"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

What Do We Have Here?

2008 ToppsOkay, first thing’s first: Curtis Granderson is a Yankee, so who the hell is Curtis Granderson?

Granderson grew up in the suburbs south of Chicago and attended the University of Illinois in the Windy City before being drafted by the Tigers in the third-round of the 2002 amateur draft. A slender center fielder with a nice power/speed combo who bats left and throws right, he moved steadily up the Tigers’ ladder. After a cup of coffee in September 2004 at age 23, he returned to the majors in July 2005 and took over Detroit’s center field job for good that September. In his first full season, Granderson led the American League in strikeouts with 174, but his outstanding defense in center field and average bat against righties helped the Tigers topple the Yankees in the ALDS and claim Detroit’s first pennant since 1984. In his sophomore season, Granderson cut down on his Ks, added 42 points of average, and led the league with 23 triples, turning in by far his best major league season with a .302/.361/.552 line, 26 steals in 27 attempts, and a 14.2 UZR in center, becoming the first American Leaguer to have twenty or more doubles, triples, homers, and steals all in the same season.

Granderson has been trying to live up to that season ever since. In 2008 he posted his best strikeout and walk rates at the plate, but his slugging percentage dipped below .500 and he stole just 12 bases and rated 8.9 runs below average in center according to UZR. This season, both his strikeout and walk rates regressed and he posted a career-low .249 batting average which dragged down his overall line to an underwhelming .249/.327/.453. His steals and defense rebounded, but the latter only got up to about average. Thus, despite making his first All-Star team and reaching 30 homers for the first time in 2009, he arrives in the Bronx off a very disappointing season, one in which he had a lower EqA and UZR than either Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner.

As you’re surely aware, Granderson’s big bugaboo is left-handed pitching. For his career, he’s hit just .210/.270/.344 (.208 GPA) against lefties, and in two of the last three seasons he’s been significantly worse than that against southpaws:

2006: .218/.277/.395 (.223)
2007: .160/.225/.269 (.169)
2008: .259/.310/.429 (.247)
2009: .183/.245/.239 (.170)

The good news is that Comerica Park, while it is a triples-hitter’s paradise, is hell on left-handed hitters, especially left-handed power hitters. It’s next to impossible to hit a triple in the new Yankee Stadium, but it is already well-known as a home-run hitting paradise for hitters of both hands, which means that Granderson is likely to get a significant boost from his home park, particularly as his triples already started to turn into home runs this year. Just a .261/.334/.451 career hitter at Comerica, Granderson has hit .284/.353/.516 on the road, and 20 of his 30 home runs in 2009 came outside of Detroit. As a Yankee, he could well reach 40 home runs in a season, a total which has been reached by a Yankee center fielder just five times, four by Mickey Mantle and one by Joe DiMaggio.

That’s quite exciting, but Granderson isn’t anywhere near a Hall of Fame player, and one wonders just how viable he’s going to be defensively in center field going forward. Once praised for his routes and jumps, both have become shaky over the past two seasons, as anyone who watched the All-Star Game or the Tigers’ one-game playoff against the Twins could tell you. Then again, the Yankees still have Cabrera and Gardner, the latter of whom had the best EqA and UZR (admittedly in a smaller sample) of the trio in 2009. The Bombers could easily slip Granderson’s pop into left field, let Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui low-ball one another for the DH job, and be both content and no less productive than they were in their just-completed championship season. To my eyes, where Granderson is going to play in 2010 is entirely up in the air right now.

As for the years beyond, Granderson is signed for a total of just $23.75 over the next three years and comes with a $13 million club option for 2013, his age-32 season. That’s a good deal for a player with his skill set, which mixes in some decent patience (138 unintentional walks over the last two years) with the power and speed, and one that ends at exactly the right time (Granderson’s top PECOTA comparable player prior to the 2009 season was Andy Van Slyke, whose last productive season came at age 32). If his new ballpark gives him the boost many expect, and Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long can finally solve his struggles with lefties, Granderson will become an absolute bargain and a true star. Of course, the latter is a huge “if.” The flip side of that is that he could prove to be a platoon left fielder as early as 2010, one who could be dangerously miscast as a number-two hitter despite having the high slugging and middling on-base percentage of a five or six-spot hitter.

