Ken Davidoff of Newsday’s most recent column delves into the possibility of the Yanks and Tigers making a deal for Curtis Granderson. According to the report, the Tigers Center Fielder has expressed a desire to play for the Yankees, and has the type of media friendly personality that would play well in New York both on and off the field. Granderson has written guest columns for ESPN, so that’s about as media friendly as it gets. Davidoff further says its the kind of deal Brian Cashman would make, since Granderson is under control at reasonable dollars for the next few years. He writes:
The Yankees think very highly of Granderson, who turns 29 next March, hit 30 homers in 2009 and is under team control through 2013. Though Brian Cashman declined to trade high-caliber prospects for the likes of Johan Santana and Jake Peavy, he’d likely be more open to a deal like this because of the reasonable dollars committed to Granderson – $5.5 million next year, $8.25 million in 2011 and $10 million in 2012, with a $13-million team option (or $2-million buyout) for 2013 – for an extended period of time.
So we have a player who fills a Yankee need (CF) and is signed at reasonable money for the next 4 years. Striking a deal for Granderson would allow you to move Melky over to Left and eliminate the need to sign Johnny Damon and/or Hideki Matsui. Granderson’s offense would be a good replacement for Damon’s bat, you get younger and cheaper and upgrade two outfield positions defensively. Sounds good, right? Not so fast. There are always at least two sides to every deal, so let’s break this one down in two easy steps. Why are the Tigers suddenly so willing to trade him? Do the Yanks and Tigers match up for a deal?
-Why are the Tigers willing to trade him?
The most common reason cited for Dombrowski’s willingness to deal his star Center fielder is his declining overall numbers over the past 3 seasons, and specifically his declining numbers vs lefties. Joe Pawlikowski of River Ave Blues broke down the decline in his BABIP nicely as an explanation for the overall decline. He writes:
Granderson’s BABIP stands out as a reason for his dip in production. After posting marks of .362 in 2007 and .317 in 2008, he fell all the way to .276 in 2009. I’m not here to chalk this up to luck and say that he’s poised to rebound. Instead, let’s take look at some other numbers that might explain the dip. Looking at his batted ball data, you can’t help but notice one big change from 2008 to 2009. Granderson’s ground ball rate dropped dramatically. He was at 34 percent in 2007 and then saw that rise to 40 percent in 2008. In 2009 it fell all the way to 29.5 percent. That meant an increase in fly ball percentage, to almost 50 percent. Since ground balls go for hits more frequently than fly balls, Granderson’s lower BABIP, and therefore lower batting average, is easily explainable.
I subscribe to this theory explaining why his overall numbers have dropped. It appears that Granderson has became a bit HR-happy last season, and while he hit a career high in HRs (30) the rest of his numbers (BA/OBP/SLG) suffered. He would need to be encouraged to change his approach, maybe think ‘up the middle’ a bit more. This is the type of thing hitting coaches deal with all the time. When Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano had similar problems in recent years, Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long had them change their approach at the plate, and even open up their stance at times. So this doesn’t dissuade me from pursuing a deal.
But I disagree with a note Joe P. adds at the end of his piece. Referring to Granderson’s struggles against lefties, he said that it “seems like an approach thing. He was much better in previous years.” It may very well be an approach issue, if he’s trying to pull everything that will typically affect a Lefty batter more when he faces Lefty pitchers. But he hasn’t been much better facing Lefthanders in previous years. If anything, his one decent season in 2008 facing Lefties appears to be the outlier. Here’s Granderson’s platoon splits year by year:
vs RHP as LH .274/.353/.452.805
vs LHP as LH .218/.277/.395/.671
vs RHP as LH .337/.393/.621/.1014
vs LHP as LH .160/.225/.269/.494
vs RHP as LH .288/.383/.517/.900
vs LHP as LH .258/.310/.429/.739
vs RHP as LH .275/.358/.539/.897
vs LHP as LH .183/.245/.239/.484
The 2008 numbers would be nice production from the CF position, but they appear to be the exception, not the rule. Granderson appears to be a dead pull hitter. Check out his HR spray chart from Hit Tracker. One explanation could be he’s simply adjusting his game to his home stadium. Comerica isn’t the type of ballpark that’s friendly to an up the middle approach. Here’s the dimensions of Comerica Park and the HR spray chart for the entire season at that facility. Clearly, it’s not the kind of ballpark that yields results if you try to hit the ball to Centerfield, which could go a long way to explaining Granderson’s splits.
If the Yanks were to strike a deal for him, they would be banking on him getting some easy Homers in Lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium and hoping that helps him relax at the plate. But of course, that can cut both ways. If he’s tempted to pull everything over the short porch in Right Field, his over swinging could get even worse, at least temporarily. So he would be someone that Kevin Long would have to pay close attention to, which I’m sure both he and Girardi would be doing anyway. But even if the Yanks left Granderson alone and made no changes, a lefty pull hitter like him is born to play in Yankee Stadium. For that reason alone, even with the bad lefty splits, I would still want to make a deal for him. If anything, his power numbers should improve in Yankee Stadium.
