To get Curtis Granderson, a 28-year-old center fielder in his 30-home run prime, without touching the core of their club or the cupboard where they keep the chips needed to get Roy Halladay if they wish, is a testament to the efficiency in which they can operate more than the dollars they can spend.
The Yankees' farm system made the deal possible. They gave up three replaceable homegrown players: center fielder Austin Jackson and pitchers Phil Coke and Ian Kennedy. Jackson is an outfielder with great tools but not much power; he hit four home runs in Triple-A. A cynic would argue the Yankees' money helped get them Jackson. They drafted him in the sixth round but gave him $800,000 to forgo playing baseball and basketball at Georgia Tech. But that's an investment within the means of any team, be they that bold.
Likewise, the Yankees inherit the $25.75 million obligation to Granderson over the next three years, but the Royals gave Jose Guillen $36 million over three years after the 2007 season. Granderson is not without some faults. He can't hit left-handed pitching and, while otherwise a fine defender, showed last year he is prone to misreading fly balls.
But he is the perfect fit for the Yankees and Yankee Stadium. Why? Start with his personality: an extrovert and upbeat person who won't be cowered by the spotlight of New York. Then you add in his age: he is in his prime years. "Brian Cashman's goal during the season was to get younger and more athletic in the outfield," one team source said of the New York GM before the meetings began. "I don't know if the [outcome of] the World Series changed that plan." Apparently not.
Finally, Granderson is tailor-made for Yankee Stadium. He is a fly ball pull hitter. Of the 30 home runs he hit last season, 25 were pulled and five were hit to center. If he hit 30 homers with Comerica Park as his home field last season, he might hit 40 with the Yankees, or certainly at least 35. Only two Yankee center fielders ever have hit 35 homers in a season: a couple of guys named DiMaggio and Mantle.
I get the three-way deal from Detroit's perspective. They have absorbed the double whammy of the Detroit economy and awful long-term deals to players such as Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, Magglio Ordonez and Nate Robertson. (The 2010 bill for those players alone is $52.5 million). They had to find some savings somewhere, and Granderson and Edwin Jackson will bring them about $10 million in relief for 2010.
But the motivation for Arizona is less obvious. Baseball people around the winter meetings were stumped as to why Arizona would move two young power arms under club control without arbitration rights, Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth.
Among the theories I heard: the Diamondbacks are concerned that Scherzer is a breakdown waiting to happen (he does have an unusual looking delivery in the way he bobs his head), that Scherzer is a bullpen guy long term because he has not developed his secondary pitches enough, and that they actually like Scherzer but they believe Jackson is ready to blow up into a 220-innings ace because of switching from the AL to the NL.
All of those theories have bits of truth. The Diamondbacks were concerned about Scherzer's durability -- even his ability to throw often out of the bullpen -- but mostly regard Jackson as much more of a sure thing with a bigger upside. A club source said if the club is going to win it has to be on the strength of starting pitching, and Jackson and Ian Kennedy make the D-Backs' rotation stronger for the next two years. Arizona scouted all of Kennedy's Arizona Fall League starts and liked his stuff, which the team believes is not suited for the AL East but can be good enough at the back end of an NL West rotation.
My initial thought is that I wouldn't trade Scherzer, 25, for Jackson, 26, straight up. Jackson is a very good pitcher, but he is not a high-strikeout guy who profiles as an ace. He also wore down at the end of last season, when he threw about 500 more pitches than he did in 2008. Scherzer has big-time stuff. Last year at age 24 he averaged more than a strikeout an inning over 30 starts -- something that's been done by only 20 other pitchers that young in baseball history. To make matters more quizzical, the Diamondbacks traded four years of control of Scherzer for two years of control of Jackson. That said, the Diamondbacks know Scherzer much better than I do, and are banking that two years of Jackson will be worth it.
The money in baseball is beginning to flow again. How else to explain the Nationals flushing $6 million over two years on catcher Ivan Rodriguez? It's as if the Nationals wanted to clinch the title of worst contract of the winter in early December, just about daring teams to top it. Good luck.
Remember, when spring training camps opened 10 months ago nobody in baseball had Rodriguez in their camp. He took a $1.5 million deal with Houston in March. He then proceeded to put up the worst year of his career, including a .280 OBP and .663 OPS. Over the past two seasons, among all players in baseball given at least 800 at-bats, he has the fifth-worst OBP (.299).
So let's see, you take a 38-year-old catcher coming off the worst season of his career, a guy on an obvious decline who made $1.5 million on a one-year deal, and who the Nationals expect will be a "mentor" for Jesus Flores -- which is code for part-time player -- and how exactly does that equate to doubling the length of his contract and doubling his average annual pay? Don't ever doubt the powers of his agent, Scott Boras.
Just days previously, the Brewers also signed a 38-year-old catcher who made $1.5 million last season. But that catcher was far better than Rodriguez, posting a .345 OBP and .761 OPS. But Gregg Zaun didn't come close to a two-year, $6 million contract. Milwaukee signed him to a one-year deal, with an option, for $2.15 million.