So what did the Yankees give up to get him? The three-team deal that brought Granderson to the Bronx breaks down this way for the three teams involved:

  • The Yankees get Curtis Granderson for Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Coke
  • Tigers get Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, and Phil Coke for Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson
  • Diamondbacks get Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy for Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth

Jackson and Kennedy were two of the Yankees’ top prospects. Phil Coke was a key member of the 2009 bullpen. Coke was expendable because of the strong late-season comeback of lefty set-up man Damaso Marte, who is signed through 2011 with a club option for 2012, and because of the emergence of rookie lefty Michael Dunn, who was initially part of this trade but salvaged by the Yankees. Marte and Dunn have their issues (Marte will be 35 in February and was on the DL with shoulder trouble for most of 2009, Dunn is an unproven rookie with alarming walk rates above A-ball), but Coke had his own, specifically his gopheritis (1.5 HR/9IP). The Yankees made something out of nothing with Coke, who was converted from starting at age 26 late last year, and they’ve cashed him in before he had a chance to go back to being nothing.

Austin Jackson was the Yankees’ most advanced hitting prospect, but given the speed with which Jesus Montero has progressed, was no longer their top hitting prospect. A center fielder who projected as very much of a Granderson-like player (20 homers, 20 steals, but not a middle-of-the-order hitter, solid but not spectacular defense), Jackson was supposed to spend 2009 getting ready to take over the major league job in 2010, but despite earning rave reviews from scouts, his Triple-A performance left a lot to be desired as he hit a heavily average-dependent .300/.354/.405 with just four homers and 123 strikeouts. In Jackson’s favor is the fact that he’ll be able to repeat Triple-A at the still-tender age of 23 in 2010 and that he was a late convert to baseball as the Yankees’ money was really all that kept him from going to college to play basketball. However, in Granderson the Yankees get one of the better-case scenario versions of Jackson’s future now, and for up to four years. There’s an outside chance that Jackson could prove to be a better player than Granderson, and the Tigers will own him for six years prior to free agency, but by giving up two years and a lot of uncertainty, the Yankees get that player in their lineup immediately, using him to reinforce a world championship squad that had a big hole in its outfield.

Some of the uncertainty the Yankees are giving up comes in the form of Ian Kennedy. Drafted ahead of Joba Chamberlain in the first round of the Yankees’ extremely successful 2006 draft, Kennedy was the third amigo in the young starting-pitching trio of Chamberlain, Kennedy, and Phil Hughes which emerged in 2007. All three had their detours, but Chamberlain returned from his admittedly successful bullpen exile in the second half of 2008, and Hughes made a strong rebound from a pair of injury-plagued seasons by replacing Chamberlain in the bullpen this year. Both are now headed for the 2010 rotation behind CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and, most likely, Andy Pettitte. Chamberlain and Hughes are both top-notch starting pitching prospects with filthy stuff and ace potential. Kennedy, the oldest of the trio (he’ll be 25 a week from Saturday) is more of a mid-rotation arm, a three-pitch pitcher whose best pitch is his changeup. Kennedy frustrated the Yankees in 2008 by nibbling and refusing to throw his curveball, making him a very hittable two-pitch pitcher with some attitude problems. An aneurysm robbed him of most of the 2009 season, but he made a strong comeback at the end of the year, even making a courtesy appearance with the big club in September, a show of renewed faith on the part of the team. Organizationally, Kennedy is replaced by another 2006 draftee, six-foot-six righty Zach McAllister, a third-round pick who thrived after making the leap to Double-A last year and just turned 22 yesterday. If McAllister continues his progress at Triple-A in 2010, the Yankees will never know Kennedy is gone.

