Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 19, 2009
BASEBALL: The Granderson Deal and Nick Johnson's Return

I'm way overdue here to run through the results of the winter meetings, so let's start with the Hated Yankees' two big moves: the acquisition by trade of Curtis Granderson and by free agency of Nick Johnson (coupled with re-signing Andy Pettitte and letting Hideki Matsui and, apparently, Johnny Damon walk).

It's an interesting set of moves, and clearly continues (as with last year's offseason moves) the Yankees' determination to finally address the longstanding problem of the team being too many heavy hitters in their 30s and not enough guys who are younger or good defensive players. Granderson's not that young - he's 29 - but he's got 7 years on Damon and Matsui. And he's a fantastic defensive center fielder, probably the best the Yankees have had since ... well, it's a fair debate who was the last steady genuine center fielder the Yankees have had (Bernie was a good glove in his heyday but could never throw much, and neither could Mickey Rivers; Rickey was really a left fielder with good wheels).

Sabermetrically-inclined observers have fretted that Granderson slid to .249 withg a .327 OBP this season, but I wouldn't be overly concerned. First of all, he played at an MVP level in 2007-08, batting .292/.363/.524, and even in an off-year in 2009 he managed 30 homers, 72 walks, 20 steals in 26 tries, and batted into just one double play in 710 plate appearances. The Yankees can afford to carry a guy who is a defense-first center fielder, and if Granderson manages a happy medium on those numbers he'll be much more than that. Baseball-reference.com identifies the two most similar players at the same age as two athletic Tigers outfielders of recent decades (Kirk Gibson and Bobby Higginson), and while both of them hit the wall at age 32, they each had three outstanding seasons with the bat between age 29-31, including Gibson's MVP campaign. And Granderson's a power hitter, the kind who should thrive in the new Yankee Stadium. On the whole, the projected outfield of Granderson, Swisher, Cabrera and Gardner should be excellent and athletic defensively (all have played center field at length in the past two years), if less dangerous offensively than the Yankee infield.

The deal still doesn't make a lot of sense from the perspective of the Diamondbacks. At least the Tigers got high-upside frontline starter Max Scherzer (along with Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and pitching prospect Daniel Schlereth). Granted, Scherzer is brittle, but he's a heckuva talent. (Schlereth is a wild card, 24 and wild but with 82 strikeouts in 58 innings as a professional, a quarter of that in the majors; Jackson's become expendable due to failing to develop much power yet). So, you can understand this as a reloading deal. But Arizona gives up Scherzer for Edwin Jackson, who has matured into a solid third starter but doesn't seem to have Scherzer's upside, or indeed much upside at all beyond his 2009 season - unless the D-Backs are sufficiently concerned about the health of Brandon Webb and the rest of their rotation to feel the need to bring in someone more durable.

Then there's Nick Johnson. At 31, Johnson's not the high-upside "next Jeff Bagwell" he was projected as when he left the Yankees, having never stayed healthy enough at length to become a major star - even healthy last season he managed just 8 homers and slugged .405 - but since 2005 when he's played he's batted .285/.420/.467. His on-base skills make him a serious addition to any offense even if his power doesn't come back, especially a Yankee offense that won't depend on him any more than it will on Granderson. The slightly odd thing is that with Teixeira ensconsed at first, Johnson will have to DH, and while that's probably the best for his health (see Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez for examples of guys who suddenly got healthy in their 30s when they gave up playing the field), it does mean - if Johnson's healthy, a big if - that the DH slot won't be left open to provide a blow to A-Rod, Posada and Jeter.

On the whole, a sound strategy by the Yankees. Now, we'll just have to see how they manage to settle on the roles of Joba and Hughes and, if they settle in the rotation, who will hold up the rest of the bullpen without them and Coke.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:42 PM | Baseball 2009 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

"the DH slot won't be left open to provide a blow to A-Rod, Posada and Jeter"

I don't understand this. What do you mean by "left open?" Are you suggesting the Yankees don't take anyone on as the DH? A-Rod, Posada and Jeter shouldn't need 55 days off each. I don't think Girardi's going to have any problem sitting his $5.5 million DH whenever the notion strikes him (a situation that was likely more tricky with a $13 million slugger who had his own entourage of Japanese media).

The trick to the Yankees' deals is that Granderson replaces Damon defensively (essentially, by pushing Cabrera or Gardner into the corner), but he replaces Matsui in the lineup offensively, and vice-versa for Johnson. The Yankees didn't need Damon to fill a defensive need nearly as much as they needed his OBP in the #2 slot. Johnson should deliver that pretty well (his walk and strikeout totals are near dead even). And if Johnson gets hurt, a defensive alignment of Gardner/Granderson/Cabrera with Swisher as DH is not a bad patch job.

And most importantly, the Yankees won't have any holes jammed up in their 2011 roster that will prevent them from getting expected FAs Joe Mauer and/or Carl Crawford. Yikes.

