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Way back in the day, I used to write the blog Fire Joe Torre. My argument was basically (with some hyperbole thrown in): the Yankees can do better than Torre, even if they won a lot of games with him. They’re slowly losing their dominance. The fans love Joe Torre. The media loves him. The team loves him. He’s still far from the best manager they could find. Therefore, if they were really serious about winning, they would ditch the good feelings and make the move that they really needed to make: fire Torre, and hire a good manager.

The argument that I want to make in this post is a little different. The Yankees just won the World Series. For the sake of egos, fans, the media, conventional wisdom and inertia, they can probably afford to take the second-best option on the playing field once or twice and still have a pretty good shot at the World Series. I still think that they should do absolutely everything they can to maximize their chance of winning, so I believe that Curtis Granderson should play left field and Brett Gardner should play center field.

Greg Fertel at Pending Pinstripes made a similar argument last week. He noticed how strong Gardner’s defense projects as, and how underrated his offense was in 2009, and compares Gardner to Jason Bay favorably. While that doesn’t really pass the “smell test” to me, I don’t think that Brett Gardner is all that bad. In fact, I think he is a lot better than Melky Cabrera.

Unfortunately, the snow has put a dent in my weekend plans, so I can’t go into any real fancy statistical analysis here. I’m working from a family member’s netbook. But I’m going to put up two tables: Brett Gardner’s last couple of years, and Melky Cabrera’s last couple of years, via BR:

Brett Gardner, Minors:

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG
2006 22 2 Teams A_adv-AA 118 529 449 87 134 16 8 0 35 58 12 70 90 .298 .395 .370
2007 23 2 Teams AA-AAA 99 448 384 80 108 18 8 1 26 39 7 54 75 .281 .369 .378
24 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre AAA 94 426 341 68 101 12 11 3 32 37 9 70 76 .296 .414 .422
5 Seasons 388 1754 1467 300 424 55 28 9 125 156 31 238 291 .289 .389 .383

Brett Gardner, Majors:

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG
2009 25 NYY 108 284 248 48 67 6 6 3 23 26 5 26 40 .270 .345 .379

Melky Cabrea, Majors:

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2006 21 NYY AL 130 524 460 75 129 26 2 7 50 12 5 56 59 .280 .360 .391 .752
2007 22 NYY AL 150 612 545 66 149 24 8 8 73 13 5 43 68 .273 .327 .391 .718
2008 23 NYY AL 129 453 414 42 103 12 1 8 37 9 2 29 58 .249 .301 .341 .641
2009 24 NYY AL 154 540 485 66 133 28 1 13 68 10 2 43 59 .274 .336 .416 .752
5 Seasons 569 2148 1923 250 518 90 12 36 228 44 14 171 246 .269 .331 .385 .716

I think that a couple of things are self-evident, that are worth remembering. First off, Brett Gardner had a pretty good rookie season with the bat. He battled through injuries, but hit .270/.345/.379, which along with his baserunning makes him a decent enough option at center field. Melky Cabrera wasn’t much better, despite having his best season ever in his fourth full campaign in the major leagues. In his two previous seasons, Melky was much worse with the bat than Brett Gardner. On defense, and the basepaths, there is no argument that Brett Gardner is a far superior player.

If Brett Gardner improves even a little bit, he should be on the team over Melky Cabrera. I included Gardner’s minor league statistics to illustrate just how good he was while down there, especially at Triple-A. A .360 OBP year from Gardner is well within the realm of possibility. With full playing time, you’d probably also see 70+ stolen bases. Basically, I’ll echo what I got some heat for saying in 2007: Brett Gardner is basically Jacoby Ellsbury, but Ellsbury doesn’t know how to play defense, and Gardner does. He should play.

But if they were really serious about winning, the Yankees wouldnt stop there.  Brett Gardner shoudn’t only play over Melky Cabrera, he should take Curtis Granderson’s assumed spot in center field. Granderson is  a fine player, a fine person, and a decent center fielder. Years ago, he ranked among the best in the league by UZR (which has its flaws, but we don’t really have a better measure), and while he has slowed down a bit lately, Granderson still is an above-average player at the position. I don’t want to get into a statistical debate here: we can all pretty much agree that Brett Gardner is a better center fielder than Curtis Granderson.

At that point of logic, the decision should be easy. Granderson should take his good speed for a center fielder and become a much stronger center fielder. Brett Gardner should play center. Given the current roster construction, this is the best way for Joe Girardi to deploy his roster.