So the Yankees gave up two pitchers they could afford to lose, both 25 or older, one of whom has already reached his major league ceiling, and an unproven minor league version of Granderson. Jackson and Kennedy, the latter of whom has spectacular minor league numbers (19-6, 1.95 ERA, 273 Ks in 248 2/3 IP, 0.99 WHIP, 3.55 K/9), both hold the potential to give the Yankees and their fans some buyer’s remorse down the line, but it’s just as likely that neither develops into anything special. Then again, that’s also true of Granderson, who arrives in New York for his age-29 season not as an established star, but as a talented-but-flawed player hoping to fulfill his potential and in danger of becoming a part-timer.

Tags:  Curtis Granderson  Transactions

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1 monkeypants   ~  Dec 9, 2009 3:09 am

The next move will be interesting. If the Yanks fail to re-land Damon, then Melky presumably slide to LF. But if the team gets a LF, then I cannot imagine they will keep Melky and Gardy.

I suspect that Melky is major trade bait right now. But for what....?

2 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 9, 2009 3:42 am

Thanks Cliff, that was very clear and concise. What it seems is that the D-Backs got the most immediate help out of all the moves with one front line pitcher and one back-ender who presumably will wait in the wings in AAA, while the Tigers got the most potential in two pitchers with hard stuff and high ceilings. The Yanks win the player-with-the highest-impact part of the deal, and potentially could have made the best bargain based on Granderson's potential in a new park and a potentially new approach in the same vein as Nick Swisher; in fact if he matches Swisher's production, I think we already come out ahead (okay, he doesn't have Nick's batter eye); Kevin Long has made an impact on good veteran hitters, so it's actually interesting what he could possibly do for him. I like the deal not only because we get a solid player, but also because it gives the team leverage in filling their needs elsewhere.

[1] I bet if they sign Johnny, they move Melky for prospects and make a run at DeRosa. Getting Granderson points to a move to defend their title while moving to shore up long term replacements. If Johnny signs elsewhere, it's a sure bet they move Melky to left and perhaps use the Rule 5 to pick up a super-sub or left hander. I dunno, it's just speculation.

3 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 9, 2009 6:40 am

[2] Okay, disambiguation:

"Highest impact" meaning the most talent.

"Most Immediate Help" meaning helps fill their biggest need and significantly changes their chances of winning.

Looking it over a little further, I think the Tigers are selling high on Edwin Jackson; he pitched over 200 innings for the first time in seven seasons (he was in the majors since age 19) and other things point to him being at his peak at this very moment. He could be an effective 3rd at best on the D-Backs, but maybe no more than that. Each team he's been with has basically sold high for high-potential/marginal return player (Danys Baez was high on the Dodgers' priority list as a closer, but the results didn't meet the expectations). I now think the Yanks got the best of the deal in terms of whom will likely produce what his team wants immediately, but it bears watching how the guys in Detroit develop.

As a side note, I worked on a reality show pilot about Mark (Stink) Schlereth; the show's called "Reality Stinks"; he is a genuinely nice guy and very professional. When he talked about his son, he was a very proud papa and I felt for both of them when he mentioned the struggles his son "Danny" was going through with baseball; he's very supportive and basically shored up his confidence and encouraged him to work hard. I was happy for both of them when he was selected by Arizona, so I'm sort of personally interested in seeing how he develops. It's cool he was included in a big deal, but given the Tigers' recent history with hard-throwing young pitchers, I hope he doesn't wear out too soon if and when he gets there.

4 Paul   ~  Dec 9, 2009 6:57 am

It's really important to note two things that make Granderson much better than he appears on the surface and that every analyst I've read has missed, including our own:

1) As Shaun pointed out -

Granderson vs LHP at home, career: .179/.231/.259
Granderson vs LHP on the road, career: .239/.306/.425

That latter number isn't bad, and in YS 2.0, it might just turn downright productive. The Yankees do their homework. They're not preparing to platoon Granderson.

