Granderson in Pinstripes, Pending Physicals

Big news today as the Yankees, Tigers, and Diamondbacks–pending reviews of player physicals–have hatched a three-way trade that will bring CF Curtis Granderson to the Yankees.  The Tigers will receive OF prospect Austin Jackson and lefty reliever Phil Coke from the Yankees, and righty pitcher Max Scherzer and lefty pitcher Daniel Schlereth from Arizona, which in exchange will get righty starter Ian Kennedy from the Yankees and hard-throwing righty starter Edwin Jackson.  It has not been completed, but barring anyone failing a physical, Granderson will be outfitted in pinstripes and will be the new center fielder in Yankee Stadium.

I blogged earlier today about some reservations I still have about Granderson.  A fuller account of them now–he strikes out too much, and that must change with the characteristically patient, productive Yankees.  One last time, I’ll include his K’s from previous years–141 in both 2007 and 2009, and a sky-high 174 in 2006.  He has also struggled against lefties both in his career (.210/.270, 16 HR, 54 RBI in 619 AB/305 games) and especially last season (.183/.245, 2 HR, 9 RBI in 180 AB/86 games).

Those are considerable areas of concerns.  The K numbers might be acceptable for a power hitter–and Granderson does have power (30 HR last season)–but not for someone with Granderson’s speed, which he will hopefully use to steal more bases with the Yankees than he did the last three season with the Tigers (26 in 2007, 12 in 2008, and 20 in 2009).  He should have ample opportunities to do so, especially in a great and deep Yankees lineup.  But his swing-for-the-fences approach slashed his OBP (.327) drawing a career-high 72 walks, as well as his triples (8) last season.

I am also concerned about his struggles against lefties.  In a strong post, Sam Borden contends the following in advocating the Granderson acquisition:

Last year, the Yankees faced lefties in just about 30 percent of their plate appearances – to me, that’s hardly enough to use it as a determining factor, especially when a) you have a hitting coach who you ostensibly trust to improve your players; and b) you’re talking about a correctable skill.

Consider this: In 1993, the Yankees brought in an outfielder who had an OBP of .273 against LHP the previous season. By 1994, he had a .439 OBP against lefties. That player was Paul O’Neill.

The point about O’Neill is a very good one, and I agree.  Granderson can improve against lefties both because he will be in a very strong lineup, and because Kevin Long might well help him improve. Yet improve he MUST. The Yankees as currently structured are not built to platoon.  Doing so with Granderson cannot and will not work, for his defense is too good to remove him against lefties.  He must produce.  Also, I disagree with Borden and his inclusion of the 30% figure regarding the number of plate appearances against lefties.  While statistically true, it glosses over important points, including the fact that while Granderson faced lefties in just 25.35% of his 2009 plate appearances (180/710) and just 23.65% of his career plate appearances (685/2,896), he faced lefties in 86 games last year, so teams frequently targeted him with lefty specialists, not without success.  Those are ample opportunities to produce, in more than half the games facing a lefty and often in pressure situations.  He must improve on .183/.245, 2 HR and 9 RBI.  He will likely have 125-150+ RISP opportunities with the Yankees wherever he hits, plenty of them against lefties.

On Granderson’s possible place in the lineup.  On the one hand, he could certainly lead off and has done so for several years in Detroit.  He has both power and speed, allowing him to pose multiple threats.  On the other hand, and I think I am leaning in this direction, his batting second might be a better place for him on the Yankees.  Jeter was outstanding leading off last year, so why fix what is not only not broken, but working so smoothly?  Also, Jeter was so excellent because his aggressive approach allowed him to swing early in counts at his pitches, so often pounding the baseball for hits to start games.  This naturally assists any two-hole hitter, who would already see good pitches with Teixeira batting third, but even more so with a runner already aboard and, if Jeter’s legs are healthy perhaps more fastballs to assist a catcher trying to throw out Jeter–who swiped 3o last season.

