When is moving Brett Gardner to center about more than just defense?

Joe Girardi recently announced that Brett Gardner will be taking over in center for Curtis Granderson. On the surface this seems like a logical baseball decision. By all measures, Gardner isn't just the better defensive outfielder, he's the best defensive outfielder in the game. The real question, from a baseball perspective, is why the Yankees ever put Granderson in center at all. But we all know the answer to that. When the Yankees first traded for Granderson they made it clear that he was the Yankee centerfielder of the future. The Yankees gave Curtis centerfield to make him happy, to demonstrate that they were making a commitment to him as a player, even if it meant putting a weaker defense on the field.

Curtis is still on the team, but centerfield is no longer his position. Why make this move now? If anything, Gardner should have to audition for the job. He missed most of 2012 with injuries, while Curtis played 160 games. Why should Gardner get promoted now, especially when the Yankees still have their centerfielder of the future?

The answer may be that Curtis no longer has a future in pinstripes. If that's the case, then this move also serves as a preview of the 2013 Yankee offseason. Once upon a time the Yankees were hinting that they wanted to lock up Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson to long term deals. That may no longer be possible, not if the Yankees want to hit their $189 million payroll target and negotiate with Cano's agent, Scott Boras. Moving Granderson to left may be the first step in a series of actions that leads to the team letting him go once he hits free agency, in part to make a serious financial commitment to Cano.