Brett Gardner Is the Yankees Starting Left Fielder, But for how Long?

Doug Rush@Doug_RushSenior Analyst IApril 1, 2010

CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 4: Outfielder Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees runs during batting practice against the Philadelphia Phillies March 4, 2010 at the Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

On Thursday, Yankees manager Joe Girardi finally announced his starting outfield for the 2010 campaign.

We already know Nick Swisher is the right fielder. But with Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera both moving on, the Yankees outfield was guaranteed to have a new look. A younger and more athletic look.

The Yankees traded for All Star Curtis Granderson back in November, and he officially will be the new Yankees' centerfielder for the next couple of seasons.

With Granderson in center, Girardi also announced that Brett Gardner will be the starting left fielder, a move a lot of you on Bleacher Report predicted and wanted to happen.

Gardner was the starting centerfielder in 2009, but lost his job to Melky Cabrera. It didn't stop Gardner from working even harder to stay on the field, mostly in the form of a late-inning replacement as a pinch running and in the outfield.

In 2009, even as the fourth outfielder, Gardner still played in 108 games, scored 48 runs and stole 26 bases while hitting .270. That batting average was a major improvement over Gardner's 2008 average of .228.

Some have made a few comparisons between Gardner and the Red Sox' Jacoby Ellsbury, especially since they play in the same division and now will be playing the same defensive position in 2010.

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Ellsbury isn't a power hitter, but when he's on the base paths, he's a terror. Ellsbury has 50 (2008) and 70 (2009) steals in his two full seasons in the majors.

With Gardner's speed, he has the ability to steal 50-70 bases a season, but Gardner has never been a full-time starter, nor has he developed the hitting skills that the Yankees would like in order for Gardner to be a full-time player.

The biggest difference between Ellsbury and Gardner is their hitting ability. So far, Ellsbury has averaged between a .280-.300 average at the lead-off spot for Boston's lineup.

Garnder most likely will hit ninth in the Yankees order, but if he's able to get on, he could become a second lead-off hitter with Derek Jeter hitting after him when the top of the order comes up.

We all know Gardner's hitting ability must improve, because if he wants to keep his starting job in 2010 and beyond, he must get better. This is especially important with guys like Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth on the free agent market in 2011.

Gardner will also have to look over his shoulder in-season with Randy Winn and Marcus Thames on the bench, because they both will be looking for playing time as well. Right now, Gardner's speed, fielding ability and youth are all edges over both Winn and Thames. But if Gardner's spot came up late in a game and the Yankees need a pinch hitter, the Yankees are going to be tempted to use Winn or Thames as his pinch hitter.

So now with Gardner as a starter again, will he keep the job? If he does, for how long? For Gardner's sake, hopefully things will work out for the 25-year-old, because he's worked so hard over the last three years. If he also develops into an Ellsbury-like hitter, maybe the Yankees don't need to pursue Crawford or Werth in 2011.

If it doesn't work out for Gardner, though, the fourth outfielder spot where he spent most of the 2009 season may be what his future looks like. Especially if he doesn't start hitting better and getting on base more, whether it be from getting hits or drawing walks. With Gardner's speed, a walk is as good as a hit, because you know he's eventually stealing second base.

Gardner's future with the Yankees is one of the many questions leading into the 2010 season that kicks off Sunday night. All you can do now is sit back, let the season develop and see what happens with Gardner.