On the eve of Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, just after he had submitted his team's official roster for the showdown with the Phillies, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman picked up the phone and went shopping. He dialed Dave Dombrowski, his counterpart with the Tigers, who was perplexed to hear from the G.M. of a team about to play the World Series.
This is an article from the Oct. 10, 2011 issue
"Why are you calling me?" Dombrowski asked.
Cashman had figured his work for 2009 was over once he submitted his Series roster. It was time to work on the next season, and one of his priorities was to upgrade centerfield, a position shared by Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner in what, a week later, would become a world championship season. Cashman targeted Curtis Granderson, then a 28-year-old Tiger under club control through 2013 (at an average of around $9 million per season) who had had just enough of an off year (.249 batting average, 141 strikeouts) to perhaps be available. Dombrowski, watching the Detroit economy sour and anticipating a drop in attendance, was willing to listen in order to create payroll flexibility.
That phone call led to scores of others, which in turn led to a three-way trade among the Yankees, Tigers and Diamondbacks five weeks later at the winter meetings. Seven players—all between the ages of 22 and 28—were uprooted, and maybe, just maybe, the seeds were sown for a 2011 World Series triumph. All seven of those players are in the postseason, spread among teams representing half the field. Says Tigers manager Jim Leyland, "It's one three-way deal in which every team involved can legitimately say, 'I'm happy we did it.'"
Watching the Division Series without being reminded of The Trade was like surfing channels or the Web without encountering a Kardashian. On Sunday, for instance, righthander Max Scherzer of Detroit (traded from Arizona) no-hit the Yankees into the sixth inning of Game 2 of their series, with Austin Jackson (from New York) leading off and playing centerfield and Phil Coke (from New York) and Daniel Schlereth (from Arizona) in the Tigers' bullpen. Detroit survived an eighth-inning home run from—guess who—Granderson for a 5--3 victory that evened the series at one game apiece.
Arizona, meanwhile, dropped two games in Milwaukee last weekend, entrusting both starts to pitchers who could be considered direct descendents in The Trade family tree. Righthanders Ian Kennedy (acquired from New York) and Daniel Hudson (from the White Sox in July 2010 in exchange for righthander Edwin Jackson, an original Trade piece the Diamondbacks obtained from Detroit) won 37 games this year for Arizona, only to get ambushed by the Brewers for nine runs in a combined 12 innings in Games 1 and 2.
Edwin Jackson is the only player among the original seven no longer with the team that acquired him in December 2009. After being shipped to the White Sox for Hudson, he was traded to the Blue Jays a few days before this year's trade deadline and immediately flipped to the Cardinals, his sixth team in 33 months. Jackson, who could be on the move again this winter as a free agent, was the likely Game 4 starter for St. Louis in its NLDS against the Phillies, which was tied at a game apiece after the Cardinals came from behind for a 5--4 win on Sunday. "He's like the Kevin Bacon of baseball," says St. Louis outfielder Lance Berkman. "Six Degrees of Edwin Jackson. I think Edwin is obviously a guy with a lot of talent, a lot of raw ability. But I think he also has come a long way in terms of his polish. Early on some of the teams may have traded him thinking, Well, we need a guy that pitches and not just throws. I think Edwin's developing into that."
Three-way deals are difficult enough to pull off; having all three teams win their divisions two seasons later is an extreme rarity. Perhaps the one other three-team swap that had a similar impact on a future postseason was the deal made over four days at the 1980 winter meetings in which the Padres, Cardinals and Brewers shuffled 17 players. Two years later St. Louis, having acquired outfielder David Green and pitcher Dave LaPoint, beat Milwaukee, which had grabbed closer Rollie Fingers and catcher Ted Simmons, in the World Series. If the Brewers close out Arizona, it would be their first postseason series win since '82.
Granderson has advanced so far from his down season of 2009 that when he batted at Yankee Stadium in Games 1 and 2 last weekend, fans chanted "MVP! MVP!" The centerfielder put himself in the award discussion with 41 home runs this season and league-leading totals of 119 RBIs and 136 runs—thresholds reached in those categories in the same season by only four other Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.
Granderson's revival began in August 2010, when he was struggling so badly for the Yankees that he checked out of the lineup for two days to undergo a swing change with hitting coach Kevin Long. Think of it as a swing intervention. Granderson reduced the amount of motion in his hands in his preswing routine and kept two hands on the bat on his follow-through rather than one. "I didn't consider them major," Granderson says of the changes. "The main thing was to be more quiet in my setup. And I closed my stance a bit. And the two hands? Hey, 50 percent of hitters do it, 50 percent use one hand, so who knows?"
