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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Detroit Trades Entire Motown Catalogue; Receives Rights to Oak Ridge Boys, Jennifer Love Hewitt

I'll admit from the start, I'm having a hard time looking at this trade objectively. For the second year in a row, there is some serious coal in my stocking. Last December, C. C. Sabathia, the big, black Buddha known for his spine-shattering clubhouse embraces as much as his incredible pitching repertoire, signed a monster contract to become just another Storm Trooper on the flight deck of the Deathstar. Coming off a performance in Milwaukee that was so soulful (and so dominant) that it conjured up thoughts of "Pops" Stargell and the late '70s Pirates, it was very painful to see "Command & Control" Sabathia grinning while holding up XXL pinstripes.

Now, exactly a year later, another handsome, charismatic brother is headed to the Bronx. Since entering the majors, Curtis Granderson has been one of my favorite players. He inspires immense joy every time he chases a liner in the gap, turns a double into a triple, smacks a ankle-high fastball into the cheap seats, or melts a sideline reporter's heart with his radiant smile. But, as with Sabathia, my enjoyment of his exploits will be seriously diminished by the fact that they will henceforth assist in spreading evil across the land. I can't help but wonder whether Brian Cashman's main objective every holiday season is pissing in my egg nog.

That said, this is a very interesting trade for all the teams involved:


IN: RHSP Max Scherzer (25), CF Austin Jackson (23), LHRP Daniel Schlereth (24), LHRP Phil Coke (27)

OUT: CF Curtis Granderson (29), RHSP Edwin Jackson (26)

Unfortunately, the guiding factor in this trade, from the Tigers perspective, is monetary. They signed Granderson to a back-loaded contract just prior to the '08 season. The last two years he cost them only $4.5 Million. Over the next four seasons he'll cost $36.75 Million. For the Yankees, that probably looks like a relative steal. For the Tigers, who desperately need payroll flexibility, Granderson's was a contract they could actually move. Although it is a self-inflicted wound, it's hard not to feel sorry for Tigers fans who are going to spend next year watching a whole flock of albatrosses. Here are some of the commitments Detroit has in 2010.

Jeremy Bonderman [$12.5 M]
Dontrelle Willis [$12 M]
Nate Robertson [$10 M]
Carlos Guillen [$13]
Magglio Ordonez [$18 M]
Brandon Inge [$6.6 M]

That's more than $70 Million going to half a dozen players, all of whom have shown dramatic decreases in production over the last two years and present serious injury risks. There's a strong possibility half of these players hardly see the field in '10. It's hard to fault Dave Dombrowski for trying to keep together and build from the core of players who helped the Tigers go to a World Series in 2006. But right now, that seems like a long time ago.

In exchange for Granderson and Jackson (who will probably earn at least $5 Million in arbitration), the Tigers get four players who will make the league minimum for at least another year, in some cases more. Every one of these players should fit into Detroit's immediate plans. Max Scherzer is one of the most promising power pitchers in the game. He struck out 174 batter in 170 innings in '09 and posted a very respectable 4.12 ERA for Arizona. His main problem was the long ball (20 HR), which may have been exacerbated by the intimate confines of his home ballpark. Detroit is a much better place for flyball pitchers. Combined with Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello, the Tiger have the makings of an excellent rotation.

Austin Jackson is never going to have the extra-base power that Granderson offers, but other aspects of his game may be comparable. He hit .300 at AAA in '09 and features very good speed and defense. He isn't going to intimidate the way Granderson could when he was streaking, but Jackson could turn into a competent leadoff hitter.

Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth are solid first steps towards fixing the bullpen depth issues which were a major Achilles Heel for the Tigers last season. With the two most talented relievers from '09, Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon, hitting the free agent market, Detroit still has a long way to go, but Coke and Schlereth are very suitable for the middle innings and could develop into more. Schlereth had a miserly 1.13 ERA in the minors and struck out a whopping 13.6 batters per nine innings.


IN: C. Granderson

OUT: A. Jackson, P. Coke, RHSP Ian Kennedy (25)

Although I obviously appreciate the quality of Granderson as much as anybody, this looks like a very strange decision to me from New York's perspective. First and foremost, the only thing the Yankees really had an excess of this offseason were promising young centerfielders. The one thing that seemed certain about the Yankees 2010 outfield, was that it would feature at least one of the trio of Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, and Austin Jackson. All three of these youngsters, like Granderson, are excellent defenders, so their value is tied somewhat to their position. Cabrera and Gardner, though respectable hitters, don't offer the kind of power one would expect from Yankee corner outfielders.

My greatest fear is that this "blockbuster" is just Cashman's prequel to a deal that will net the Yankees Roy Halladay (or another big-name starting pitcher). Such a deal would undoubtedly feature Gardner, Cabrera, or both. Cabrera is younger, more experienced, has more upside, and a more complete skillset than Gardner, who is pretty much a pure slap-hitter, so Melky should be the more coveted player. However, Cabrera's switch-hitting and particularly his ability to hit left-handed pitching make him a more natural fit in the Yankees outfield/DH rotation. Granderson stuggles mightily against lefties (484 OPS in '09), so it would be nice for the Yanks to have a solid right-handed centerfielder available.


IN: E. Jackson, I. Kennedy

OUT: M. Scherzer, D. Schlereth

This move will draw a fair amount of criticism from scouts and fans who believe Scherzer is on the verge of becoming an legitimate Ace. The D-Backs front office, however, is clearly concerned with the violence of his delivery, and are opting instead for the reliability of Jackson, who has made 30+ starts in every season since he became a full-time starter.

The overlooked piece in the analysis of this deal is Ian Kennedy. It is easy to forget that only a couple years ago the Yankees saw Kennedy as the equal, perhaps even the better, of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, a centerpiece of their staff for years to come. Although it didn't work out that way in '08, when he posted an 8.17 ERA in nine starts and ended up having Tommy John surgery, Kennedy's potential, when healthy, remains as high as anybody involved in this trade. The Yankees have chosen to give up on him. For a team that has continually struggled to develop and maintain starting pitchers over the last decade, that may prove to be very unwise. During his minor league career, Kennedy made 43 starts and posted a miniscule 1.95 ERA with 273 K in 249 IP and a 0.99 WHIP. If Kennedy retains all his skills and Jackson merely maintains his status quo, Arizona could be the big winner in this deal.


James said...

Excellent analysis. I loved the "Pops" reference. Sadly, I don't know that much about Granderson, but have recently read about what a great person he is. MLB and sports in general need more like him.

I share your grief over the Yankees landing some of these kinds of guys.

I've even posted on my own blog that if John Lackey goes to NYY, he will be "dead to me."

On the other side, the talk of the Angels possibly signing Godzilla doesn't sit well with me. He's the freakin' enemy. I softened on Bobby Abreu for a variety of reasons... but I don't know if I can do THAT again with another ex-Yankee.

Hippeaux said...

I think Hideki, like Abreu, is probably very likeable, once he's wearing your colors.

Lackey will undoubtedly be missed, but he's going to be overpaid by somebody, and the Yankees are, of course, at the top of the list. Halos fans can still hold out hope that his replacement in the rotation may be Doc Halladay. Recent reports are that the Angels and Phillies are leading the Halladay sweepstakes.

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