Monday, September 17, 2012

Please Don't Activate Brett Gardner

(If the cyborg elbow still can't swing a bat, why bother?)

Opposite the bummerific news of Mark Teixeira's lack of progress in recovering from his latest calf injury setback, the Yankees did receive some positive news earlier in the weekend on an even longer-standing member of their walking wounder brigade.  Brett Gardner, last seen being unofficially shut down for the season after finally having surgery on his troublesome right elbow, has been working on some bunting and baserunning drills recently and Joe indicated that there's the possibility of the Yankees activating Gardner to use him as a pinch runner/defensive replacement option in these last few weeks of the regular season.

As excited as I would be to see Gardner back on the field, and it's still crazy to me to think that he only played in 9 games this season, bringing him back now to serve in the capacity it sounds like the Yankees want to use him would be an unnecessary and potentially risky move.

For starters, bringing Gardner back for just defensive reasons, while in theory protecting him from the possibility of further injury/re-aggravation of his elbow problem, is actually just re-inserting him into the eye of the injury storm.  Gardner hurt himself sliding/diving for a ball in the outfield, something he does with regularity due to his speed.  It gives him the ability to cover a lot of ground out there and make plays that no other Yankee outfielder can make, a huge plus for a team as defensively challenged in the outfield as the Yankees, but it also puts him at risk of injury.  In a sense Gardner's speed in the outfield is a bit of a blessing and a curse, and it was far more curse than blessing this year.

On the base running front, the same rules apply.  Gardner is a headfirst slider, always has been.  We've seen him injure himself before in this fashion, and a case has already been made that Gardner's headfirst approach to baserunning and outfield defense could be the biggest reason for his continued injury problems.  While not having to hit and risk further aggravation to his elbow through swings and misses, HBPs, and foul tips is a plus, Gardner's style of play on the basepaths makes him just as likely to hurt himself going for a steal.  And with roster expansions, the Yankees suddenly find themselves with plenty of guys who can and will run the bases aggressively.  Chris Dickerson has already been successfully used as a pinch runner multiple times, Eduardo Nunez was a one-man carousel out there yesterday, and with guys like Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and Derek Jeter, who can and will swipe a bag if needed, the Yankees aren't nearly as station-to-station as they were a few weeks ago.

At the end of the day, the Yankees would be putting a guy who's had multiple setbacks to the same injury back into a situation where he's still at great risk of re-injuring himself.  It would be one thing if Gardner were completely healthy and the Yankees were still lumbering around the bases like a bunch of old farts.  But he's not, otherwise he'd be taking swings in the cage, and they aren't.  Gardner's previous comeback attempts have all failed this year, and with him now coming off of surgery it makes more sense to just let this year be a wash, get him back to 100% physically, and get him a head start on prepping for 2013.  The defense and baserunning in the final 2 weeks can take care of itself.

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