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On December 8th, 2009, the Detroit Tigers sent Curtis Granderson to New York in a three-way deal with the Diamondbacks and Yankees. The move came as a shock to Detroit fans as Granderson, in his first full seasons in a Tigers uniform, became one of the young faces of a still re-surging franchise.
The 2003 Tigers lost 119 games, and in three years, with the additions of Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez, they found themselves in their first World Series since 1984. Curtis Granderson was part of that rebuilding story, and his trade to the Yankees rubbed many Detroit fans the wrong way.
In the trade, the Diamondbacks received Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy. The Tigers received Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth. The Yankees, of course, received Curtis Granderson.
At first glance, the Tigers appear to have made out handily in the deal, but it will take more than a glance to determine how this trade affected each team over the course of the last few seasons.
Ian Kennedy was traded away after spending most of 2009 on the Yankees bench with an aneurysm near his shoulder. It may have made sense for the 2010 Yankees club at the time, but taking a quick look at Kennedy’s 2010 numbers tells a different story:
The Yankees would have gotten more out of Kennedy in 2010 than they did from A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez, who put up a combined 5.29 ERA and win-loss record of 20-25. It was 2011 though, when the Yankees really might have missed Kennedy, who had the best year of his career in Arizona.
Kennedy finished 4th in NL Cy Young Award voting and achieved above and beyond all Yankees starting pitchers in 2011, including C.C. Sabathia, who went 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA. It’s safe to say the Yankees lost the most productive year of Kennedy’s career in the trade, but it’s also worth nothing that Kennedy fell back to Earth in 2012, going 15-12 with an ERA of 4.02. On the flip side, Kennedy came at a bargain for the Diamondbacks, who paid him only $423K in 2011.
There’s no denying the Yankees benefited offensively from the deal, but exactly how much they gained in comparison to what they gave up is another issue. In his last year in Detroit, Granderson hit .249 with 30 home runs and 71 RBI. In his following years in New York, Granderson’s RBI and HR totals saw the perks of a short left-field wall. His success with the Yankees is also partly due to the strength of lineup. Better surrounding batters allowed Granderson to see better pitches and bat with more runners on base, thus increasing his RBI capacity.
Granderson’s decrease in batting average is the glaring downside to the trade, which seems to be less of an issue for a club relying on home runs. Also, Granderson hasn’t seemed to find ways to reduce his number of strikeouts, something he seemed to be gradually improving in his years with Detroit.
Granderson’s power is here to stay, but his strikeouts and batting average are causes for concern, and with the departure of Nick Swisher and Raul Ibanez, his power will have to far outweigh his low OBP in order for the 2013 Yankees to repeat their offensive success.
Overall, the Diamondbacks received a good year from Kennedy. The Yankees got immediate help from Granderson, but it’s the Tigers who seem to have walked away from the deal with more to be happy about.
Max Scherzer, who came over from Arizona in the deal, earned $1.5MM in 2010, $600K in 2011, and $3.75MM in 2012, making him quite a bargain when looking at his numbers.
Scherzer, over the last three years, has become part of a Tigers strikeout machine featuring Justin Verlander and Doug Fister. While his 2011 numbers aren’t impressive, his ability to keep his team in games and keep the ball out of play have been integral to a weak Tigers infield defense. Given his salary, Scherzer has been a good value for Detroit as a 3rd-4th starter in the rotation.
Austin Jackson, who had never played a game at the Major League level, began the 2010 season as the Tigers regular center fielder. Like any rookie, he experienced some growing pains at the plate, but over the course of his three seasons in Detroit, Jackson has developed into a consistent offenseive producer. He proved in 2012 that his sophomore slump was indeed just a slump.
Granderson may never have hit more than 30 HRs in his career had he stayed in Detroit, given the depth of the left field wall, and Tigers GM David Dombrowski seemed to have taken this into account. Granderson was also having a very difficult time hitting against LHPs during his time with the Tigers.
The move may have hurt the feelings of Granderson fanatics who still arrive at Comerica Park and cheer him on when he visits with the Yankees, but the reality of the trade is that the Tigers found their center fielder of the future by taking a risk on Austin Jackson.
Jackson will never hit as many home runs as Granderson, but his improving slash-line is a stark contrast to Granderson’s declining one. In addition, the 2009 deal brought the Tigers a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher who has helped take them to the AL Championship Series in back-to-back seasons.
Also acquired by the Tigers in the trade was LHP Phil Coke, who has wavered since his time as a Tiger, but proved himself invaluable during the 2012 playoffs when he stepped in to take on the closer role in place of a molten Jose Valverde.
If it’s a matter of money, the Yankees lost badly in this trade. They sent away Kennedy, who has since competed for a Cy Young Award and never made more than $6ooK in his short career, and they sent away their top prospect in Jackson, who is quickly becoming one of the American League’s more consistently productive center fielders.
By all accounts, the Yankees may have been just fine without letting Jackson go, considering they have paid Granderson $23.75MM over the past three years, and owe him $10MM in 2013. If his batting average doesn’t drastically improve, the Yankees may be paying for a lot of home runs, and a lot of strikeouts when he returns from his forearm injury some time in mid-May.
Stats and info courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com