Past Trade Review: Curtis Granderson

One of the 115 homers Granderson slugged in his four years with the Yanks. (Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

One of the 115 homers Granderson slugged in his four years with the Yanks. (Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Four winters ago, the Yankees faced a dilemma. Should they bring back Johnny Damon, a huge part of the 2009 World Series Championship team, or move in a different, younger direction?

During the season it actually looked like the Yankees would sign Damon for another two or three years. Given his productivity for the previous two years, and the life of the original four-year contract in general, this seemed like a decent enough idea.

Alas, it was not meant to be. After winning the World Series they did make Damon a two-year, $14 million offer, which he did not accept. With a need remaining in the outfield, and purportedly without the budget to sign Matt Holliday, the Yankees turned to the trade market.

Once we learned that Granderson would become available, the fit seemed logical enough. While the Yankees didn’t necessarily need a center fielder, with both Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner on the roster, they certainly needed an outfielder with some pop.

At the Winter Meetings, Cashman pulled the trigger on a three-team trade that cost the Yankees top prospect Austin Jackson, left-handed reliever Phil Coke, and starter Ian Kennedy. The price might have seemed a little steep at the time, and even steeper in hindsight. Was the trade worthwhile in the end?

The case at the time

When the Yankees sent those three players to the Tigers and Diamondbacks, the case was easy enough to make. With the losses of Damon and Hideki Matsui, the Yankees needed an outfielder with some pop. If they weren’t going to sign Matt Holliday (because they certainly weren’t going to sign Jason Bay), a trade was the only avenue to that end. Granderson was the best outfielder available on the trade market at the time, so the Yankees were right to pursue him.

The other end lies in what they traded. Few, if any, would miss Phil Coke and his pointing to the sky on home run balls. Ian Kennedy rubbed fans, and likely the organization, the wrong way during his horrible 2008 season. Perhaps he could have pitched himself into a spot on the team in 2009 had he not suffered an aneurysm and missed most of the season. Then again, maybe he just would have been dealt at the deadline.

Losing Jackson certainly hurt, but with the losses of Damon and Matsui, the Yankees did need a little pop. Jackson didn’t hit for much power in the minors, and at the time it was reasonable to think he’d show as much in the majors as Brett Gardner. The potential was there, sure, but the Yankees needed more of a sure thing. It was difficult to argue with the Granderson trade at the time.

Looking back

After a rough first four months in New York, which involved a hamstring injury, Granderson started to turn it around when he put in some serious work with hitting coach Kevin Long. He not only finished the 2010 season strongly, but he had a phenomenal postseason, going 10 for 28 with two doubles, a homer, and a huge triple off Francisco Liriano in Game 1 of the ALDS.

Jackson, for his part, put up decent numbers in his rookie year, though he lead the league in strikeouts. His defense dazzled at times. Earlier in the season it did appear that the Yankees might have been better off just keeping him, but by season’s end it was clear Granderson was coming around.

The kicker came in 2011, when Granderson belted 41 home runs while leading the AL in both runs and RBI. That’s the kind of year that changes the entire thinking on a trade. Not only did Jackson tank, with an 88 OPS+, but it was unlikely he’d ever perform anywhere near that level even in his best-case scenario.

That one year is really what the Yankees can hang their hat on. Jackson came back with a strong 2012 and good 2013, accumulating 14.6 WAR since the trade. Granderson put up only 13.9 during his time as a Yankee. This isn’t the best comparison, of course; defensive values are sketchy, and Granderson has clearly been the better hitter over the last four years (120 OPS+ vs. 105).

Ian Kennedy, for his part, found some success after leaving the Yankees. After a rocky April he went on to produce a 3.68 ERA in the final five months of the 2010 season, and then followed it up with a fourth-place finish in the Cy Young Award voting in 2011. Oh, what could have been.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Kennedy would have achieved that kind of success as a Yankee. Had he not suffered the aneurysm in 2009 he might have gotten another shot at consistent starts, since the Yankees were hurting for starters towards the end of the season. Had he failed to impress then, chances are he wouldn’t have gotten another shot. Arizona, coming off a 70-92 season, could afford to let Kennedy settle in.

The question in this trade comes down to how you value Granderson’s 2011 specifically, and his hitting in general. The Yankees needed that high-end production, and for at least one year they got it. Though he performed a bit worse in 2012, getting another 40-homer season certainly helps make the trade look a bit more favorable.

Long-term, the Yankees clearly would have been better served holding onto Jackson. He’s had one very good year to go with a few average ones, he plays stellar defense, and he’s still under team control for two more years. In an ideal world, they can keep him and let him play. But where they were at the time, in need of some outfield power, Granderson made a bit more sense.