2) Granderson's 2009 BABIP was .275 which is almost 50 points lower than his career version. Even give him half that, and he's one of the best CFs in the game last year.

I don't know. The more I look at this deal, the more it screams Swisher. And it helps that Grandy is a better defender and cheaper too. Based on the dollar values at fangraphs, even at his worst he'd be a bargain every year. Dave Cameron loves the deal for the Yanks.

Honestly, I don't see anything worth getting down about here. If Granderson had been available on the free agent market, Yankee fans would have been clamoring to sign him. Now they get him for practically no cost to the farm and at well-below market prices.

This is a brilliant trade and exactly the one you make every time. I'm sad to see Ajax and IPK go, but they won't be missed.

5 Shaun P.   ~  Dec 9, 2009 7:07 am

Granderson is also a well-spoken guy for a baseball player; IIRC, he blogged on ESPN for a while, and wrote quite well. Cashman is buying low, and of course it could blow up, but I think Curtis will be fine.

[0] I know the line on Austin Jackson - late to baseball, talented athlete - but I just don't see the power, and as of right now, I'll be shocked if he ever hits 20 HR in a big league season. His highest SLG in a minor league season was .476, in 2007, spread across low-A and high-A. His highest Isolated Power, .182, came in 2006, in low-A. I know Trenton and SWB are both pitchers' parks, but a .405 SLG and a .105 IsoP, with 4 HR and 23 doubles (his numbers last year in SWB) don't suggest 20 HR power in the majors to me. I am not a scout, but I don't see it. Add in his crazy-high K:BB ratio (3:1 last year, 123 K vs 40 BB, 1 IBB) and I'm really not concerned.

BTW, according to BP's Davenport Translations, Jackson's line from SWB last year would translate into .263/.321/.374 in the majors, with 6 HR; that's a .250 EqA. His peak translation: .277 .346 .406, with 7 HR, and a .268 EqA. That's not bad at all, but that's no star - its basically Melky.

I'm not saying Jackson has no value - he's a great defender, and that will play very well in Comerica, and he's cheap and probably OK enough with the bat for a CF, but I just don't see "star" or "superstar" in his future.

6 Paul   ~  Dec 9, 2009 7:11 am

Just a quick poke around the pipes and I'm surprised how much analysts are straining to see this as an iffy deal. That's fine, but they're dead wrong. Here's Cameron's take

One more data point?: Chone Figgins.

The Yankees will be paying Granderson less over the next four years and he's a much better player.

Damn, the Yankee front office is now scary good. And to think they still have the pieces to acquire Halladay or the cash to sign Holliday.

7 Shaun P.   ~  Dec 9, 2009 7:15 am

[4] Thanks for the mention, though I think Cliff didn't miss it: "The good news is that Comerica Park, while it is a triples-hitter’s paradise, is hell on left-handed hitters, especially left-handed power hitters." and then his later reference to CG's home/road splits.

The BABIP info is neat though, and something I haven't read anywhere else. That gives me a good feeling.

8 Paul   ~  Dec 9, 2009 7:17 am

[5] Worst of all the same people complaining about Granderson's K's are hyping Jackson! What!?

If you can't tell, I'm stoked about this deal. And it helps that Granderson seems tailor made for NYC and that the Yankees didn't give up anyone the fans like (i.e. Joba).

I can't wait to watch Granderson hit behind Jeter. If they re-sign Damon, then Granderson makes a fantastic #9. Let him hit there for a year and with no pressure whatsoever.

9 Shaun P.   ~  Dec 9, 2009 7:19 am
10 Paul   ~  Dec 9, 2009 7:20 am

[7] But he, like every other analyst, missed the double split. That's very relevant. A .730 OPS from the leftside isn't a problem at all. They've put up with that, or worse, full-time the last three years in CF. I'm not worried at all.

11 Raf   ~  Dec 9, 2009 8:20 am

[10] I'm not worried either. It's a slam dunk trade for the Yanks, getting an established player for what are organizational spare parts. Jackson wasn't going to start for the Yanks in 2010, Kennedy fell a bit further on the depth chart, Coke was dealt while his value was highest.