Posted by: BullpenPro at December 20, 2009 3:24 AM

Yanks got younger, better defensively, saved money and have payroll flexibility. We are going to let Joba and Hughes finally both show what they got, but in the 4 and 5 spot. Maybe we sign Damon to a 1 year now-which would make the lineup unbelievable. We didn't blow a lot of money and prospects on Halladay or Holliday.

The road to #28 is looking better.

Posted by: dch at December 20, 2009 1:36 PM

I'd certainly rather have Johnny Damon than Nick Johnson, and other than the money, which they can spare, I'm not sure why the Yankees don't, as well. Johnson does have the high OBP, but I think guys who rely so heavily on walks are less effective against good pitching (see Nick Swisher's postseason). Plus, Johnson can only go into the field by taking the Yankees best defender off of it.

Granderson, on the other hand, was a no-brainer. He'll need to bat eighth or ninth against lefties, who he's helpless against, but he should kill righthanders, especially at home.

Posted by: Jerry at December 21, 2009 9:21 AM

The point about the DH slot has to do with the Yankees' purported plan (as articulated throughout last season) to not really have a regular DH in 2010, but to use the spot as a "resting" place for Posada, A-Rod, Jeter, (then) Matsui, (then) Damon, etc. Signing Johnson won't allow them to do that.

Now, they are still much better off with Johnson than not having him.

I think Damon is going to require more than a 1 year deal.

Posted by: per14 at December 21, 2009 9:27 AM

Good moves by the Tigers.
Granderson is paid too much to be a platoon-player (which is what he is on the Tigers--he can't hit lefties), but will fit in well with the Yankees--who have enough players in their line-up to hit lefties.
Also, love the fact the Tigers have less than $35M tied up in contracts for 2011. They need to sign Verlander and Porcello, and next winter's FA crop is much better than this year's.
Dombrowski put them in the contract mess they are in currently (Robertson and Willis), but this move puts them in the right direction long-term.

Posted by: Berto at December 21, 2009 12:03 PM

Do people seriously think that the Yankees are really going to go into the season with Melky Cabrera as the leftfielder? Why would a team with a near unlimited budget play one of the worst LF'ers in the league? I just can't believe that they aren't going to sign Matt Holliday.

Posted by: Tom at December 21, 2009 1:41 PM

Tom, I agree. Signing Johnson wasa good move as wastrading for Granderson. But if they replace Damon's and Matsui's ABs, and if Cabrera is left as a starter, I'm not sure they come out much ahead, at least not offensively. Melky has even less value as a LFer than he does as a CFer, and I can't imagine they will fix that before the spring.

Posted by: per14 at December 21, 2009 3:41 PM

As a Sox fan I have been torn on this. They got Granderson for nothing (oooh, Coke and some hot minor league prospects). He is a massive upgrade at that position. Having primetime shit up the middle is a good formula for success. Grandersob had a weird/down year last year. That guy can play and he's a better hitter than what he showed last year. A Yankee batting leadoff with 40 homerun (considering he's gonna get some extras with 81 games in the bandbox), 30 SB potential is not something I relish. We can debate Johnson's OBP vs. what Damon brought to the table forever but the fact remains that the Yankees now have an elite-level/MVP caliber guy in CF. That is immeasureably important. Number 2 hitters are a dime a dozen. What Johnson will provide, in tandem with all the other guys who will DH, will be fine. He'll hit like a MoFo in that line-up and he only needs to get to the plate maybe 250 times. Color me sick over Granderson in CF for the Yanks while having to give up squat to get him.

Posted by: jim at December 21, 2009 7:23 PM

In my post yesterday, I meant to say ... "I can't imagine they WON'T fix that before spring" and now it appears, they may fix it before Christmas.

Posted by: per14 at December 22, 2009 11:27 AM

Oh, and his fabuolous 2008 season?

12-16 with a 4.67 ERA.

I really wish you were the Yankee GM if that is your idea of spectacular.

Posted by: jim at December 25, 2009 12:55 PM

"The point about the DH slot has to do with the Yankees' purported plan (as articulated throughout last season) to not really have a regular DH in 2010, but to use the spot as a "resting" place for Posada, A-Rod, Jeter, (then) Matsui, (then) Damon, etc. Signing Johnson won't allow them to do that."

I never heard that, which, of course, is not to say that it wasn't articulated by somebody. It's not a winning plan, and if anybody with the Yankees said it I have to believe it was posturing, unless what they were saying is that what they wanted to avoid was a DH who couldn't also play the field (like they had in Matsui last year, and before him -- essentially -- Giambi).

If Nick Johnson does nothing more for the Yankees than keep Shelley Duncan off the roster as their backup first baseman, it's a win for them.

The Vazquez deal makes no sense. The Braves lose what is a valuable arm to them, and the Yankees get a 4th starter whose AL track record makes him appear very replaceable with the parts they already had. How much of an upgrade will Vazquez be over, say, Gaudin or Aceves?

Posted by: BullpenPro at December 30, 2009 1:36 AM
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