But does it matter? If Granderson is 10 + X in left field,  shouldn’t Gardner just be 15 + X? No, it doesn’t work that way. Center field not only requires more range, it affords more opportunities. Brett Gardner will get more chances to use his awesome speed at that position, and that difference will manifest in real runs. How many runs over the course of a season? You can probably guess as well as me, because I have no clue. But the logic tells me some runs will be saved, and that’s all that matters to me.

The Red Sox just got John Lackey. They may get Adrian Gonzalez. Its time to get serious. Granderson will get over it. Melky fans will get over it. Do what makes the team on the field best, and screw everyone’s feelings.

Merry Christmas.

43 Responses to “If The Yankees Were Serious, They Would Put Gardner In CF”

  1. I have been saying this ever since the Granderson trade. CG HAS been a top level defensive CF while with the Tigers but with age comes the athletic decline. Now i realize CG is a few years younger than Damon when he came over but eventually he had to be moved to Left. The same thing will happen with CG. The defensive lineup of CG in left, Gardner in Center, and Swish in right would is the best defensive lineup we could put out there and yes CG isnt quite what Damon was at the bat but I assume with the stadium adjusted difference CG will have a better season (maybe not BA wise) as Damon has had but he has the possibility of having even more power numbers than Damon. People need to get off the Melky train outside his hot start he didnt do much. Yes he had a couple walkoff hits but Gardner with his speed and more than likely higher OBP puts him up higher offensively…the stats dont lie. Unfortunately Cashman has been touting Melky as the bigger assest even though he claims to be more “about the numbers”. I dont see how anyone can come the conclusion Melky is the better player. Everyone will point out Melky is younger but its not like we are talking about a 25 year old and a 20 year old, the difference is way too small to even consider in my opinion.  (Quote)

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    Peter Lacock Reply:

    Granderson is not old and will be the CF.  (Quote)

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  2. I’m very interested in seeing what Gardner can do over a full season in CF… but it’s too bad we don’t know if he’ll get the chance. If only Melky got traded for a decent prospect…  (Quote)

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  3. This, of course, presupposes that the Yankees are done making acquisitions. They could just leave Granderson in center and try to acquire another left fielder who would be better than Gardner. That said, I’d say that with the current roster, you’re mostly right. I would only add that Cabrera or Hoffman should get in the mix against lefties.  (Quote)

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  4. I think we very well should get into a statistical debate. Plus/Minus has Curtis Granderson as a +8 CF over a three-year averaged period from 2007-2009, and a +15 glove in the 2009 campaign; also, for whatever it is worth, he was voted as the third-best center fielder in MLB in the Fielding Bible Awards race for the 2009 season (Franklin Gutierrez and Carlos Gomez were voted first and second, respectively.

    Despite what the mainstream sentiment may be or whatever interpretations may have been drawn from a couple of misplayed fly-balls in the final week of the Tigers’ 2009 season, Granderson is still an elite center fielder, and – in my opinion – Brett Gardner’s projected defensive value should not warrant a move of the former out of center field.

    You say that based on a UZR-biased “point of logic,” Gardner is a superior center fielder than Granderson without question; yet, John Dewan’s plus-minus system – a popular and respected defensive evaluation system – comes to the opposite UZR-based conclusion – that Granderson is actually an elite center fielder, only bested by an all-world season by Gutierrez, and the former Minnesota Twin, Carlos Gomez.

    Like I said, I don’t think there is enough empirical evidence or logic to suggest that Granderson be moved to left field in 2010 in favor of Gardner.  (Quote)

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    EJ Fagan Reply:

    While I definitely agree with you that UZR has limits, so down Dewan’s system. Its also not really publicly available to link to, which makes it hard to use in this context. UZR also does a much better job with outfielders than it does for infielders. There are a couple of other systems that I’ve seen (namely, BP’s), that place Gardner above Granderson.  (Quote)

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    Peter Lacock Reply:

    LMAO, Gardner has a fine glove but he’s not running circles around Granderson. Gardner is better than Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle too but guess what? He ain’t starting in CF, Granderson is.  (Quote)

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  5. I do agree with that point.
    Plus the Yankees have some fast players like Jeter, A-Rod and – until last season – Damon, but they were never seen as a BIG threat to steal bases (like Carl Crawford has been, for some seasons now). Gardner would fill that void.