I wish the 3 all the best in their endeavors, but this is a trade that has to be made every time.

12 Raf   ~  Dec 9, 2009 8:21 am

As for the "can't hit lefties" issue. I think it's overblown. Despite that weakness, he's still a very productive player.

13 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 9, 2009 8:54 am

I am also in the camp of those who see this as a slam dunk deal. As has been pointed out, there are a few factors that help mitigate concerns about Granderson's spits. Still, even with that handicap, he has been a very productive player for four seasons. Since 2006, he has been about WAR of 4, which makes him very valuable. If he can move that bar a little higher, he then does become the star that many now do not think he can become.

As for defense, I find it hard to believe that Granderson went from an outstanding defensive CF'er in 2006 and 2007 to a poor one in 2008 and then back up to an average one in 2009. Also, it seems silly to point to two high profile games and then draw the conclusion that he is detoriating as a fielder. Granderson still has the ability to be a gold glove CF'er and it would be absolutely foolish to pencil him in anywhere but at that position.

I guess this kind of skepticism always exits in Yankeeland, but I really don’t see anything not to like about this deal.

One other thing worth noting is that Cashman once again showed his skill in negotiating a deal. After the Tigers first asked for Hughes or Joba, Cash was able to slow play the deal even to the point of not giving up Dunn, who most thought wouldn’t be a stumbling block for the Yankees. Also, according to some reports, Cashman’s likability factor is something that makes him a sought after trade partner. So, even though teams may be loathe to help the mighty Yankees, they like working with Brian Cashman.

14 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Dec 9, 2009 9:01 am

[13] The fact that his steals also dropped in 2008 makes me think his legs weren't healthy, which would also have effected him in the field, so I think those numbers are real and I think his recovery from that to merely average is also legit. I think calling him a Gold Glove center fielder is only accurate in the sense that the Gold Gloves often go to undeserving players. Yes, he had that ability, but I'm not convinced it's still there.

15 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 9, 2009 9:13 am

[14] I don't recall seeing reports about Granderson being injured. Perhaps a more likely explanation is the 2008 Tigers weren’t a very good team and could have found themselves behind a lot more than their 2007 counterpart, leaving fewer opportunities for Granderson to run?

Granderson is two years removed from back to back outstanding defensive seasons. At age 29, there is no reason to suspect he has lost that physical ability. He is a gold glove caliber center fielder because he has the ability to play outstanding defense at that position. I am confident Cashman realizes this.

16 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Dec 9, 2009 9:15 am

One thing we can agree on is that, if they do put him in left, he'd be a huge upgrade over Damon, and in center he won't be worse than Melky.

17 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 9, 2009 9:29 am

[16] Of course. The plan that makes the most sense is to bring back Damon as the mostly DH, which would allow you to move Melky to LF and improve both slots. Then, when you want to DH Posada, Jeter or Arod, you simply slide Damon into the OF and sit Melky, which means Cervelli, Pena, etc. would be replacing Melky, not a more potent bat (as was the case when Matsui was the DH).

The only drawback to losing Matsui and keeping Damon is the lineup would become more vulnerable to left handers, but that is something that could be handled by getting a good righty bat. Too bad DeRosa probably wants to play every day.

18 RagingTartabull   ~  Dec 9, 2009 9:35 am

Personally I'm 100% behind this deal. We all know Granderson is going to hit in the Bronx, and as Cliff said theres no way he won't be at least as good as Melky. The power will be there, and I definitely think there were some mitigating factors with his dip in steals (team being weaker, maybe some leg problems)...but even if we get 20 steals on 25 attempts out of him I'll be more than happy.

As for what was given up: who the hell knows with A-Jax? Most seem to put his ceiling at "Granderson but with less power", so why go nuts about holding onto that? Coke was fun but completely expendable (although his postgame pressers will be sorely missed), and I personally didn't have the energy to go down the IPK road again. I think he'll thrive in the NL West, and I wish him all the best but I was never counting on him being a contributor for the Yankees in 2010.