Within that point, and this to me might be the case whether or not JD and/or Matsui return–I would bat Granderson second.  If JD returns, he could bat sixth behind Jorge, distributing both power and speed throughout the lineup.  If somehow JD and Matsui return, the lineup is even more impossible to navigate for teams.  Think of it–JD or Matsui batting seventh?  That would be the lineup, with Swish eighth and Melky ninth presuming no deals involving them.  Sick.

Concerns aside, and after much thought, this deal is definitely a positive one for the Yanks.  First, they achieved their objective of getting younger, for Grandy (as Nick dubbed him in a comment on a previous post) will turn 29 next March.  As with the acquisition of Teixeira last year, Granderson is at an ideal age–under 30, but with plenty of experience and capable of playing his position extremely well for years to come.  He also comes at a very reasonable price–$25.75 million over the next three years ($5.5 million in 2010, $8.25 in 2011, and $10 million flat in 2012 with a $13 million option for 2013).  That might well be what the Yankees want to pay JD and/or Matsui per season should they re-sign anyway.

Crucially, Granderson has immediately improved the outfield defense, regardless of whether or not JD returns.  He is super fast, definitely the CF moving Melky to left.  Melky has nice speed, not blazing but certainly enough coupled with Granderson to cover left center very well.  Granderson is athletic, a good leaper for shots to and over the wall, and he judges balls well.  Moving Melky’s strong arm to left would be a huge upgrade over JD’s weak arm.  Should JD return, and it would certainly be nice if he did, the Yankees will have a DH who can also play the outfield, which they seem to have desired all along.  Granderson will save runs with his speed, no doubt about it.  Grandy, Melky, and Swish in the outfield is a strong defensive outfield.

Granderson is also a hard pull hitter, with a stroke tailor-made for the short porch in right.  At the same time, he may well get back into double digits with the spacious left center and a moderately deep right center.  That is, his power and speed are well suited for the Yankees and at Yankee Stadium.

Not to be overlooked, and I mentioned this at length during 2009 regarding C.C., A.J., Teixeira, and Swish, the Yankees got someone who by all accounts is a good guy in Granderson.  He keeps his nose clean, is a serious competitor but is affable and likable, and will quickly become a fan favorite in pinstripes.  He appears the antithesis of Randy Johnson in temperament and, given how well the Yankees meshed last year, getting someone who can and will fit in to that clubhouse doesn’t hurt one iota.

I still harbor reservations about dealing Jackson, a very good prospect despite hitting just four homers and fanning 123 times in SWB last season.  Not just because Jackson is good and has potential, but also because I really do not want the Yankees to deal away many or most of their prospects.  Yet to me, Montero is absolutely the hands-off player, even for Halliday.  His bat is too good.  Tyler Kepner makes a good point in saying that, since the Yankees evaluated Jackson as possibly being as good as Granderson someday, acquiring someone performing that well already, with that experience, was the wise thing to do.  I can’t disagree with that.  Granderson is playing at a high level, offensively and defensively.  Jackson might do so someday.  The Yankees traded a maybe for a definitely, and traded well.

While Kennedy still has potential, he was not at the level of Joba and Hughes, and fell further behind as a result of his arm aneurysm last year.  Coke was good last year but faltered down the stretch,  giving up 10 homers in just 60 innings last season.  With Marte’s sharp return and great work in the World Series, and with the hard-throwing if erratic Mike Dunn developing, the Yankees clearly sent a sign by dealing him and Bruney that they believe they have plenty of middle relief options, and a desire to cultivate Dunn, by removing Dunn from consideration in the Granderson deal. I liked Coke and respected his working-class background a lot, but like Kennedy he was expendable.

Granderson’s acquisition may well set the financial and contractual parameters for JD, for the Yankees clearly want to limit any deal for him to two years, with which I agree.  I don’t want them to low-ball JD or Matsui, and I have my suspicions about possible collusion occurring in sports generally and in baseball particularly.  Yet in this market, they simply do not need to overpay for left fielders and DHs, so they won’t.

After some (re-)consideration, I like getting Granderson and believe I will come to like him the more I see of him in pinstripes.

Very good.

