Just as Wednesday's Ervin Santana rumors didn't make much sense for the Detroit Tigers, this supposedly discussed deal with the Yankees doesn't either. But it's been reported by Bob Elliot of the Toronto Sun the Tigers and New York Yankees have proposed a swap of center fielders, Austin Jackson for Brett Gardner.
The expensive signings of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran to multi-year contracts gives the Evil Empire a glut of outfielders, making Gardner available for the right price. The Yankees recently turned down Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips in return for the 30-year-old outfielder.
Gardner is a very similar player to Jackson offensively, a career .268/.352/.381 hitter used mostly out of the lead off spot. Gardner did miss almost all of 2012 due to an elbow injury which ultimately required surgery, playing in just 16 games. But he bounced back in 2013 to have the best overall season of six-year career. In 145 games, Gardner hit .273/.344/.416, a .759 OPS, 24 stolen bases, adding career highs of eight home runs and 52 RBIs.
In four full seasons as the Tigers' center fielder after being acquired from the Yankees as part of the Curtis Granderson trade, the 26-year-old Jackson is a career .278/.344/.416 hitter. But he's coming off a very inconsistent 2013, Jackson's numbers dropping significantly from his breakout 2012 season. Strikeouts are also an issue, averaging 154 a season, though 2013 he whiffed a career low 129 times.
The Tigers could have soured on Jackson during the 2013 post season. He had historically brutal ALDS, striking out 13 times with just two hits in 20 at bats. After a 1-for-13 stretch with five strikeouts to start the ALCS, out of desperation Jim Leyland moved Jackson down in the order. Removed from the pressure of leading off, Jackson was 6-for-9, reaching base nine times over the final three games of the series.
Both players are arbitration eligible, Jackson expected to earn $5.3 million to Gardner's $4.4 million this season. But Jackson is also a Scott Boras client and is on track to earn a extremely sizable raise when he hits free agency in two years. If the Tigers can't extend Jackson before next season, odds are Boras will surely have his client hit the open market. Considering the crazy dollars being thrown around by major league teams during this off season, you would have to believe Boras would much prefer Jackson to go to free agency than extend with the Tigers.
Even with Jackson's higher cost and inconsistency, a deal for Gardner makes little sense for the Tigers. Gardner is a solid player, but he's on the bad side of 30 and will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Jackson is an excellent defensive center fielder who at 26 years of age is significantly younger. Jackson is also under team control until 2015. If he can keep the strikeouts to a minimum, the admittedly streaky at the plate Jackson should still have upside offensively.
The Yankees dealing for Jackson makes about as much sense as it does for the Tigers. In that, it doesn't. They are in the market for pitching, let alone they have a desperate need for a second baseman after losing Robinson Cano in free agency. Why trade for an outfielder when you already have a logjam at the position?
For the Tigers, a trade for Gardner would be considered (very generously) a lateral move at best, and a significant downgrade at worst, saving them very little money while getting older at the same time.