19 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 9, 2009 9:41 am

One more interesting note. By most accounts, Andre Either had a breakout year (he actually broke out in 2008) on his way to stardom. He hit .194 against lefties.

20 Paul   ~  Dec 9, 2009 9:53 am

I wonder how the quality of pitching affects the measurement of outfield defense. I mean, if pitchers are giving up rockets rather than flys, then a fielder may have no chance even as it's in his zone. The 2008 Tigers had a 91 ERA+ vs. a 100 ERA+ in 2007 and a 106 ERA+ in 2009.

I say sign Bay for LF/DH and do the Damon thing you're suggesting with him. Hurt the Sox and help your club. If that fails, then sign Damon. Worst case, sign Cameron.

Yanks have a ton of options right now. I feel really lucky to be a Yankee fan knowing this team wins a championship then the GM stays up until 12am working the phones to make his club better.

21 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Dec 9, 2009 10:13 am

Agreed on Coke's personality. I'll miss his frankness and mix of determination and wide-eyed enthusiasm. I wish him well.

22 Raf   ~  Dec 9, 2009 10:13 am

The plan that makes the most sense is to bring back Damon as the mostly DH, which would allow you to move Melky to LF and improve both slots.

Why not Matsui?

You can still have Melky in LF (or CF depending on whims). Gardner and Cabrera can still play the hybrid platoon role that they played last season. Or sign Cameron and have him patrol LF/CF with Melky being used as the 4th OF, and Gardner used as the 5th OF/designated runner (or 'stander' if one prefers)

23 OldYanksFan   ~  Dec 9, 2009 10:20 am

"Granderson’s 2009 BABIP was .275 which is almost 50 points lower than his career version."
I guess BABIP is in some degree supposed to be a measure of luck? Or is it also an indicator of how solid/hard you hit the ball? CG's GB/FB ratio has gone from 1.29 to 0.58 over 5 years. However, in 2009, his LD% was 21%, just slightly higher then his career 20%. Add to this his breakout (30) HR numbers last year... and what does this mean?

It seems like he is really trying to hit the ball in the air and go for the seats. While YS will help that, shouldn't a guy with speed be happy to hit the ball on the ground? It seems to me the guy is talented, but that his approach over the last 2 years needs work. Like Groundzilla and ARod trying to pull the ball, batters usually suffer when then don't hit 'em where they're pitched.

I don't like guys who try and pull everything, and certainly at YS, CG will be tempted to continue in that vain. While JD was good at pulling the ball, he also knew how to go the other way.

His goal should not be to hit 30+ HRs. We don't really need that. We need an OBP guy. It's a mindset. Hopefully CG will see the light.

24 Raf   ~  Dec 9, 2009 10:43 am

CG’s GB/FB ratio has gone from 1.29 to 0.58 over 5 years. However, in 2009, his LD% was 21%, just slightly higher then his career 20%. Add to this his breakout (30) HR numbers last year…

His HR/FB ratio has pretty much remained the same. His infield flies have spiked. His bunt hit percentage has been increasing as well. So I wouldn't necessarily say that he's swinging for the fences.

25 ms october   ~  Dec 9, 2009 10:57 am

[21] yeah cokey's interviews were great - hopefully he will have a solid career

from a pure sentimental point of view, i am glad these guys who are gone and will be gone soon were all able to be a part of a world series winning team (granted not ipk and jackson, but the others)

26 williamnyy23   ~  Dec 9, 2009 12:36 pm

[22] Matsui doesn't work because he can't play the field, which means you have to bench him in NL parks as well as when you use the DH for Posada/Jeter/Arod. If they sign Damon, you could bench Melky in the NL park and when the DH slot is otherwise occupied.

Gardner's role, if he has one, should be as a pinch runner and defensive replacement when needed.

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