    If that move does happen and CG plays left, Gardner CF and Swisher at RF, the club should look into either trading Melky for one, maybe two, good prospects, or keeping him as a switch-hitting replacement for all OF positions to come in as a PH or even to be a defensive replacement in case of injury.

    The linup could be:
    Gardner CF
    Jeter SS
    Teixeira 1B
    Rodríguez 3B
    Johnson DH
    Granderson LF
    Posada C
    Swisher RF
    Cano 2B

    sounds good to me!  (Quote)

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    Peter Lacock Reply:

    I can’t believe what I’m seeing! Now Gardner is leading off too?  (Quote)

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    Comet Reply:

    Jeter SS
    Johnson DH
    Teixeira 1B
    Arod 3B
    Granderson LF
    Posada C
    Cano 2B
    Swisher RF
    Gardner CF

    Agaist lefties – Swisher bats 2nd and DH will be Arod/Jeter/Posada

    Cervelli C against lefties and Poasda DH
    Pena – SS/3B with Jeter/Arod DH
    Hoffman may have a larger role and may platoon w/Gardner
    Colin Curtis may make the team  (Quote)

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  6. Completely agree with Jamal G. I’m not a huge fan of uzr values especially when you are only Taking into consideration 1 years worth of data.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    Right, and the more Brett learns the league and the ballparks he’s playing in, his defense should only improve. When talking about a Rookie player playing a position like CF, you expect his numbers to get better, not worse. Curtis Granderson has in all likelihood maxed out as a defensive player, and as he ages will only decline.

    Curtis said at the press conference that he is open to playing other positions in the outfield, so obviously the topic came up when the Yanks met with him. He doesn’t have a RFs arm, so the natural move would be to LF.  (Quote)

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    Peter Lacock Reply:

    The topic came up when the meaningless media stirred the pot and asked. Cashman never said that and he didn’t trade all those guys for a LF.  (Quote)

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  7. Even if you put Granderson in LF, you would probably still have to split the time in center between Melky and Garnder. The Yanks haven’t exposed Garnder to lefties that often during his time in the MLB, but his numbers are pretty bad against them – .240/.310/.316.

    If he were anything close to an everyday CF, Gardner’s overall numbers would be dragged down by virtue of having to face more southpaws. If you left both him and Granderson in against a decent lefty on a day when Posada was sitting down, the bottom third of the line up would be worthless.  (Quote)

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  8. One thing about Gardner, you can’t look at OPS for a player like him. He’s a table setter, someone who’s job is not to drive in runs but to get on base and score runs. Those are the stats you look at wit him. His .345 OBP wasn’t some fluke, it was actually down from the .389 he posted in the minors. He scored 48 Runs in 248 PA, so playing a full season (still sitting vs Lefties) he should easily score 100 runs, which is tremendous coming from your #9 hitter.

    I can live w/Gardner in CF.  (Quote)

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  9. I’m glad that pretty much everyone is in agreement that Gardner > Melky (cheaper, too)  (Quote)

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  10. Put the statistic down guys. The best judge of this is the manager. He sees them everyday and he picked melky. Gardner is feeble at the plate against good pitching basicaly slapping away with the bat in the hopes that that he can squeek out a hit. If girardi doesn’t seem him playing cf over melky the I guarantee he won’t play him over granderson. I trust his judgment.  (Quote)

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    Peter Lacock Reply:

    Exactly, throw the damn stats away.  (Quote)

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  11. Another point to consider with Gardner is that at whatever level he has played, he has always done much better the second year. He takes a year to adjust, and then thrives. I believe that we have not yet seen everything that BG can bring to the table offensively at any rate.  (Quote)

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    Peter Lacock Reply:

    You could say something similar about everyone that moves up though. They have to improve to keep advancing. Some guys might do it quicker or slower but if it’s not mastered they stop playing.
    Look, I like Gardner but he is not better than Curtis Granderson. C’mon man!  (Quote)

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    BKlynJT Reply:

    I believe Steve was speaking to the fact that Gardner struggles whenever he moves to a new level, and is able to make the adjustment the next year. The only thing we haven’t seen is how he responds when the opponents make an adjustment to him.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    “You could say something similar about everyone that moves up though. ”

    That’s completely untrue. Many players get to a certain level and never master it, no matter how many times they repeat it. AA is often considered the biggest jump for pitchers and hitters. That’s why they’re busts, and why low level prospects are considered less valuable than AAA prospects for trade purposes.

