Revisiting The Curtis Granderson Trade 4 Years Later

C-Grand Presser The Mets finalized their 4-year/$60 million deal with Curtis Granderson yesterday, making his move across town official and ending a 4-year run in pinstripes that was interesting to say the least.  Granderson went from underperforming trade bust who had to be benched to rebuild his swing in his first season to one of the premiere power hitters in baseball from 2011-2012 to an unlucky injury case in a contract year this past season.  He finished his short Yankee career with a .245/.335/.495 slash line, 115 HR, 345 R scored, 307 RBI, 2 All Star Game selections, and 1 Silver Slugger award in '11.  He also leaves with no rings, joining the Yankees the year after their last title and being a part of 4 teams that failed to return to the World Series.

Yesterday marked the actual 4-year anniversary of the 3-team trade that brought C-Grand to the Yankees.  It was a trade that brought up the always pertinent "playing for the present or the future" question with respect to the Yankees' plans.  To acquire Granderson, at the time a 28-year-old All Star centerfielder, the Yankees traded away one of their top prospects in center fielder Austin Jackson, 24-year-old starting pitcher and former top prospect Ian Kennedy, and lefty bullpen arm Phil Coke.  The move was clearly made with the present in mind and now 4 years later, with no more WS trophies to show for it, it bears going back and taking a look at how things could have played out different had the trade not been made.

While he hasn't had the flashy power numbers of Granderson, Jackson has carved out a nice 4-year start to his MLB career since joining the Detroit Tigers.  He owns a .278/.344/.416 career tripleslash and has actually registered more WAR than C-Grand over the last 4 years by both measuring systems (14.6-13.9 fWAR, 19.1-14.1 bWAR).  This has come on the strength of Jackson's more well-rounded game.  What he lacks in raw power he makes up for in speed on the basepaths, above-average defense in center, and a higher batting average.  In fairness to Granderson, Jackson has played 57 more games than him over the last 4 seasons and the WAR gaps would be smaller had Granderson not experienced that bad injury luck this year.  Still, the transition Granderson underwent upon joining the Yankees and working with Kevin Long did take away from his former well-balanced hitting approach and limited some of his other tools.

How differently would things be now if the Yankees had Jackson in center field the last 4 years instead of Granderson?  It's impossible to say for sure but I doubt it would have meant the difference between no titles and another title.  If nothing else, Jackson would have given the Yankees the young, cost-controlled position player their lineup still sorely lacks.  His speed in the outfield combined with Brett Gardner in left would have made the Yankees a better defensive team than they were with Granderson, and him at the top of the order with Derek Jeter behind him could have helped balance a lineup that still would have had plenty of power without Granderson.  It's doubtful that Jackson would have been placed atop the lineup in his first year, but keep in mind that he was coming off a .300/.354/.405 (.342 wOBA) season in Triple-A in 2009.  The next step for him had he stayed a Yankee would have been the show.

As that young, cost-controlled player, Jackson definitely would have been a huge help to the budget plans for this offseason.  He's entering his second arbitration year at age 26, coming off a year in which he made $3.5 million and didn't have nearly as good a season as he did in 2012.  Jackson would have been a prime candidate for an early contract extension to manage his contract value and if he were still around today, either on an extension or on arbitration, there would likely be some other different faces on the roster.  Jacoby Ellsbury certainly wouldn't have been signed this offseason, which would have left the Yankees with plenty of money to bid more dollars for Robinson Cano if they chose to.  They probably also wouldn't have traded for Ichiro or given him that ridiculous contract in 2012, which could have left them with more money to help rebuild the rotation.

Speaking of which, how much would having Kennedy and Coke around changed things?  Again it's hard to say.  The Yankees didn't show much faith in Kennedy after calling him up and he spent most of his time in New York battling injuries.  For the sake of this post, however, let's assume that he would have come close to replicating the performance he's had over the last 4 years for Arizona and San Diego.  In 2011 he would have been the second best starter on the staff behind CC.  In his lesser years he would have at least been a useful innings eater in the middle or at the back end of the rotation.

Had the Yankees gotten that production from Kennedy, how would that have changed their plans to address the rotation each year?  Would they have toiled in the bargain bin for Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia?  Would they have banished Phil Hughes to the bullpen earlier?  Would they have been motivated to trade Hughes or Joba Chamberlain while they still had value to address another area of need?  We'll never know, but even with his game trending in the wrong direction these last few seasons it wouldn't be a terrible thing to have a 28-year-old Ian Kennedy around in his second year of arbitration eligibility right now.  As for Coke, whatever.  If he sticks around the Yankees probably don't get Boone Logan back in the Javy Vazquez trade.  I could have lived with that.

In terms of straight up WAR comparisons, the Yankees would have been better off not making the deal.  That's hardly a fair comparison when we're talking about 3 players compared to 1, however, and that doesn't factor in the missed time for Granderson in 2013.  It also doesn't factor in the collective WAR performance of all the other players who did end up on the Yankees as a result of Jackson, Kennedy, and Coke not being there.  I was a fan of the trade at the time, but seeing how things have played out for the team the last few years and seeing how hampered they are by their big contracts and aging players I think I've changed my mind.  Sure that's 20/20 hindsight but having a few cost-controlled homegrown players in the mix would have made this offseason a lot easier for the Yankees and would have helped control and quiet the growing talk about their player development problems.

Can't fault the Yankees for making the trade though.  They did what they thought they had to do to build on the success of '09 and when your goal is a championship you have to think and act with now in mind.  It sucks that it didn't work out, but that's no fault of Granderson's.  Here's wishing him well in his new digs across town and thanking him for what he contributed while he was in pinstripes.

(Photo courtesy of the AP)