Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
With the outfielder in his walk year, the incentives have never been higher -- but are they high enough?
We're about a month away from spring training, and Scott Boras client Michael Bourn has yet to find a home. Teams do not want to pony up a first-round draft pick and a big-dollar contract for the speedy center fielder. Instead, they are turning to the trade market to find offensive upgrades for the outfield. Justin Upton was almost dealt for a four-player package, and the Twins have turned Denard Span and Ben Revere into Alex Meyer, Trevor May, and Vance Worley. Considering the going rate for outfielders, multiple media outlets have mentioned free-agent-to-be Curtis Granderson as a potential trade chip for New York. There's one small problem with that proposition: The Yankees need Granderson if they want to win in 2013.
This might be the Yankees' last hurrah with the current roster; between aging members such as Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera and their ongoing desire to reduce the budget, the 2014 team may look very different. Trading Granderson would eliminate one of New York's prime offensive threats when there are very, very few players who would be able to step in immediately to fill the void.
New York is already smarting from the loss of Nick Swisher, a streaky but steady contributor who averaged a .268/.367/.483 slash line and 26 homers per year as a Yankee. To make matters worse, Alex Rodriguez will be out until at least the All-Star break, and there are no guarantees of a Kevin Youkilis bounce-back campaign. Derek Jeter is coming off ankle surgery. The catching position is a light-hitting void. Given all of that, losing Granderson's production would probably be too much to overcome in the power-packed AL East. Forty-homer power is a rare commodity, so unless the Marlins plan on handing over Giancarlo Stanton for peanuts, general manager Brian Cashman is not going to find someone with that output on the chopping block.
Yes, the Yankees' outfield will be stronger with Brett Gardner back in the mix, but there will be many question marks about his offense after he spent nearly a full season on the disabled list. Then there's Ichiro. Will the 39-year-old again defy Father Time, rejuvenated by playing on a contender, or will last season's .322/.340/.454 sprint to the finish prove to be a mirage by a player slipping into the twilight of his career?
Granderson performed below expectations last season, hitting .232/.319/.492 on the year. However, True Average suggests he was unlucky, giving Granderson a .285 for the effort. The center fielder also clubbed 43 homers, though those jacks came with the cost of 195 strikeouts. The Yankees can probably expect a rebound from the 31-year-old; Granderson's has averaged .247/.337/.506 with New York, and those numbers seem like a reasonable guesstimate.
Granderson can also make way for Gardner in center field by shifting to left field, where his legs will be better preserved and his defense will hurt Yankees pitchers less.
Justin Upton's name has been floated as a potential fit for New York, but the Diamondbacks aren't likely to be keen on assuming Granderson's $15 million contract, even if it is for a single season. Likewise, as FOX Sports' Jon Morosi pointed out, the Yankees might be leery of picking up the $38 million check Upton is owed over the next three years.
The Yankees could trade Granderson to free up payroll and acquire prospects to send to Arizona for Upton, gaining a potential franchise cornerstone in the process. However, dealing Granderson to get Upton wouldn't do much to improve New York's chances of contending in 2013. The 25-year-old hit .280/.355/.430 with 17 home runs in 2012, good for 2.1 WAR. Granderson was worth 2.7 WAR. Upton would be a dandy complementary piece to Granderson, especially if he rebounds, but he is not a replacement for Granderson and Swisher's production. If the Yankees are focusing on 2013, swapping Granderson for Upton is a lateral move.
Keeping Granderson could be a win-win situation for the Yankees. If they find themselves out of contention around the trade deadline, they could use Granderson as trade bait for a prospect-heavy package from a team desperately searching for additional offense. If the Yankees find themselves within grasp, or comfortably in, post-season contention, it will be mission accomplished.
Let's assume the latter case, where the Yankees have a successful bid for October baseball. Maybe they even make it to, or win, the World Series. They probably wouldn't be in that position without Granderson, and he will have one final gift for the Yankees before they part. The soon-to-be 32-year-old is unlikely be offered a contract extension at season's end. However, he will probably be given a qualifying offer, and he will probably turn it down. The Yankees will then gain an extra selection in the 2014 draft, a necessity for restocking the farm system and finding inexpensive talent to put New York over the top in the future.
The AL East isn't the Yankees-Rays-Red Sox race it used to be. The Blue Jays have, arguably, the best team on paper, the Rays' rotation will keep them in the mix, and, as we saw in 2012, the Orioles cannot be discounted. Unless the Bombers are given an unbelievably good package of players, trading Granderson now would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. It's good to get younger. Prospects are awesome. Lowering the payroll is cool. But if a team's only goal is to win the World Series, trading a top offensive performer without someone of equal caliber to replace him is idiotic.
Steph Bee, an analyst at MLB Daily Dish and an editor at Baseball Prospectus, is making a guest appearance with SBN's Designated Columnists. Follow her at @StephBee118 and the Designated Columnists at @SBNMLBDCers.