Since the changes, Granderson has hit 55 homers in 214 regular-season games, including 16 against lefthanders this season, the most by any lefty batter against lefties in the past four years. Still, the Tigers have no regrets about making The Trade because of the haul they got in return: Austin Jackson, Scherzer, Schlereth and Coke. Jackson, 24, has been a budding superstar since he was 12 years old, when the Yankees began filing scouting reports on the seventh-grader from Denton, Texas. Yankees scout Mark Batchko pulled away from a game his son was playing to check out the cacophony Jackson was generating on a nearby field with a three-home-run performance. Jackson is still a work in progress and, given his on-base percentage this year (.317) and strikeouts (181), ill-suited for his leadoff role, but Detroit will gladly wait for his tremendous skills to blossom. "I told him he doesn't have to act like a leadoff hitter," Leyland says. "What I want him to be is aggressive and not think like he should take pitches all the time."
While Jackson seemed overwhelmed by his first postseason (he was 0 for 8 in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS), Scherzer made an immediate and historic impact. On Sunday he carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning—helped by a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch by Jackson in the first inning—and left in the seventh after pitching two-hit, shutout ball. Only two previous visiting pitchers had beaten the Yankees in a postseason game while shutting them out over at least six innings with as few as two hits: Cliff Lee of the 2010 Rangers and Warren Spahn of the 1958 Braves. "What you saw today was why he has a chance to do things only the elite pitchers in this game do," said Detroit catcher Alex Avila after the win. "His stuff is electric. It's only a matter of throwing strikes."
Scherzer, 27, throws a fastball that sizzles at up to 97 mph, a wicked changeup and a temperamental slider that sometimes betrays him. A first-round pick by Arizona in 2006, he always was held in high regard even though his unorthodox mechanics—his head snaps downward sharply upon his release—made the Diamondbacks wonder if he was ill-suited for surviving the wear and tear of being a starter and would be better off as a premier reliever. However, after two solid seasons in Detroit (he was 15--9 with a 4.43 ERA this season and 12--11, 3.50 in 2010), Scherzer is one of only 31 pitchers to make 30 starts in each of the past three seasons. Only six of those starters are younger than he is (Matt Cain, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Yovani Gallardo and Trevor Cahill).
In Game 2, Scherzer showed he was resilient as well as durable by escaping a potential calamity in the first inning: two on, two outs and a 3-and-1 count to Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira. Scherzer fired a 94-mph fastball to get Teixeira to pop up. "For me, believe it not, I was very calm, relaxed in the first inning," Scherzer says. "I thought I was slowing down my motion. I made the adjustment of getting fired back up and picking up my tempo so I could continue to have a feel for my fastballs. Once I was able to do that, that's when I started executing pitches a lot better."
Arizona covered the loss of Scherzer with the acquisitions of Kennedy and, later, Hudson, both of whom were jettisoned by win-now, big-market clubs who didn't have time to finish off their development. Kennedy, now 26, struggled in parts of three seasons at the major league level with the Yankees before suffering an aneurysm in May 2009. After the season he repaired to the Arizona Fall League. The Diamondbacks scouted every one of his starts there while The Trade was in the works.
Kennedy had made such a little imprint in the big leagues (in 14 games and 12 starts he was 1--4 with a 6.03 ERA) that when The Trade was announced and a reporter asked Arizona catcher Miguel Montero about the team's new pitcher, his response was, " 'Ian Kennedy? Who's that?' I've never even heard of him.
"So I Googled him, and he had a 6 ERA," Montero recalls. "I was like, holy s---. Good trade."
Kennedy won 21 games this year and established himself as a fierce competitor on the mound, a trait that may have backfired on him in Game 1 against the Brewers. He twice was burned by not walking a batter with a base open and two outs—once with No. 8 hitter Jonathan Lucroy batting with the pitcher, Gallardo, behind him, and later with slugger Prince Fielder at the plate. In the sixth inning Lucroy drove in a run with a bloop single. (Kennedy, showing no remorse, told The Arizona Republic, "It was a guy who can't really hit and Gallardo can swing it a little bit.")
When Fielder batted with a runner on second in the seventh, manager Kirk Gibson visited Kennedy on the mound to discuss their options. The righthander did not intentionally walk a batter all year, and he was not about to start. Fielder promptly smoked a game-busting two-run shot, giving Milwaukee a four-run lead on the way to a 4--1 win. "I just felt bad," Gibson said. "I made a poor decision. And sometimes that's how the game goes."
After a 9--4 loss on Sunday in which Hudson was roughed up for five runs in 5 1/3 innings, the Diamondbacks needed to win three straight elimination games to survive. Meanwhile, their trading partners from the 2009 winter meetings, the Tigers and the Yankees, split two soggy games in New York with New York second baseman Robinson Cano (a franchise postseason record-tying six RBIs in Game 1) and Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera (a home run, three hits, three RBIs in Game 2) going at it like Lincoln and Douglas, as if arguing who was the better pure hitter. It was a riveting debate, not unlike trying to figure out which division champion got the better of The Trade two years ago.
"That," Leyland says, "is the way it should always be when you make a deal in baseball. Everybody wins. But that's not the way it usually happens."
THE TRADE THAT MADE THE POSTSEASON
For the Yankees, Tigers, Diamondbacks and—indirectly—the Cardinals, the road to this October began with a 2009 blockbuster
Tigers D-Backs (then to White Sox and Cardinals)
White Sox D-Backs