Categories : Players


  1. W.B. Mason Williams says:

    Keeping Ajax would make the Yankees situation much different.

    They likely never sign Ellsbury, or trade for Ichiro or Wells. (I know plenty of assumptions but that’s a reasonable argument).

    They keep the best defensive outfield in baseball at a fraction of the cost it is now.

    I love the Grandyman and all he did, it was a lot of fun to watch him in pinstripes and he’s really a class act and ambassador for the game.

    But bang for your buck? Ajax wins.

    • The Great Gonzo says:

      Not entirely true. I think the Yankees saw Jackson as ‘another Gardner’. So I think maybe they don’t trade for Wells, but Ichiro was a trade they still make, methinks.

      And Jacoby Ellsbury signing with the Yankees is as isolated from Austin Jackson as two situations could be.

      Maybe they don’t trade for Wells, but that’s it.

      • mitch says:

        Even saying they wouldn’t have made the Wells deal is a stretch. They only added him once Granderson got injured. Having Jackson wouldn’t have made the rest of the organization any deeper. The injury was a fluke.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner says:


        A whole lot of stretches there in WB’s comment but, hey, we’re not submitting depositions here.

        I couldn’t see IPK digging his way out of the rep he’d built here had he stayed. Would have rather had Curtis those years.

      • RetroRob says:

        That’s right. As I noted below, the Yankees were looking to remake their OF, while also adding LH’d power. They had two similar type players in Gardner and Jackson and they weren’t going to be playing both. They dealt from surplus to add the type of player they wanted at that time.

        All this was discussed at the time, meaning it was known the Tigers would get more years from Jackson, the Yankees more power from Granderson.

        I liked Jackson then and I wouldn’t mind if he was on the Yankees now, but I haven’t missed him. His K rate has come down, but it still pretty high. His speed dropped as did his defensive numbers last year as he’s missed time the past couple years with injuries, too. Be curious if the SBs and defensive numbers were a blip last year or a sign of what’s to come. Granderson rated as a strong defender in his early to mid-20s too, even better than Jackson.

      • W.B. Mason Williams says:

        Well yeah I’m speaking from the benefit of hindsight. I appreciate that.

        The Ellsbury signing is definitely related. What is Austin Jackson but a kid with the potential to be a Jacoby Ellsbury. Having Jackson making the league minimum vs. Jacoby eating up money is a no brainer.

  2. Chip Rodriguez says:

    No complaints about that, looking back. Two straight 40+ HR seasons was fantastic, especially right at a time when Teixeira was inconsistent and A-Rod was not the force he was.

    Great guy for the team, heck of a hitter even if he struck out a hell of a lot. I hope he gets a standing O when he comes back for the Subway series.

  3. Duzzi says:

    I think the forgotten part of that trade was Detroit acquired Max Scherzer.
    Scherzer dominated the Yankee lineup in both playoff matchups.
    I was a big Granderson fan during his Yankee tenure but that trade helped the Tigers become very successful over the last few seasons.

    • The Great Gonzo says:

      Yup. This deal has been looked at by many as a win-win-win for all three teams, but the Tigers surely look like they aced the exam on this one.

      • Kosmo says:

        I believe IPK outWARed Scherzer from 2010 thru 2012.

        • Dicka24 says:

          Which if true, should put WAR into perspective for some people.

          • vicki says:

            more like red beard peaked earlier and scherzer is just now coming into his own. if in fact he’s a true talent 6+ WAR player.

          • KyleLitke says:

            Or, it shows that Scherzer wasn’t that great from 2010-2012. He was very good (not elite, but very good) in 2010, he was below average in 2011, and he was solid but again not great in 2012, and he didn’t get to 200 innings in any of those years. Kennedy’s 2010 and 2012 were about equivalent to what Scherzer did in 2010 and 2012 (slight edge to Scherzer probably), but Kennedy’s 2011 was far better than anything Scherzer did until 2013.

      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        Exactly. It was a good trade for the Yankees, and a mediocre one for the D-Backs, but it was a great trade for the Tigers.

  4. Kosmo says:

    never was a fan of Granderson the baseball player. Should have signed Holliday. Damon ended up making slightly less money in 2010-11.

    • The Great Gonzo says:

      wow. This is interesting. Holliday is a flawed player in his own right.

      And Damon signed with the Tigers for $8M on FEBRUARY 22ND. Like, 2 months after this trade. He was still sticking to his ‘pay me $15M per’ bullshit during the Winter Meetings.

