If you had told me during the World Series that the Yankees could have Curtis Granderson without having to surrender any of these four players—Jesus Montero, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, or Zach McAllister—I would have asked for the signup sheet right then and there. So when I heard that the Yankees had acquired the Tigers’ center fielder for a package of Austin “Ajax” Jackson, Phil Coke, and Ian Kennedy, I was thrilled with Brian Cashman’s latest trade. When it comes to making trades for position players, Cashman is very good; just look at last winter’s deal for Nick Swisher and that long-ago swap that brought Alex Rodriguez to town.
Granderson makes the Yankees younger in the outfield and potentially improves their defensive play at two positions. If Granderson plays center field—and he should in my book—his speed gives him an advantage over Melky Cabrera. Granderson can outrun his mistakes, something that the slower Cabrera has a tougher time doing. I’ve heard all of the talk about how Granderson played a poor center field in September. Given that he’s still only 28, I doubt that he’s suddenly lost his defensive abilities. More likely, fatigue may have been a factor, along with the very real possibility that he fell into a defensive slump. Fielding slumps can and do happen, just like a few years ago when A-Rod had such difficulty throwing and fielding that ESPN had him pegged for DH duties.
With Granderson in center, the Yankees would be able to slide Cabrera to left field, where he would be a huge upgrade over Johnny Damon. An outfield of Cabrera/Granderson/Swisher greatly improves the outfield defense, which was one of the few weaknesses on the world championship team.
In terms of character, Granderson is a slam dunk. People in nearby Oneonta remember his season as a member of the minor league Tigers; they continue to laud him as gentlemanly, cooperative, and community-minded, all traits that have carried over to his time in Detroit. Extraordinarily popular in the Motor City, Granderson should have no trouble blending into a cohesive clubhouse that already has pillars like Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, and Mariano Rivera.
Aside from his late-season defensive foibles, the biggest criticism of Granderson has to do with his inability to hit left-handed pitching. This is a legitimate point that needs to be brought up, but it has been wildly overstated. Exactly who has all this left-handed pitching that is supposed to shut down Granderson? A look at the American League East, where the Yankees will play approximately half of their games, reveals a right-handed landscape. The Red Sox have one left-handed starter in Jon Lester; he’s one of the best in the game, but the rest of the rotation is right-handed. Like the Red Sox, Tampa Bay has one left-handed starter in David Price. The Orioles also have one lefty in rookie Brian Matusz. The Blue Jays are the only divisional rival with two southpaw starters: Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil. That makes for a grand total of five left-handers among the 20 projected starters within the division. And for those interested in the composition of the division’s closers, currently only J.P. Howell of the Rays is left-handed…
The winter meetings netted the Yankees Granderson, a re-signed Andy Pettitte, and Rule 5 pickup Jamie Hoffmann, a versatile defender who appears to have a chance to stick as the fifth outfielder, or perhaps No 4 outfielder if Brett Gardner is traded. (Let’s hope he has more of an impact than previous Rule 5 acquisitions Tim McIntosh and Josh Phelps.) So what’s next? Based on what I’m reading and hearing, the Yankees’ master plan is to sign either Damon or Matsui to be the primary DH. Damon is the higher priority because he can still play the field and has a body less affected by surgery, but Matsui remains an option if Damon is insistent on a multi-year contract. My gut feeling is that the Yankees will sign Mark DeRosa to platoon with Cabrera in left field. The Yankees have long loved DeRosa’s versatility and reputation as a hard-nosed gamer. When he doesn’t start, DeRosa can serve as a utility infielder, backing up Robinson Cano and A-Rod on the infield, and Swisher in right field. The key to signing DeRosa, who will turn 35 in February, will be convincing him to accept a part-time role, since there figure to be other teams willing to give him a starting job at either third base or somewhere in the outfield. If DeRosa goes elsewhere, then Mike Cameron becomes the next viable candidate to share time with Cabrera in the outfield…
The Yankees were shut out of this week’s Veterans’ Committee elections, as former owner Jacob Ruppert strangely failed to garner support despite having overseen ten pennant winners and seven world championships during a prosperous 25-year run. Ruppert received seven votes, but needed nine for election. In addition, Billy Martin fell woefully short, as he received fewer than three votes (nine short of election) from the committee. As much as I’m always fascinated by Martin’s career, I’m afraid that one world championship, two pennants, and no long term success in any of his many stops adds up to a resume that is simply not worthy of the Hall of Fame. There’s also the reality of Martin’s personality. He rubbed so many people wrong throughout his career, from a variety of front office executives to a wide range of media folk, that he will always have a difficult time garnering enough support from any electing body. As great as Martin was in having short-term impact on his teams, he was far from a beloved figure in the baseball world.