    If what you said was true, then everyone would get to the bigs eventually.  (Quote)

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  12. I can’t believe I’ve read 2 posts about how Brett Gardner is better than Jason Bay and Curtis Granderson. It has to be humor, right? I know I got a chuckle or two. If you watch them play you’ll see that there’s no way it’s true. No GM, manager or any kind of talent evaluator would agree with it.
    3 things are validated from all of this, you can’t tell much from some numbers on a piece of paper, you can make numbers on a piece of paper mean whatever you want them to mean and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    Curtis Granderson is a young star CF in his prime whose best years are ahead of him. Brett Gardner is a young fast guy that has no other remarkable skill and happens to have spent his career in the OF.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    “I can’t believe I’ve read 2 posts about how Brett Gardner is better than Jason Bay and Curtis Granderson.”

    You haven’t, you’ve just completely misunderstood what you were reading. The point of this post is Gardner vs Melky and to a lesser extent which position everyone plays. Nobody (except you) has ever suggested playing Gardner over Granderson, just flipping them defensively.  (Quote)

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  13. Gardner in center, Granderson in left, and Swisher in Right is my choice. A lot more ground will be covered when Gardner doesn’t have to worry about covering up for Damon(not a measureable stat). Gardner has a slightly better arm than Granderson and Granderson will also stop many of those runs scoring from 2nd and those Sac pop flies to left will become just a faint memory. Gardner will improve his hitting and OBA like he did just before that injury and like he has done at every previous level. Granderson won’t have to prove he is the next great yankee CF. Without that added pressure his overall hitting will improve because in addition he won’t have to be a principal RBI or HR guy like he was in Detroit. Melky can play 2-3 x/week giving guys a blow, plus, if there is ever a need for late inning blanket defense Melky is exceptional in RF.  (Quote)

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  14. Using this small a sample to make bold conclusions about a player that often looked overmatched at the plate and made soe bad reads in the field is dangerous.  (Quote)

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    Mike Reply:

    Despite the obvious comedic value of both topic & post, this really is the definitive statement w.r.t. this “proposal.” Well put, Moshe.  (Quote)

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  15. I understand that Gardner is not going to play CF over CG but you have to look at how he has adjusted to each level. If he shows the same improvement after getting his “first taste” then he should improve on the numbers he put up. Basically meaning he is a far superior CF than Melky. Also I understand that Granderson is still a great CF but you cant deny the best defensive OF the yankees can play is CG left, Gardner CF, and Swish right. I think if Gardner got the love that Melky received that the last 2 years this wouldnt even be a discussion. And I still believe Gardner is getting no love for his offense he isnt a middle or top of the order bat (for the yankees) but he still brings adequate production (only from CF). His projections are solely based on him playing CF he is not and never will be projectable to a corner OF position.  (Quote)

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    BKlynJT Reply:

    Adjusting to A, AA, AAA is much easier than adjusting to the bigs. Plus, since he kept advancing in the minors (new pitchers each year), we were not able to see how he would respond when the pitchers readjusted to him.  (Quote)

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  16. I have to disagree with theis post. Gardner will never hit enough to play regularly. Yes, his rookie numbers were not all that bad but that’s because his spots were picked for him. He was handed the job at the start of the season and was benched in favor of Cabrera (what does that tell you?) after a few weeks. You think Granderson doesn’t hit lefties well? Gardner has no shot at all. He frequently looked overmatched even against right-handed pitching. As for the wishful thinking that he will improve, have you considered the much more likely possibility that his weaknesses will be even more exposed with more playing time? Gardner has little or no extra-base potential so pitchers will come right at him and defensive alignments will cut off his two main offensive threats – bunts and shallow hits to the outfield. As for stolen bases (a highly overrated skill) when Gardner was used as a pinch-runner in the ALCS he failed twice at that in key situations. This is no Rickey Henderson. He might pile up a bunch of steals but most will come when opponents are more concerned with the threat at the plate whom they will be more than happy to walk to fill in the open base. And remember, Gardner’s opportunities to steal will be limited by his inability to reach base regularly.

