center field, and at the top of the lineup, Gardner showed a strong glove and a .344 on-base percentage that was second-best behind Robinson Cano in the Yankees regular lineup.

Instead of sticking with him, though, the Yankees signed Ellsbury, who’s also a left-handed, speed-oriented center fielder.

“(Manager Joe Girardi) called to check in and see how I was feeling mentally, how I was feeling, where I was at,” Gardner said. “(And) to explain that it didn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t want me around, or didn’t see a spot for me.”

After repeatedly denying rumors that they were thinking about trading Gardner, the Yankees are basically heading into spring training with Gardner penciled into left field. Where he’ll hit in the order is still up for grabs (could be second, could be as low as ninth).

“You hear about (trade rumors),” Gardner said. “It’s hard to ignore it. I don’t go digging for information on a daily basis, but when you talk to people, I try to tell my wife and parents and people like that not to bother me with it, but other people say, ‘I heard this’ or ‘I heard that.’ You can’t help but try to run from it, but it always follows you.”

This could be Gardner’s final season with the Yankees. He’s now 30 years old, and he’ll make $5.6 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility. Next winter, he’ll be a free agent, and there’s a chance he’ll get maximum value from a team that sees him as a center fielder and leadoff hitter, two roles that are no longer available with the Yankees.

For now, though, Gardner has another year in pinstripes. He and Ellsbury provide a dynamic speed element on the bases and should cover considerable ground in two-thirds of the outfield.

Of the nine Yankees regulars last season, Gardner is the only one who’s expected to play an everyday role again this season. A different role than he might have been expecting, but an everyday role just the same.

“I like the moves that we made,” he said. “And I look forward to getting to know these guys and playing with them.”

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