A few weeks ago, EJ advocated flipping Brett Gardner, the presumptive left fielder, with center fielder Curtis Granderson, so as to maximize the defensive value that the Yankees can extract from both players. Matt ran the defensive numbers and confirmed EJ’s belief that Gardner in center provided the most value, and Steve noticed comments from Brian Cashman that suggested that the move may be made.
All empirical data seems to point to this switch being an obvious move, one that can help the Yankees squeeze as much as possible from the talent on hand. However, over the weekend, NoMaas.org asked ESPN’s Rob Neyer about this point, and he raised a number of interesting issues that might give the Yankees pause:
I think it’s a fine idea, in a vacuum. But the Yankees don’t play in a vacuum. For one thing, a lot of people would wonder why they traded for — and why they’ll spend at least $26 million on — a left fielder who doesn’t hit a ton.
But I think it’s more than that. If you do move Granderson, you’re essentially announcing to the world that Granderson’s not good enough to play center field. Which is fine …until you decide that Brett Gardner’s not good enough to play every day (or two-thirds of the days), either.
Keeping Granderson in center field today might cost the Yankees a few runs over the course of the season, but it also leaves the Yankees’ options wide open. Down the road — this summer, next year, whenever — if the Yankees want to pick up a center fielder, they can do that and move Granderson. But if they want to pick up a left fielder, they can do that, too.
I disagree with Neyer’s first two points, in that they are concerns that should not impact the decision making process. The club should not make personnel decisions based upon public perception, and should not be worried that they have “announced to the world” that Granderson cannot play CF. All they are actually saying is that Gardner is better than Granderson, which does not preclude Curtis from being an excellent centerfielder himself. Furthermore, “announcing” something to the world does not change the talent level of the players, such that Granderson should not be impacted defensively by the fact that the Yankees have conceded that Gardner is better than him.
His last point, however, holds some merit. Unless the Yankees believe that Gardner is their long term answer in centerfield, it makes sense to leave Granderson where he is. Put simply, moving Granderson to another position for a full year can do nothing but erode his skills as a center fielder and make him uncomfortable with the position should they choose to move him back there at a later date. Furthermore, it is significantly more difficult to find a productive CF’er than LF’er, such that making Granderson a left fielder can result in an immense loss of value should he be unable to transition back. That is a risk that may not be worth the projected .25 WAR that the Yankees would likely gain if they did put Gardner in center and Granderson in left.
What do you think they should do?
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