Gardner, 30, has been the subject of trade rumors this winter for several reasons. For starters, the team signed center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a monster seven-year contract earlier in December; the two players have similar speed-and-defense skill sets and having both on the same roster seems redundant, especially for a team which found itself light on power last season.
Furthermore, the Yankees have a crowded outfield overall; along with Ellsbury and Gardner, they have Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki and the newly signed Carlos Beltran under contract and are unlikely to go into the season with six outfielders.
The team still has a couple of holes at other positions (second base, third base, starting rotation, bullpen) and dealing Gardner, who is eligible for free agency after next season, would be an easy way to fill at least one of them. One proposed deal which was reportedly turned down by the Yankees (via CBS's Jon Heyman) had Gardner going to Cincinnati in exchange for All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips.
However, Levine stated that the team has other ideas in his interview on O'Connor's show:
"One of the reasons the baseball people signed Jacoby Ellsbury is (that he and Gardner) together present a tremendous dynamic one-two or nine-one, whatever Joe Girardi decides to write in at the top of the lineup. One will play left, one will play center, and it's a tremendous defensive situation. So no there's absolutely no intention to move Brett Gardner."
New York has shown more interest in trading Ichiro than Gardner to clear up its outfield logjam. The 40-year-old Ichiro has seen his skills decline in recent years and is owed $6.5 million next season, compared with an arbitration estimate of $4 million for Gardner from MLB Trade Rumors.
Mark Reynolds drawing interest on open market
The Yankees have expressed interest in bringing back free agent slugger Mark Reynolds, according to Heyman. Other potential landing spots could include the Twins, Brewers, Angels and Rays, reports Heyman.
The 30-year-old Reynolds split 2013 between the Indians and the Yankees. He hit .220/.306/.393 with 21 home runs overall, but managed a .455 slugging percentage and six home runs in 120 plate appearances for New York. Reynolds has hit 202 home runs in his career, but does not provide much other value on the field; he has thrice led the majors in strikeouts, his career batting average is .233, and he does not play good defense at either corner infield position.
Reynolds could satisfy two great needs for the Yankees. He would provide help for an infield which may lose third baseman Alex Rodriguez to a season-long PED suspension and which received only 15 games from first baseman Mark Teixeira due to a wrist injury. He would also lend a bit of pop to a lineup which ranked just 16th in the majors in scoring and 22nd in home runs before losing its best hitter, Robinson Cano, to free agency. Granted, New York did go a long way toward replacing Cano's power production by adding free agents Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran to the fold, but another big bat wouldn't hurt.
The other teams listed by Heyman all make sense for Reynolds as well. The Brewers are searching for a first baseman who can hit, the Angels could use some power to replace the recently traded Mark Trumbo, the Rays could use Reynolds as a designated hitter and the Twins need any major league players they can get their hands on.
Orioles, Balfour still stuck on terms of potential deal
The Baltimore Orioles are still stuck in their negotiations with free agent closer Grant Balfour, according to Jen Royle of the Boston Herald. The biggest catching point is the length of the contract.
The Orioles upped their offer from a two-year deal at $6 million per season to a three-year pact with an annual value of $7 million, reports Royle. However, Balfour wants three years at $8 million per with a vesting option for a fourth year; that extra option year appears to be a dealbreaker for Baltimore, according to Royle.
Balfour, who turns 36 at the end of December, spent the last three seasons with the Oakland Athletics. He served as Oakland's closer for parts of 2012 and all of 2013, racking up 62 saves in those two seasons combined; his stint with the A's marked his first experience as a major league closer. Over his last four seasons, he posted a 2.47 ERA in 259 appearances and did not exceed a 2.59 ERA in any individual campaign during that span. Baltimore coincidentally traded its previous closer, Jim Johnson, to Oakland earlier in December.
- The Indians have their eyes on John Axford as their next closer, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Noah Jarosh wrote earlier today about Cleveland's desire for a reliever with major league closing experience, and Axford certainly fits that bill (106 career saves, three seasons as Milwaukee's closer). Chris Cotillo of SB Nation reports that they are also looking at Fernando Rodney (172 career saves, including 85 in last two seasons combined as Tampa Bay's closer).
- The Rays could still trade catcher Jose Lobaton or outfielder Matt Joyce, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The team is still looking to fill out its bench and could also be in the market for another reliever, according to Topkin.
- The Angels are pursuing free agent outfielder Raul Ibanez in addition to their well-documented interest in starting pitcher Matt Garza, per Rosenthal. The team believes that it could sign both players without exceeding the luxury-tax threshold in 2014, thanks partly to the removal of Mark Trumbo's salary from the payroll, reports Rosenthal. He also notes Ibanez's career line of .349/.407/.522 at Angel Stadium as a driving force in their consideration of the 41-year-old slugger. Regarding Garza, though, ESPN's Buster Olney advises that Los Angeles settle for a cheaper starter like Bronson Arroyo in anticipation of superstar Mike Trout's eventual need for a contract extension, which could be record-setting in value.