Granderson deal helps many in fantasy
Ah, winter meetings blockbusters, is there anything quite like them?
This one's a doozy: ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney reports that a three-team trade involving the Arizona Diamondbacks, Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees is close to being done. The Yanks would acquire center fielder Curtis Granderson (from the Tigers), the Diamondbacks would get right-handers Edwin Jackson (Tigers) and Ian Kennedy (Yankees), and the Tigers would pick up center fielder Austin Jackson (Yankees), left-handed relievers Phil Coke (Yankees) and left-handed reliever Daniel Schlereth and right-handed starter Max Scherzer (Diamondbacks).
Granderson is the obvious prize here, especially considering he had been rumored on the block for weeks and is now headed to a team that routinely generates headlines, but it's a deal chock full of fantasy excitement. A case can be made that all six names involved might "matter" in fantasy in 2010 -- though Coke and Kennedy are more long shots than the other three.
Granderson's arrival in pinstripes will almost assuredly get an across-the-board thumbs up, from both Yankees fans and fantasy players, and it's a smart deal for them in some aspects. He'll turn 29 on March 16, meaning he's in the prime of his career, and he's affordable, with $25.75 million and three years remaining on his current deal, $36.75 and four if the team exercises his 2013 option. Presumably, he'll become the Yankees' starting center fielder and No. 2 hitter -- replacing Johnny Damon in the latter role. He could also play left field, replacing Damon there, too.
But don't be so swift to call Granderson a positively brilliant Damon replacement. Granderson has a far steeper platoon split than Damon, having batted .183 with a .245 on-base percentage and .239 slugging percentage against lefties in 2009 (.210/.270/.344 for his career). He's also much more strikeout-prone, whiffing once every 4.48 at-bats in 2009 (once every 4.17 career), meaning he lacks the contact ability of Damon, who was so valuable slotting behind leadoff man Derek Jeter. He's not as adept at getting on base as Damon, either, with a .327 OBP in 2009, .344 for his career. Remember, Jeter stole 30 bases partly because Damon was willing to work deeper into counts. Damon, incidentally, swiped all 12 bags he attempted, mainly because the Yankees weren't about to give him the green light batting ahead of RBI machines Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. If Granderson -- more of a "smart" than "speedy" baserunner (79.8 percent success rate on steals in his career) -- bats second, he might suffer similarly.
The Yankees might actually be smart to bat Granderson lower in the order, maybe fifth or sixth, where his bat can do more damage. Thanks to an increased number of fly balls, he managed a career-best 30 homers in 2009, and that's a trend certain to continue when he sees the proximity of the Yankee Stadium right-field fence. Another thing that makes Granderson more attractive as a run producer: In 2009, he had a career-worst .275 BABIP, 46 points beneath his career average, though part of that can be attributed to the increase in fly balls (49.3 percent of his batted balls, up from 43.0 for his career). Still, to say this is a .270-hitting, 30-homer candidate at Yankee Stadium is not a stretch. As a No. 5/6 hitter, he could also be a 100-RBI guy.
We'll see whether the Yankees retain Damon, or designated hitter Hideki Matsui, or both, but if Granderson is the No. 2 hitter, it might mean a noticeable hit to both his own and Jeter's steals totals. Jeter might drop to 20; Granderson might finish closer to 2008's 12 than last year's 20. Don't expect a 30/20 kind of season from Granderson hitting near the top of the order; it could be closer to 30/10 or 30/15 with few RBIs. However, in the middle of the order, he could put up big totals in runs and RBIs in addition to whatever steals he can rack up, making him more valuable in the long run. It'd also help if the Yankees added a lefty-killer type to spell Granderson against tough lefties and limit the drain on his batting average; Reed Johnson, Rocco Baldelli and Fernando Tatis (though doubtful he could play center) are the three most realistic options available on the free agent market.
Edwin Jackson and Scherzer are the next-most attractive fantasy names in the deal, obviously, and the Tigers did well by getting younger, less expensive and more long-term upside in Scherzer. Just 25, Scherzer managed an impressive 4.12 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and 174 strikeouts in 170 1/3 innings in his first full season in the majors, and he was well maintained by the Diamondbacks throughout the year. That's good, because injuries had been a concern in the past with the right-hander, and might continue to be so if manager Jim Leyland works him as hard as he did Justin Verlander.
The move to the more hitter-friendly American League might hurt Scherzer, but if there's any division in which to do it, it's the Central, the least potent offensively of the three. Expect him to slide right into the Tigers' rotation and pick up where he left off in the desert, averaging better than a strikeout per inning, though the team's focus on youth and defense might not mean a significant boost from his nine wins of 2009. Scherzer isn't quite a top-40 starting pitcher, but he absolutely has the upside to get in there.
Edwin Jackson benefits, by comparison, from the switch to the National League West, which has those pitching-friendly environments in San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles, not to mention the pitcher's spot in the lineup. It'll also help him to escape Leyland's clutches; one reason he wore down late in the year might have been a hefty early-season workload.
Jackson had a 5.40 ERA, 1.52 WHIP and 6.55 strikeouts per nine innings in his final 13 starts, compared to 2.59/1.11/6.90 in his first 20, and while he's not as bad as those late-season numbers, there has to be at least some concern for his long-term outlook. The shift to the NL might give him his best chance at another sub-four ERA and sub-1.30 WHIP, but while he should be drafted a few spots ahead of Scherzer, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's Scherzer who finishes in the top 40, with Jackson just outside it.
Sticking with the Jackson theme, Austin Jackson should immediately take over as the Tigers' starting center fielder, after having served as the Yankees' future at the position the past year-plus. He'll turn 23 in February, and while his .300 batting average as a 22-year-old in Triple-A ball in 2009 is encouraging, Jackson hasn't hit more than 13 home runs in a single professional season. Some scouts also feel he might be a better fit for a corner outfield spot than center field, so while he'll be AL-only worthy based upon the likelihood of an Opening Day job, we might be talking about another Melky Cabrera type, albeit one with a bit more speed. Jackson should be a late-rounder in those leagues -- and only if he has a strong spring.
What of the other pitchers involved? Kennedy, a bust in a starting gig for the Yankees in 2008, missed much of the past season recovering from surgery to repair an aneurysm. He had a decent showing in the Arizona Fall League, however, and might yet have a career as a No. 4/5 starter given a fresh start in the desert. Keep tabs on his role come spring training. Coke and Schlereth, meanwhile, help deepen the Tigers' bullpen, a weakness for the team this past season. Coke is more of a situational type who might actually have potential as a spot starter, while Schlereth has the greater upside, potentially working his way into a late-inning role. None of three is draft-worthy in standard formats today, but keep an eye on them.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here.