-Do the Yanks and Tigers match up for a deal?
For Detroit to be looking to trade a young, talented player like Granderson they will be looking to fill multiple needs in the near future. Of course they would rather move someone like Dontrelle Willis or Nate Robertson, but nobody wants them. With the down economy and Detroit hit even harder than most cities, they saw their attendance decline by over 8,000 fans per game last season. So they’re looking to get younger and cheaper wherever it makes sense. Granderson makes decent money but more importantly has trade value, and that’s why he’s the one being dangled.
The Tigers have many areas of need, which only multiply with the impending free agency of Brandon Lyon, Fernando Rodney, Adam Everett and Placido Polanco. Fortunately, many of their needs are areas which the Yanks match up nicely with. First, they could use some help in their starting rotation. For most of the 2009 season, they didn’t have a reliable #5 starter, and the all-too-forgettable Armando Galarraga was their 4th starter. The Yanks have a few young arms they could afford to part with that are close to MLB ready, with Ivan Nova, Zachary McCallister and (everyone’s favorite trade bait) Ian Kennedy topping the list.
If the Tigers were to trade their star centerfielder, it would stand to reason that they would need a replacement for him on the outfield. Austin Jackson would likely be the Tigers first choice, since he’s close to being MLB ready and would be cost controlled for 6 years after being called up. Melky is beginning to accumulate service time (4 years) and figures to make decent money, around 2.5 mil this season and likely even more next year. Brett Gardner is another possibility, though from a Yankee perspective you’d prefer to keep him around as a defensive replacement/pinch runner. Austin Jackson has more upside, but if for some reason Dombrowski really likes Gardner, you have to pull the trigger.
The Tiger bullpen is an area of enormous need. Outside of Brandon Lyon, the 2009 Tigers bullpen was a disaster from the beginning. Closer Fernando Rodney was his usual inconsistent self, Zach Minor was spotty at best, and Joel Zumaya has been hurt so much in recent years that he’s pretty much off the radar at this point. If Jim Leyland had anyone in the bullpen he could count on to get a few outs down the stretch, the Tigers would almost certainly have faced the Yankees in the ALDS this year. The Yankees have multiple bullpen prospects, with Brian Bruney, Mark Melancon, Jon Albaladejo and Phil Coke all as possible matches.
Catcher is another area of need, one that the Yankee farm system is deep in terms of prospects. Gerald Laird was the Tigers catcher last season, and he’s not going to make anyone forget Ivan Rodriguez anytime soon. His anemic bat is one I’m sure they’d like to upgrade. While this is an area of depth for the Yankee farm system, it may not be an area that works for both teams. Francisco Cervelli figures prominently in the Yankee plans for next year, and will likely start 50-60 games with the 39 year old Posada having his playing time at Catcher reduced. Jesus Montero is off limits for me, bats like his don’t come around all that often and can only be traded for elite players in their prime. Granderson is a player who’s stock has dropped, so Montero stays put. Austin Romine could be a possibility, but he’s still a few years away, so that may not work for the Tigers.
From Dombrowski’s perspective, you’d prefer to pick up a starting pitcher and CF replacement for Granderson as a minimum for making a deal. You can buy relievers cheaply on the free agent market on an annual basis, starting position players and starting pitchers will cost much more. For the price of one mediocre starting pitcher (8-10 mil) you could buy multiple relievers, and unlike starting pitchers relievers will often take 1-2 year deals.
From the Yankee perspective, they are at a point with their farm system where they can start dealing off excess. The reality is some players will almost never be given a chance to secure a spot on the 25 man roster. As things stand now, Alfredo Aceves, Chad Guadin and Sergio Mitre would get starts in case of injury before Ian Kennedy or Z-Mac would, so there’s no point in leaving them languishing in AAA when they could help you upgrade your team. Getting a CF allows Cashman to use Left Field as a way station for aging players in decline (as we did with Damon) and keeps the least demanding defensive outfield position open for future considerations, which signing Matt Holliday or Jason bay would preclude. Melky plays Left field for now, with possibly Jeter or Montero or whoever else playing there down the line. The late 90′s Championship teams didn’t have anyone special playing Left. They had Gerald Williams(96)/Chad Curtis(98)/Ricky LeDee(99)/Chuck Knobloch (01). We didn’t have a real LF until 2003 when Hideki Matsui was signed, and that was really a George deal that had as much to do with expanding the Yankee brand in Japan as it did Baseball. Getting a Center fielder with a productive bat gives a GM that little word that all Baseball executives love to hear. Flexibility.
What do you think? Would you make a deal, and if so who would you be willing to give up? But whatever you propose, just remember those immortal words of Joe Pawlikowski-Your trade proposal sucks.
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