    Let’s face reality about Brett Gardner. He’s basically a slightly improved version of Bubba Crosby. If there’s legitimate trade interest in him the Yankees should jump all over it and get what they can for him before he’s exposed as nothing more than a scrub.  (Quote)

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  17. I can’t believe people still think Brett has a major league bat. The reason his offensive #s last year look respectable is he had a great start to the season and he had some ground balls skip past defenders when playing on turf. The wheels were coming off in July before he got hurt.
    If you look at his splits of Grass vs. Turf, his #s drop like fly balls in front of Matsui.
    Remove 39 of his 248 at bats that were on turf. (bye bye Metrodome)

    SLG drops from 379 to 349
    OPS drops from 724 to 689

    Melky is a year younger and a switch hitter. And if you compare the #s at Yankee Stadium, Brett’s OPS is 679 vs. Melky’s 760. I’m not a stat guy, but 81pts of OPS seems like a lot.  (Quote)

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  18. The faith in Melky here is astounding. We’re talking about a player who was dead weight in 07 and 08, and not even average in 2009.

    Cherry picked statistics aren’t arguments, they are random statistical noise created by tiny samples and arbitrary distinctions. Gardner has had very little time to prove himself in the majors, but far exceeded anything that Melky did in the minors, and was pretty good in 2009 playing a part time (but xertainly not a full platoon – he was the full time center fielder for big stretches) role.  (Quote)

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  19. Melky has had 25 years to develop vs. Brett’s 26 years.
    Melky is a switch hitter and Brett is not.
    The Yankee coaching staff thinks Melky has a higher ceiling.
    As soon as the Yankees got rid of the lazy Abreu, Melky’s work ethic and results improved.
    Melky had a better year offensively.
    While Brett had 15% of his at bats on turf, he hit 50% of his doubles and triples. I’m just pointing out that he has little power and almost zero when the ball isn’t rolling on the turf.

    I’m not cherry picking, just stating facts.  (Quote)

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    Matt O Reply:

    Also, you assume that Brett will get better offensively. I figure MLB pitchers will learn how to get a guy out who only slaps the ball and his #s will continue to decrease like they did over the 2009 season.  (Quote)

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    daneptizl Reply:

    You assume Gardner can’t make adjustments.  (Quote)

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    Matt O Reply:

    Just assuming slap hitters have a tougher time making adjustments vs. guys who can cover most of the plate and either pull or slap the ball.  (Quote)

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  20. I can envision a scenario in which this is the right decision, but I think there is an underlying sample size issue. Granderson fell off a bit towards the end of last year in the field, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to call him a somewhat above average defender in center – I think his career and age indicate that he’s more likely to be around +10 in center than +5. Gardner, meanwhile, has terrific defensive numbers but in a very small sample. UZR really needs a couple years worth of data to be totally reliable. However, scouts say Gardner’s excellent out there, and he is faster than Granderson, so it’s certainly possible that his +18 is real. The other issue, though, is that there is a small sample of offense, too. I’m not in the camp that believes that Gardner’s postseason was at all an indication of his abilities as a hitter, seeing as he was coming back from almost two months off. But I still believe that his good minor league OBPs were a product of lesser control at that level, because being a slap hitter does not lead many pitchers to pitch around you. Against pitchers with lesser stuff, I believe Gardner can be a true offensive asset, but good pitchers can shut guys like him down.

    I think that the best plan would be to field him and cabrera the way they did at the beginning of last year. Maximizing production out of positions of depth seems to be a talent of Girardi’s (see: the bullpen the last two years, melkner last year), and I wouldn’t be surprised if he could extract above average overall production from a combination of the two next year, but calling one of them the full-time starter would be a mistake. If, as I think he will, Girardi does employ this “two players masquerading as one” thing, and does it well, then I would certainly play Melky in Left only, as he is between +5 and +10 there, whereas in an extended sample his numbers in center are essentially average. As for the Gardner/Granderson scenario, I’d let the scouts decide. Both of those guys should certainly go into ST preparing to play both positions, though.  (Quote)

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  21. He also kept throwing Veras, Edwar… he knows how to pick em for sure.  (Quote)

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  22. You assume Gardner can’t make adjustments.  (Quote)

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  23. Girardi played Melky over Gardner last year and won a World Series.Gardner is a better bench player.Melky is a better starting player.I trust Girardi’s judgement on thes.  (Quote)

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  24. The Yankees must keep their youngsters like Melky and Gardner. They are not super type outfielders but both are capable of developing into a above average outfielders. Melky has home run power and has a strong arm. Gardner strength is his speed. He could wreck havoc by stealing bases and bunting. Gardner has good patience at the plate that could make his batting average up.

    Keep them both…. unless of course another Roy Halladay type of player comes into play.  (Quote)

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