If only you could de-age a baseball player.
Can you imagine the frenzy that such a shift in the landscape would bring? Taking Albert Pujols and winding back the clock about 10 years? 2011 AP was still pretty good at smashing baseballs.
I bring this up because even 35-year-old Brett Gardner would boost the current outfield depth on the St. Louis Cardinals roster heading into the 2021 season. But the current, soon-to-be 38 year version would not. Gardner is one of those pandemic casualties, a player who was entering the 2020 season as a still-viable mid-30’s player in the American League. It’s like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where certain people disappeared during the blip and returned a little different.
Gardner now looks like a clock running on one battery, a career 101 OPS+ hitter who definitely benefited from both Yankee Stadiums. If you drew a diagram about how the short porch in right field in the Bronx aided lefties, the next PowerPoint slide would feature Gardner. 87 of his 127 home runs were pulled, and only two of them went oppo.
It’s not like he comes without any bright spots. He would give the Cardinals a legit leadoff hitter, one carrying a career .342 on-base percentage. He swings at the first pitch a lot, but unlike Yadier Molina, actually tags quite a few of them for hits. Gardner likes to hit triples and draws walks. He’s a horse, starting 140 or more games in nine of his 12 (normal length) seasons.
But he’s no longer much of a base-stealing threat. Gardner would find many of his long flies to right field landing in Jason Heyward’s glove. He would find 4-5 triples in right center field, but can’t Lane Thomas do that too?
Here’s the main reason Gardner isn’t and shouldn’t come to St. Louis: Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill. The latter won a Gold Glove in left field and has the power that spreads to fields, far and wide. The former is going to play 100-120 games in center, unless Busch Stadium cracks in half. Bader is like a poor man’s Gardner, but a lot cheaper right now. Younger too. You could put the two younger players together and get more wins-above-replacement (WAR) than 37-year-old Gardner.
Those are pure, unbiased facts. I am sure he will head to some team soon on the cheap and give them a few thrills. Part of me wants to add him for the future bad umpire strikeout rage fests in the dugout. Aaron Boone is fiery, but Mike Shildt is really something once he climbs over that guard railing.
But the larger part of my brain (the somewhat wise division upstairs) says it’s a bad play. The Cardinals already have 2-3 different much younger Gardners.