      • Kosmo says:

        if you mean Holliday at best is merely an adequate defensive LF ? But the guy rakes. IF I had a choice between Granderson and Holliday, without question I´d choose Holliday. great OBP,power, ideal cleanup hitter.

  5. JR says:

    The better question is as part of the trade we sent Kennedy to the diamondbacks and they sent Max Scherzer to the tigers… Would we have been best served to stop the trade there? I know the diamondacks got edwin jackson but they also gave up Schlereth who a 23-year-old lefty and the 26th pick in the 2008 amateur draft. So the 20/20 question is could we have gotten Scherzer for Kennedy and Coke? Saved money on a quality and cheap starter and signed Holliday with the savings?

    • Steve (different one) says:

      No, the Yankees could not have gotten Scherzer for Kennedy and Coke.

    • qwerty says:

      Hardly. It probably would havve taken Kennedy and Hughes. The only question is is Max Scherzer worth both those pitchers?

      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        Max Scherzer is worth both of those pitchers in 2014.

        However, he was not in 2012.

      • KyleLitke says:

        At the time, no. And we can’t even really answer whether it would have been worth it from 2010-2012, since we don’t know what Kennedy would have done here (but he was comparable to Scherzer two of the three years and far better than him in 2011).

        Now, with the benefit of hindsight, of course. Kennedy was awful last year and Hughes was even worse, while Scherzer was fantastic. But at the time Hughes was coming off a strong year, Scherzer was coming off an okay but not great year, and Kennedy still had plenty of potential.

    • The Great Gonzo says:

      3 team trades become 3 team trades for a reason.

  6. Farewell Mo says:

    Yankees clearly lost this trade when you consider Jackson and Kennedy were worth about double the WAR of Granderson at a tiny fraction of his salary and would both still be under team control.

    That trade was about mortgaging some of the future for the present however the Jackson/Kennedy side was better both in the short and long term.

    It’s also not like the AJ Burnett debacle where you can at least make a case that the Yankees might not have won in 2009 without him and flags fly forever, yada yada yada.

    • Good Morning Mo says:

      Yankees clearly won this trade when you consider that it is doubtful Kennedy would have repeated his one-year performance in the AL East, Jackson would simply offer a different look with the same strikeouts as Granderson, and neither may have been in the organization at this point, or under team control.

      That trade was about mortgaging some of the future for the present, with both sides benefitting as expected.

      It’s also nothing like the AJ Burnett incident, which was a free agent signing and has no bearing here, flags fly forever, yada yada yada.

  7. D23 says:

    Clearly lost the trade? I am not sure about that. We don’t know if Ian would have succeeded much in YS and AL. I followed Ajax in minors and he was a decent one but came with some baggage, High Ks. He would have helped us but would have not been the guy we needed in the lineup. Grandy gave us 3 great years and unfortunately last year was a fluke because of freak injuries. It wasn’t like he choked when he was healthy.

    • Kosmo says:

      Granderson cmae with the same baggage,high K´s. Granderson gave NY 1 good month in 2010, one very fine season in 2011, and 2 good months in 2012. 3 great years is a stretch.
      Granderson was abysmal in the clutch one reason he rarily hit 3rd,4th or 5th in the lineup. But he was always good for a solo garbage time HR.

  8. qwerty says:

    This is a trade that has puzzled me to no end. If the yankees wanted homeruns in the outfield why not simply sign a leftfielder who could hit home runs and let Gardner remain in center? Instead what they did was trade for home runs in center and moved Gardner to left. That makes absolutely no sense! How does that improve our team? We lost two large trading chips and a valuable lefty for absolutely no reason.

  9. Cool Lester Smooth says:

    Everyone realizes that Kennedy has essentially identical peripherals to Phil Hughes, right?

    Righties who can’t get ground balls are really not the move at Yankee Stadium or, really, in the AL East.

    Losing Jackson stings, but you always make that trade.

  10. JGYank says:

    I can live without Coke and even Kennedy but looking back losing Jackson is tough to swallow. Grandy fit very well in NY providing a power lefty bat but we would probably still have Jackson if we didn’t trade him. Sure he’s not as good of a hitter and isn’t a LHB in YS, but he could of provided value in other ways and is young and cheap. He’s similar to Gardy but there’s nothing wrong with having 2 Gardner’s in the lineup especially with the talent we have had in the infield the past few years to carry the lineup (besides 2013 when everyone went down and now). Ajax would have most likely helped us last year since Grandy went down, we needed help against lefties, and we had both Wells and Ichiro in the lineup at times. He also would have helped us get under 189 this year. As others have mentioned above maybe we don’t get Ichiro or Wells with Ajax since Grandy getting hurt caused the Wells trade and maybe they don’t choose to go out and sign Ells or Beltran (probably wouldn’t get Ells) or they don’t even trade for Sori. It’s hard to say. Then again we don’t know how well Ajax would have played in NY but I would of loved to see him get the chance. Now that Grandy’s gone, not trading Ajax could of helped us this year and saved money. But Grandy was great in 2011 and put up back to back 40 homers seasons while being a class act so I can’t complain. It’s interesting to think of what might of have been though.

