Grading the Curtis Granderson trade

Back in December of 2009, the Yankees fresh off their 27th World Series Championship dealt for the then Tigers’ Curtis Granderson. A player who was known to cover a lot of distance in the outfield and hit well enough to be considered a good hitter. If you remember this trade was between three teams: the Yankees, Tigers, and Diamondbacks. They traded a combined seven players in the deal, Granderson being the most noteworthy of the bunch. The Diamondbacks received Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy. Jackson is now with the Nationals, but Kennedy is now considered the ace of the Diamondbacks rotation. The Tigers acquired Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, and Daniel Schlereth. Each player was considered to have significant potential talent. It takes time for a trade’s true value to shine before you can grade it. Three years later I think its true colors are coming out.

There was a lot of this from Curtis Granderson during the postseason. (Image: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

The Yankees found themselves swept by the team they gave some of their young talent away to. Jackson hit .353 with a homer in the ALCS against the Yankees. While Phil Coke has saved two of the four Tigers’ wins for Detroit. Both players are doing damage to their former club while playing a role in why Detroit won the series.

Granderson is also doing damage, but to his own team. Granderson went 0-for-11 in the ALCS with an OBP of .154. Girardi was correct when he said his players didn’t made adjustments. Granderson is one of the players he was talking about. He consistently struck out on breaking balls in the dirt. It seems whether the pitchers threw inside or away he’d swing at a two-strike pitch in the dirt. So pitchers continued to throw it there and he never changed his approach.

It’s unfair to judge an entire trade on just four games though. So let’s look at the numbers from Granderson, Jackson, and Kennedy since the trade in 2009.

Curtis Granderson -

.247 AVG/.337 OBP/.506 SLG/.843 OPS

Since joining the Yankees, Granderson has been a good player. Over the past two years Granderson has hit over 40 home runs each season, but has also struck out at an incredibly horrible rate. He’s struck out 169 and 195 times in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Because of this Granderson will never give you an average north of .270. Granderson’s back-to-back 40 home run years are nothing to scoff at. It’s a truly amazing accomplishment and his swing fits Yankee Stadium’s short porch perfectly. The issue is when he’s not hitting home runs; he’s a less productive batter in the lineup. He’s become prone to either striking out or hitting pop ups. Those outcomes do not result in a runner being moved over like a ground ball. The streaky at-bats of Granderson weaken his value to the Yankees lineup.

This could have been the guy manning center for the Yankees. (Image: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

Austin Jackson -

.280 AVG/.346 OBP/.416 SLG/.761 OPS

Austin Jackson’s numbers since the trade are good, but as his career progresses, Jackson will be a great player. He’s improved dramatically since 2011, posting a .300 AVG along with an OBP of .377. His strikeout numbers have decreased since 2011, going from 181 to 134. Jackson also plays excellent defense, covering a lot of real estate in Comerica Park. He’s a talented player that the Yankees didn’t have the patience to wait out. He had the 2012 season that the Yankees need out of Granderson. The numbers are definitely going in a different direction for Jackson and Granderson.

Ian Kennedy -

3.55 ERA/624.1 IP/1.19 WHIP/8.0 SO/9

Kennedy has strung together some great and decent seasons since the trade. He finished 4th in the NL Cy Young race in 2011 with an ERA of 2.88. Kennedy isn’t the same pitcher he was in New York. He won 21 games in 2011 — a Diamondbacks record. The Diamondbacks have had great pitchers like Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling over the years. Even though wins aren’t a direct result of how well a team pitched, it is an amazing feat when you hit 20 wins in a season. Combine that with a 2.88 ERA, and it’s a Cy Young caliber season. He would be an excellent number three pitcher behind Kuroda at this point.

The Yankees have to learn from this deal. They didn’t exactly lose this deal, and they didn’t exactly win. It’s kind of in the middle, but when Granderson eventually walks in a season it could be a loss as the Tigers and Diamondbacks thrive off the Yankees past potential talent.

They have plenty of talented outfielders in their system. The names that come to mind are Mason Williams and Tyler Austin. Would the Yankees potentially trade these two budding prospects for a name like Justin Upton? I’m not sure, and I hope we don’t find out. The days of spending big money on high profiled free agents and trading the farm for are hopefully over for the Yankees. Successful teams are now developing their prospects, signing low cost and high reward free agents, while sprinkling in a big name signing.

The Yankees have to follow suit with the rest of the league or they’ll find themselves old and at the opposite end of where they want to be.

