INDIANAPOLIS -- One AL exec at this week's winter meetings called the three-team blockbuster that makes Curtis Granderson a Yankee, Edwin Jackson a Diamondback and four young players Tigers, "a great baseball trade.'' And while money was definitely a factor from the Tigers' perspective, what that exec meant was that all three teams received talent that could ultimately make them better.
The Diamondbacks were the initiator and driving force, yet a few executives did question them in particular, wondering about the wisdom of Arizona to add dollars without what the execs believed was a substantial upgrade or a vastly improved chance at a playoff spot. However, Arizona's reasoning looks sound from here: In an unpredictable division where the annually favored Dodgers are in severe budget lockdown, any improvement at all could make the young, underachieving D-backs a playoff threat.
Here's how each team benefits:
This is the easy one. The Yankees get a significant upgrade in center field, the position of traditional prestige for the sport's most storied franchise. Melky Cabrera collected several clutch hits in 2009, but in the end he isn't the star the Yankees are used to having in center. Granderson isn't Joe DiMaggio, but he is an All-Star.
Granderson is also far better than Cabrera, who never seemed to fit in the decades-long lineage. Cabrera rose to acceptable productivity last year and now could be used as trade bait, to the Cubs or another team that covets a center fielder, assuming the Yankees re-sign free agent Johnny Damon. The Yankees don't necessarily specialize in bargains, but Granderson is a bargain at $25.75 million over three years since he's probably at least a $60 million player as a free agent, and maybe even more than that.
The acquisition of Granderson gives the Yankees a chance to actually improve a lineup that was baseball's best last year, if Damon returns to man the No. 2 spot, as he did so perfectly last year. With Granderson lengthening it below, this could be an alltime great lineup. But for now, this trade also slightly lessens any pressure the Yankees may feel to secure Damon.
While Granderson's high strikeout total and inconsistency in hitting left-handers doesn't make the perfect top-of-the-lineup replacement for Damon for the Yankees, he does have prodigious overall offensive ability that replicates Damon and covers them a bit if Damon goes elsewhere. The Damon talks are starting slower than the Yankees had hoped, as Damon is seeking four years while the Yankees are acting like two years will be their limit. They could live with Cabrera sliding over to left field. But that can't be the ultimate goal here. With Damon in the fold as the left fielder, their offense would be downright scary.
Granderson is a major plus in the clubhouse, as he is known as one of the classiest, most personable young stars in the game. But even though he is seen as a great pickup, there are still two small questions about him. The first regards slightly uneven outfield play in the second half last year, when some suggested a slight loss in range and others detected evidence of some "yips'' in securing the baseball. The other comes from a WBC teammate who said that Granderson disappointed him by not showing the type of crazed competitiveness that drove the less-talented Shane Victorino to wrest the starting center field job from him and relegated Granderson to the WBC bench.
But these appear to be minor complaints regarding a trade in which the Yankees gave up three expendable players (there was a difference of opinion over how big a star Austin Jackson can become since his speed is only above average and he hasn't yet shown major power) for yet another established, productive star.
The team that has financial needs after running its payroll to about $140 million in a troubled city received decent young talent back while saving itself about $32 million (Granderson plus the $6 million that Edwin Jackson could make through salary arbitration).
Right-hander Max Scherzer is a dynamite pitching talent who throws just about as hard as Jackson and whom some believe can almost immediately replicate what Jackson can do, the left-hander Daniel Schlereth also has a big-time arm, and Austin Jackson is believed to have the talent to be a solid starter in center, at the minimum. Some scouts believe that Jackson is unlikely to surpass Granderson as a player, but if he starts to develop the power, he could be awfully close. Phil Coke is clearly the fourth piece, but he's a talented lefty for their 'pen.
If Scherzer rises to Edwin Jackson's level and Austin Jackson to Granderson's, the Tigers found a nifty way to save money while improving. More realistically, they took a small step backward to save needed cash.
Though they were the team that conceived this deal, they took the most lobby hits here. But the reality is that they weren't sure that Scherzer had a varied enough repertoire to rise to stardom as a starter. Edwin Jackson is a sure thing who has put together strong back-to-back seasons and gives them an excellent No. 3 starter behind Brandon Webb and Dan Haren in a winnable division.
Ian Kennedy was a disappointment to the Yankees and ultimately doesn't have the stuff to thrive in the AL East, but he showed in the recent Arizona Fall League that he still carries the potential to fill a rotation slot in the National League. Nobody sees the Arizona league more than the D-backs, and they obviously were impressed with Kennedy, who had 28 strikeouts and just five walks in 29 2/3 AFL innings, reaching the low 90s on the radar gun. While they took a few criticisms for adding perhaps $5 million without establishing themselves as a certain contender, teams generally do not go wrong trading relievers for starters. Bounceback years from their young talent could potentially lead to a title for the club that ranked as maybe baseball's third most underachieving team last year (behind the Mets and Cubs).
• There is a question now whether the loss of Austin Jackson may decrease the Yankees' chances to land superstar pitcher Roy Halladay, as Jackson was one of the four main pieces that Toronto coveted (the others are Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Jesus Montero).