    • D23 says:

      I think what triggered the Ajax deal was that the Yankees had counted on some of their OF prospects to eventually come through in 2012-2013. Didn’t quite panned out. Kind of like we risked losing Montero but the Yankees were banking on having Romine or Sanchez as the future C in a couple of years.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

        The belief at the time was that AJax’s ceiling was Curtis Granderson, so why not just have Granderson. Hard to argue with that in retrospect.

        Again, if Granderson left with a WS ring, we may not be having this conversation right now.

        • Farewell Mo says:

          But he didn’t leave with a ring, cost exponentially more than Jackson and Kennedy combined, was worth 50% less WAR and to quote Joe, “Long-term, the Yankees clearly would have been better served holding onto Jackson. ”

          Only a yankee apologist could think they “won” this trade.

          If you wanna say the Yankees get maybe a C+ for this trade, the D’back a C- and the Tigers an A, I’d buy it

          • Cool Lester Smooth says:

            The Yankees get a B/B+, the D’Backs get a C and the Tigers get an A/A+.

            Also, it’s not about “winning” trades. Believe it or not, you often have to give value to get value when you’re not trading for a player that Ozzie Guillen hates.

  11. Dicka24 says:

    I think people are overrating what the Yankees traded away. IPK is generally a middle to end of the rotation arm. He had that exceptional 2011 season, but has struggled since. He pitches in the NL West too, not the AL East. Ajax is a K machine that struggles stealing bases, has limited power, but plays a mean CF. For that, the Yankees got a couple of 40 homer, 100 Run, 100 RBI seasons in the OF.

  12. Jorge Steinbrenner says:

    Fine with the trade. Not even a second thought. Yanks got what they wanted. Detroit got what it wanted. Arizona? Meh.

    If anything, we probably look back badly on this because the Yanks didn’t make a World Series during Curtis’s time here.

    A trade in which your partner also made out well is not a bad trade.

  13. RetroRob says:

    The goal wasn’t to have Damon return as a fulltime OFer. The goal was to have one of either Matsui or Damon return to be the DH/4th OFer, with emphasis on DH. Matsui, being the weaker fielder, was second in line to return and knowing that he quickly signed a deal with a team interested in his services, leaving Damon as the choice (and he always seemed to be choice #1 because once shifted left he was a better OFer than Matsui and a much better base runner).

    Moving Damon to DH, and then installing Gardner in left as was the plan, and then trading for Granderson gave the Yankees a younger and faster OF. Granderson also gave the Yankees the LH’d power bat they needed.

    It’s not a question of keeping one player. All the moves are interlocked to address specific needs at the time. Keeping Jackson means Gardner most likely goes elsewhere, and a trade for some other power LH’d bat needs to be made. I’m not saying it couldn’t have been done, but it’s not a question of keeping a single player over another.

  14. Kosmo says:

    It´s funny the Yanks chose not to go forward with Granderson instead signed Ellsbury and Beltran. I wonder what the FO thought of Granderson? certainly not the future. 3 years 45 million for Beltran a soon to be 37 year old and a 7 year 153 million deal for Ellsbury. Granderson 4 years 60 million.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      Oh, I think they were done with the strikeouts to be sure and were looking to move in a different direction.

      We also would all be equally as fed up with Jackson’s strikeouts if he were in pinstripes. Grass is not always greener….

    • mitch says:

      I think Beltran is the comp….not Ellsbury. Grandy still would have been a fit after that signing. I’d say the K’s were a part of it, as well as Beltran being a switch hitter. Resigning Grandy would have left them with 4 lefty outfielders.

      • RetroRob says:

        Right. Ellsbury was partially driven once they strongly suspected they were going to lose Cano and he was signed to play CF. Granderson was going back to the corner if he stayed. The Yankees at this point preferred Beltran to Granderson.

  15. Nathan says:

    Sure could use Holliday right about now.

  16. vicki says:

    must say again that the greatest loss in the trade is no longer hearing an oblivious sterling announce “coke deals” every other day.

  17. TWTR says:

    I think the opposite is true. After winning a WS, 2010, with several key players aging, was the perfect time to begin to get younger. And they are still paying for making that mistake in judgment.

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