If you’re a free agent, it’d probably be ideal to have a fantastic season heading into free agency, particularly if you had a couple of blemishes on your resume as if comes to on-field activities- age, strikeouts, etc. One of the least ideal situations: missing a ton of time due to injury, combined with the other potential problems in your game. That is exactly what is happening to Curtis Granderson this year. While it’s unlikely that the Yankees would have retained him if he had put up numbers similar to those over the last two seasons, it is worth asking: does Granderson’s current misfortune increase his chances of staying with the Yankees past 2013?
On the whole, Granderson has been a bit of an enigma. Initially, in his first season with the Yankees after being acquired in a 3-way trade with the Diamondbacks and the Tigers, there were mixed results. While the power numbers were respectable (24 HR and 67 RBI), his .247/.324/.468 slash line were mediocre at best. In seasons since, there have been two major changes: 1) the soaring number of homer runs after tweaking his swing with hitting coach Kevin Long; and 2) the equally-soaring number of strikeouts. In the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Granderson’s slash line average is: .247/.341/.552, despite hitting over 40 homers in each of those seasons, including 119 RBI in 2011 and 106 RBI in 2012. However, after striking out just 116 times in 2010, Granderson struck out 169 times in 2011 and an astounding 195 times in 2012. Whatever benefit is added by Granderon’s power numbers is negated by his exponentially increasing strikeout rate.
Additionally, Granderson’s Wins Above Average (WAA) has continuously decreased since the 2011 season, rating a .6 WAA in 2012. Defensively, Curtis has struggled. While charting a -5.1 UZR rating in 2011, he has ranked a ghastly -17.2 in 2012, which is not inspiring. However, this number can be mitigated by Granderson being aided in 2011 by Brett Gardner, a center fielder playing left field who has spectacular defense. Gardner has missed all but nine games in 2012 due to injury. This still doesn’t necessarily justify Granderson’s poor rating in 2011 (especially relative to pay scale). Additionally, the last two seasons, Granderson is worth -6 and -10 runs worse than the average player at his position (Rfield), and has actually cost his team a combined 16 runs (-16 rating) in defensive runs saved above average (Rdrs/yr).
Finally, in 2012, Granderson’s WAR rating was only a 3.0. If he would have stayed healthy enough to get a better assessment for the 2013 following his spring training injury, it is likely that these defensive numbers might have further decreased, given his shift to right field, a position with which he is unfamiliar, having been playing in center field since 2008.
At the moment, Granderson is in the final year of a six year, approximately $43 million dollar deal, a fair deal for both the Tigers/Yankees and player over the last few years. Moving forward, it would not shock me to see Granderson get a deal similar to Nick Swisher’s deal, $56 million over 4 years (with a vesting option). While Swisher might have the edge in that he has the ability to get on-base more with his plate patience (and hit free agency one year younger than Granderson), Granderson might have the edge in terms of offensive production. The Yankees will probably not be willing to commit such money to Granderson, even with rumors that the team will be scrapping the self-imposed $189 million payroll cap.
On the whole, it’s highly unlikely that even with the decline, Granderson returns to the Yankees in 2014. At worst, he will still probably command about $10 million/year, over a several year contract on his power ability alone. That would bring them another gaining player, whose defensive skills in the outfield are already suspect, and whose strikeout rates will probably remain about the same, while his batting average and power numbers will likely decline. The team would probably rather commit that sort of money to retaining Robinson Cano, as well as trying to possibly retain Phil Hughes or look for alternative pitching and outfield depth. Even though Granderon’s production in 2013 will be hampered by his injury-plagued season, and possibly affect his eventual contract, he will probably be in a different uniform next season.