• It is becoming more and more clear just how much the Blue Jays cost themselves in trade ammunition by holding on to Halladay last summer. One person familiar with the Red Sox's thinking said that he believes they surely will not surrender Casey Kelly, whom they believe can be a special pitcher, or perhaps even Clay Buchholz, who is seen as a potential No. 2 starter. Boston offered five young players, including Buchholz, last summer when the Blue Jays foolishly wouldn't consider an intradivisional deal. But now, even if they can pry Buchholz away, Toronto would be hard-pressed to do much better than that. New GM Alex Anthopoulos has a very tough task on his hands, thanks mostly to Halladay's impending free agency, high price and blanket no-trade powers.
• The Mets seem to be more seriously considering a run at top free-agent pitcher John Lackey after being surprised by the high prices that the middle-of-the-rotation starters are seeking (and apparently getting). One Mets target, Randy Wolf, is believed to be likely to get a deal for close to $30 million for three years from the Brewers (the Mets wanted to give Wolf two years tops), and another, Joel Pineiro, is believed to be seeking a four-year deal at similar dollars. At those prices, Lackey at $80 or $90 million may start to look like a relative bargain. If the Mets can add Lackey, it would give them a dynamic one-two punch, along with incumbent ace Johan Santana. However, they still seem to have some doubts about their chances to lure the Texas native and Angels star to come east.
• Lackey is most aided in his pursuit of top dollars by the $82.5 million, five-year deal that A.J. Burnett signed last winter. Burnett's record was comparable to Lackey's, but he isn't nearly as good as Lackey on several fronts. That Burnett deal was negotiated by agent Darek Braunecker, who stands to gain the better Lackey does, because Braunecker represents Cliff Lee, who's clearly better than Lackey and is expected to be approached by the Phillies about an extension as soon as they are done with their usual winter improvements. (It's interesting that the two World Series teams have been among the most aggressive thus far this winter. But good for them)
• The Cardinals have succeeded with their pitching picks as much as anyone in recent years (Pineiro, Kyle Lohse and Jeff Weaver are just three of many who performed better than expected in St. Louis), but other teams are still upset by the deal to pay Brad Penny $7.5 million plus another possible $1.5 million in innings-related bonuses. "It raises the bar for everyone,'' one GM said, pointing especially to Wolf, Pineiro, Rich Harden, Vicente Padilla, Jarrod Washburn and other starters who are clearly a notch or two below Lackey.
• One thing that is stunning about the Penny deal is that he can receive the same annual salary as versatile young star Chone Figgins -- at least in the first year. Figgins is to receive a guaranteed $9 million. Of course Figgins' deal is for four years. But still, it is an eye-opening revelation. The Mariners jumped at Figgins' surprisingly low request for a $36 million deal, and it's hard to blame them.
• Some execs see the Red Sox as the favorite to retain Jason Bay while others think Bay may sign with the Angels, whose biggest contracts seem to go to outfielders (Torii Hunter and Vladdy Guerrero are two prime examples). Boston is seen as certain to get one left field star or the other, either Bay or Matt Holliday. And frankly, with the Yankees' improvement, they need to do so.
• Bengie Molina remains the Mets' prime catching target. While they hadn't made an official offer as of late Tuesday night, it is believed that they will eventually be willing to pay Molina about $6 million on a two-year deal. Any of the other free-agent catchers would be a disappointment for New York at this point.
• The Braves shouldn't have too much trouble finding a trade partner for talented reliever Rafael Soriano, he of the lifetime 1.03 WHIP. But by surprising them and accepting arbitration, he made some more work for them. They already were trying to find a taker for Derek Lowe and the $45 million to go on his contract, and now they have to find a team for Soriano, too. The Orioles, Astros, Yankees, Red Sox and Nationals could be places to start. Soriano also has the ability to reject deals in this unusual circumstance, and he'll want a place where he'll either close or perhaps set up for a powerhouse team.
• The Nationals are doing some interesting things here and could be in the market for a closer. New Nationals GM Mike Rizzo seems focused on pitching, and to that end the surprise pickup of Cooperstown-bound Ivan Rodriguez will help. He is sometimes knocked for caring more about his alltime arm than pitch selection, but he has helped upstart teams win before, Detroit being the prime example.
• Kevin Millwood seems likely to go somewhere, and some suggest that the Orioles are the favorite. Texas believes that it has an excess of starting pitching and would like to save close to the $12 million on Millwood's deal (and with Penny getting perhaps $9 million, it should be able to save most of that money).
• The Rangers are hamstrung in terms of finances. One competing GM said that he was surprised they even attended the winter meetings, as the mere travel expense to get to Indianapolis is high for them right now. The two main prospective new owners -- the team's either going to well-known former Beverly Hills-based agent Dennis Gilbert or Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg -- have both pledged to move to the Dallas area.
• There isn't any evidence that the Twins have begun negotiations for Joe Mauer yet, but if they haven't, they will soon. He has everything going for him except the obvious issue that he can't want to leave. He's a St. Paul native who built his dream house an hour away from the Twin Cities and whose grandparents attend every game. "He's like our Jeter. He can't leave,'' one Twins person said. An early guess for Mauer: $140-150 million over seven years.