Topics: Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees

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  • Joel

    Brian Cashman hasn’t made a good decision since becoming General Manager of the Yankees. He is constantly outwitted by other GM’s who understand talent and how to put together a winning team. For the money that Cashman gets to spend, the Yankees should have won multiple championships. The best trade they can make is getting rid of Cashman and starting over with a GM who isn’t just a sock puppet for ownership.

    About the Granderson trade: this one hurts. Granderson is vastly overrated because of his chronic strikeout habit. In the playoffs, you can’t count on hitting home runs and Cashman doesn’t understand even this simple fact of baseball. Giving up Kennedy, Jackson, and Coke was an unforgivable mistake by Cashman the Boy Blunder. Nothing matters until Cashman is replaced.

    • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

      I disagree. Cashman is a great general manager, and the worst moves that the Yankees have made have usually been ones that the ownership forced him to make. He’s made the Yankees extremely successful – arguably the best team in baseball in the past decade. Yes, they’ve only won one championship, but the playoffs are so unpredictable that you can’t blame that on him.

      I actually think Granderson is underrated because of his strikeouts. People see the strikeouts and assume that he’s awful, but he hit 43 home runs! He was an MVP candidate last year! It was a great trade at the time, even if it didn’t work out ideally in the end. But look at the Swisher trade – that was one of the best trades in baseball in the past decade, in my opinion. And while the Pineda trade seems awful now, it’s not like Jesus had a great year either. That trade could end up still being positive for the Yankees in the long run.

      • Ross Mosschito

        Joel is correct. Matt is delusional.

        Cashman’s blunders are massive. Gene Michael and Bob Watson built the team, Cashman’s been happily living off it since.

        But then again expecting anything based in fairness from a person who can evaluate the Granderson trade 3 years hence as anything other than disastrous is a pipe dream.

        Bottom line is the Yanks gave up extreme value in (outside of Trout of course) one of the league’s best young outfielders, extreme value in a young LEFT-HANDED pitcher and a useful, if not improving lefty for a one-dimensional, clearly declining, over-priced outfielder of limited defensive abilities (if the sabermetricians are to be believed) who will cost upwards of $15 mill+ to retain.

        $15 mill that could pay the salaries of Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth with $12 million left over. Not chump change for a team suddenly focused on reducing salary, for the first time in 40 years.

        • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

          I appreciate the comment, Ross. However, I think this would be more constructive without the name-calling and hyperbolic negative language. Let’s just discuss the actual issue at hand.

          I never said that the trade was good, but that given the information that Cashman had at the time, it was a very good trade.

          Jackson is one of the league’s best young outfielders, you’re right, but he wasn’t at the time. He had never played a major league game, and his performance in AAA, while solid, was unspectacular. Virtually no scouts thought that he would become what he is today.

          Phil Coke was a left-handed specialist reliever who had just put up a 4.50 ERA in his first full season. He was basically a poor-man’s Boone Logan.

          Ian Kennedy, while a solid prospect, was never supposed to be a star. Like Jackson, no scout thought he would be the pitcher he is today (a pitcher who really wasn’t that great this year, by the way).

          Granderson, on the other hand, was a speedy young outfielder with power and seemingly good defense for cheap, basically what Jackson is now (not a perfect comparison of course, but of similar value). He was the only bonafied major league player of the 4, and so he was a very good return for what they gave up.

          Yes, it didn’t work out, as Jackson ended up being superb, and Kennedy had one great year and an okay one this year. Of course, knowing what we know now, Cashman wouldn’t have done the deal. But that doesn’t mean it was dumb at the time.

          • ikkf

            Sure, it wasn’t dumb at the time, but the problem with Cashman is he’s made so many deals that weren’t dumb at the time.

            In 14 years Cashman has developed no pitchers who’ve contributed at the major league level for the Yanks consistently for more than 3 seasons. The only star position player he’s brought to the big leagues is Cano. The strength and conditioning staff can’t seem to keep the players healthy–with all the money the Yankees have, couldn’t they at least hire qualified personnel in that department?

            There seems to be some kind of cronyism in the organization for Mark Newman to still be in charge of player development. Nardi Contreras’s babying of pitching prospects has only led to their imploding consistently.

            The Yankees brass also has too much of an obsession with hard throwing pitchers. Sure, Sabathia has worked out so far but for every CC you have Jeff Weaver, Javier Vasquez, Randy Johnson, and Carl Pavano. The Yanks don’t seem to realize there are different approaches to pitching.

            Time to clean house.

          • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

            Correct if I’m wrong, but weren’t most of those pitchers you listed the ownership’s, and not Cashman’s, doing? What about Hiroki Kuroda? He was a fantastic signing by Cashman, and is a guy that doesn’t throw hard but is a “pitcher not a thrower”. Yes, the Yankees’ pitchers haven’t exactly worked out over the years, but I’m not sure Cashman is the guy to blame.

          • ikkf

            Yes, Kuroda was a good signing, but a 38-year-old stopgap who won’t be around for very long. I’m talking about developing prospects. Plus, Cashman has had free rein, independent of the Tampa crowd’s meddling, for several years now.

            Speaking of Tampa, I can’t understand the Yankees’ policy of not signing their young prospects to long-term contracts early on the way the Rays do. Why do they wait until their players become free agents, then overpay them with these huge contracts? If they’d lock these guys up after their third or fourth year, they’d save a lot of money and have their good players for their prime years. Makes no fiscal sense or otherwise.

        • Chris_Carelli

          I agree with you about the Yankees being on the short end of the deal now and it will get worse as Jackson & Kennedy get even better, but what Matt is saying, I think, is that when the trade was made it could have gone either way. Sometimes you do just take a chance. I’m not entirely sure Kennedy wins 20 games in the AL East either.

          Where I disagree is by saying that Gene Michael and Bob Watson built the team. Not THIS team. They had a huge part to play in the late 90s early 00s teams, that Cashman took over, OK. But most of their imprint was left long ago. It is 2012.

          They had nothing to do with the 2009 World Series Championship and the subsequent postseason appearances. We may never know for certain what deals were made because of ownership and which deals Cashman wasn’t allowed to make because of ownership. The Steinbrenners have always had a hand in the running of the team. It’s not an easy position to be in despite the loads of money available to spend.

          Each year the decisions Cashman and the Steinbrenners have made have gotten the team to the playoffs each year but one. Winning the World Series is not easy and can’t be expected each season.

        • Jimmy Kraft

          Ross and Joel, take a look at this:

          http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/rankings/organization-top-10-prospects/2009/267148.html

          It’s Baseball America’s Top 10 Yankees prospects in 2009. How many of those guys on the right side are with a major league team right now? Even more, how many are thriving at MVP-like levels?

          Not convinced? Here’s another link for you examining EACH player of that trade:

          http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/majors/trade-central/2009/269252.html

          In case you don’t click, here’s a synopsis of what they thought:

          “Jackson’s arm strength is above average for center field and allows him to play right field, if necessary. If his power doesn’t come to the fore, he’ll have to make more consistent contact, and he could wind up as more of a bottom-of-the-order hitter.”

          Lots of “ifs” there that Jackson actually made good on, that’s not on Cashman… That’s more a testament to Jackson working hard.

  • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

    Hindsight is 20/20. The Granderson trade was a great move at the time, because very few scouts projected Jackson to be as good as he is now. Maybe this was his ceiling, but you can’t treat prospects as if they will always hit their ceiling, because most of the time they don’t. While it’s good to learn from your mistakes, you also don’t want to over-adjust and make a different mistake in the opposite direction. Jackson and Kennedy turned out to be great when they left the Yankees (though I don’t think Kennedy is really that good), but Granderson has also been great. There was no reason to think that Jackson would be as good as he is, and for that reason, I think it was a very smart trade at the time.

  • Chris Hannum

    I have been “evaluating” this trade every offseason for a few years now from the Tigers’ perspective, and I have to agree that the Yankees do seem to have gotten the short end of the stick three years in – in terms of payoff. But that’s kind of beside the point, isn’t it? That trade was the kind of thing that the Yankees do because they’re the Yankees. They can’t gamble on trying Jackson for a few years and Kennedy for a few more years and hope they blossom – the Yankees have to win every year, not win when things break their way. They are in the rare position of wanting to minimize “unpredictability” because they’ll make the postseason easily if everything goes as expected (not if everything goes right).

    Gambling is for other franchises. If you have any finance background this should make sense in a portfolio management context. The Yankees traded risky, (potentially) high-yield assets with (probably) far off maturity dates and got something more short-term and predictable in return. The fact that investments in the risky Jackson and the risky Kennedy have paid off for Detroit and Arizona does not mean that the trade was a bad idea from New York’s perspective.

    • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

      Well said Chris. I completely agree. While it hurts to see the players that you traded away excel, for the Yankees, you have to go with the sure thing rather than the question mark. They have the money to pay more for Granderson, whereas the Tigers were rebuilding, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle in the cheaper and younger Jackson (which they did). As a Yankees fan, while it’s fun to see the homegrown players become stars, it’s simply smarter to trade those types of guys for more experienced players.