[Edit: I forgot to mention this, but Mike texted me this afternoon and I read on ESPN that Peter Gammons is moving on from ESPN after 20 years.  I have had my issues with Gammons and his Boston partisanship.  However, he is an astute commenter on the game.  Also, and not to be overlooked as baseball fans, he will be missed from a network whose baseball coverage has slipped with the likes of Kruk and others infesting the studio with their blather.  All best in the future for Gammons.]

Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 7:31 pm  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I do agree on Ajax thats the only part of the trade I dont like much but as people have said if scouts think he COULD be as good as Grandy one day why not trade for the actual Grandy himself now as there is the chance Ajax might not work out.

  2. I agree with Granderson 2nd. (Especially if no JD. If JD returns and not Matsui then a different bag of worms? Posada or Cano at 5? You know I don’t like Cano’s impatience. Granderson’s K’s could be a problem. But if JD is back and not Matsui, then Cano 5 and Granderson 7 may be the solution. You use Posada (switch) between Cano and Granderson, with the Switch Swish at 8. Thoughts?

    Also to note: With Jeter on base and the first baseman holding him on, a lefty hitter is desired in the two spot to shoot for the hole—whether Damon last year or Granderson in the future.

    You mention Melky, Grandy and Swish in the OF. Let’s not forget Gardner, who would replace Swish as a D replacement. Now we are talking some speed and D in those late and close ballgames.

  3. You and I see eye to eye on those points, Nick.

    On Granderson’s spot in the lineup Mike, I see him second rather than the bottom third for a few reasons. I admit that his K’s do not help matters hitting second. But I envision his batting second as just what you see–the lefty up with a runner on. Teixeira would also provide good protection for Granderson, likely allowing his average to jump a bit more than it would if he were dropped to seventh, which might mean people would pitch around him more. Also, I am not keen on burying his speed too deep in the lineup, despite the fact that even batting seventh or anywhere, his speed will help break up double plays and his power would serve him and the team well. I don’t want too quickly to displace JD, who was terrific batting second, has very good bat control, can go the other way, and did just what you said regarding shooting the ball through the hole when Jeter et al. were held on. But Granderson’s speed plus power is potential lethal, while JD has pretty good speed but some leg issues. On Cano, I simply do not see him as a five-hole hitter until he becomes more patient, and that might never happen. Plus, I believe Jorge handles that responsibility and produces in that spot better than Cano. While there are advantages to having a switch hitter between two lefties should lefties be fifth/seventh, I would prefer the stronger, more patient hitters concentrated in the middle. I think that would probably outweigh the benefit of mixing lefty-righty.

    I can almost envision an order like this, should JD return:

    1.) Jeter
    2.) Granderson
    3.) Teixeira
    4.) A-Rod
    5.) Posada
    6.) JD
    7.) Cano
    8.) Swish
    9.) Melky

    If Granderson hit seventh, I doubt he (or I) would complain. However, I would prefer to see his speed near the top of the order.

    Good point on Gardner, which would likely mean Melky moved to right to protect late inning leads. That’s a lot of speed in LF/CF.

  4. I wanted to ask what your lineup would be should JD return and not Matsui. Glad you provided it.

    The only problem I have with the lineup you provided is Posada in the 5 spot. I do agree with some points you make regarding Granderson, Cano and JD.

    The big question mark to me is Posada. Let’s not forget his age—38, and 39 next August. It may (or may not) be too much for him to bat 5th anymore.

  5. Should JD return and Matsui not, Mike, JD could also hit fifth. I nearly posted a slash for JD/Posada for both fifth and sixth, but have a degree of slash fatigue writing them about the status of JD and Matsui. He could go there, and his trajectory toward being more a power hitter for the Yankees and in Yankee Stadium would give the Yanks a good fifth hitter. If Matsui returns, it’s him fifth. I think JD would be a nice choice fifth, would make it righty-lefty-switch-righty-lefty-switch(Posada sixth)-lefty-switch-switch. It is both very formidable and flexible.

  6. Espn reporting andy deal done. 1 yr 11.75m

  7. Yep, just posted on it. Another very good move, and prioritizing Pettite–combined with guaranteeing his contract sans incentives–must have sent the right strong messages to him. The Yanks have done very well thus far this off-season.

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