The Yankees front office loves Brett Gardner. No, really, loves.

You might see him as just a member of the chorus, a sidekick, a supplemental piece. But the Yankees brass use the term “impact player” quite a bit when talking about a guy with zero All-Star Games and career stats that look a lot like those of Alex Ochoa.

The Yankees, though, see a guy who can play center field at Gold Glove levels while bringing high-end on-base skills and elite speed to the leadoff spot. What makes it interesting, is for a guy the Yanks value, they sure have done a lot to limit that value by playing Gardner in left and batting him ninth.

Until now, perhaps.

Manager Joe Girardi began what he is portraying as an experiment yesterday by telling Gardner he is going to play some center field and Curtis Granderson that he is going to play some left, and that a decision will be made later in spring training to determine the best way to go for the season.

But understand this: Unless Granderson tanks in left field completely this decision already has been made. Why else risk insulting a veteran such as Granderson by even undertaking the “experiment?” This might not be as blatant as when the Yankees essentially told Jorge Posada to leave his catcher’s mitt at home in 2011. But it is just one step down.

With both their eyeball scouting and their defensive metrics, the Yankees see Granderson having regressed to adequate at best while they project Gardner as well above average. In a year in which they anticipate scoring fewer runs, the Yankees are trying to find every possible way to also permit fewer as a counterweight. If that means having Gardner produce more outs in center than Granderson would, then they are willing to deal with the implications of downgrading Granderson.

For now, they are not prepared to go all the way in trusting Gardner. Because it is not difficult to make the case that Gardner is faster and will have a higher on-base percentage than Ichiro Suzuki in 2013. But when I asked Girardi if he was prepared to then have Gardner leadoff rather than Ichiro, the Yankees skipper was not prepared to go there.