2011 Season Preview: Curtis Granderson

As we count down the days and weeks leading up to the season, we’re going to preview the 2011 Yankees by looking at each of their core players and many, many more. A new preview will go up every day, Monday through Friday, from now until Opening Day.

Still can't believe that ball stayed in the park. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for Curtis Granderson in 2010. Not necessarily in that order, either. He was brought to town for a number of reasons, one of which was to help replace the left-handed power the Yankees let walk in the form of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, which he did, by and large. It wasn’t always pretty though.

Year two of the Granderson era is promising because of the way he finished year one. His improvement after working with hitting coach Kevin Long is well-documented, but we still have no idea if it’s a) real, and b) sustainable. Grandy has already smacked an opposite field homer in Spring Training, which is generally much ado about nothing, but it stands out a bit because he’s hit zero of those in the last two regular seasons. February and March are the time for blind optimism, what can I say.

The Grandyman was the team’s best player in late-August and September, and would have been their best player in the postseason if it wasn’t for Robbie Cano‘s superhuman efforts. What could 2011 have in store?

Best Case

The best case scenario for Granderson is incredibly exciting. We’ve already seen him produce at a seven-plus win pace, which he did back in 2007 with the Tigers by hitting .302/.361/.552 (.395 wOBA) with 38 doubles, 23 triples, 23 homers, and 26 steals all while playing phenomenal defense (+14.9 UZR) at an up-the-middle position. It’s been three full seasons since Grandy had that monster campaign, but he’s far from old (turns 30 in about two weeks) and still has that kind of talent.

Hopefully Grandy will be running people over again in 2011. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

To hit on that best case scenario, the improvements he showed after working with Long would have to prove to be real and permanent. Granderson hit .274/.378/.570 (.417 wOBA) with 15 homers in just 230 plate appearances (counting playoffs) after he got together with the hitting coach compared to just .239/.306/.415 (.310 wOBA) with ten homers in 336 plate appearances before. Maintaining a .417 wOBA pace over a full season is extremely tough to do, but based on how dominant Granderson was down the stretch, a .390-ish wOBA in 600+ plate appearances doesn’t seem out of question in the best case scenario.

Within that overall improvement came considerable improvement against southpaws, long Granderson’s bane. He hit just .206/.243/.275 with just four extra-base hits against lefties in just over 100 plate appearances before the fix, even worse than the .217/.270/.324 line he produced against them in 2008 and 2009. After working with K-Long, Granderson tagged lefties to the tune of .286/.275/.500 in 64 plate appearances, not all that far off from his performance against righties. If his platoon issues have been corrected, even just somewhat, holy cow.

Granderson’s defense has never really been a question. He’ll occasionally take a bad route on a ball hit in front of him, but overall he’s an above-average defender in center (+5.3 UZR last season) that could be even better after having a year to adjust to his new ballpark. Even if turns in a similar defensive effort with a .390 wOBA in a full season’s worth of playing time, we’re talking about Granderson being at least a six win player and a guy that should get some MVP love.

Worst Case

As exciting as Granderson’s best case is, his worst case scenario is just as ugly. The improvement following the work with Long could prove to be nothing more than small sample size noise, easily negated after the league has had an offseason and Spring Training to revise their scouting reports and game plans. Left-handers could continue to flummox the lefty swinging center fielder, who sees his strikeout rate and walk rates continue to head in opposite directions for the third straight season. That .310 wOBA he produces in the first half or so of 2010? Turns out that is Granderson’s true talent level.

On the other side of the ball, those funny routes continue to be an issue, and the dam eventually cracks. Grandy turns into a below average defensive outfielder, forcing the team to move him to left and insert Brett Gardner in center. A below average defensive left fielder with below average offense is … wait for it … a below average player, basically a fourth outfielder. Andruw Jones would see more and more playing time to compensate for Granderson’s shortcomings, overexposing him. Without the boost from playing a prime position, Grandy is little more than a one win player in the worst case scenario.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

What’s Likely To Happen

As much as we’d like it to be, the #cured version of Granderson probably isn’t the real version. Fourteen homers in a month-and-a-half is a 56 homer pace over a full season, and that’s just not going to happen. Even the most optimistic of Grandy lovers can agree on that. Joe broke down Granderson’s underlying skills last month, forecasting a .275/.365/.490 (~.375 wOBA) batting line in 2011, almost identical to what he did with the Tigers in 2008. The only full-time center fielders more productive offensively than Grandy that season were Grady Sizemore (.384 wOBA) and Carlos Beltran (.380), two guys that are now shells of their former selves due to injuries.

While I do believe the late-season improvement is real and sustainable, I still have a hard time expecting more than .265/.340/.480 (~.355 wOBA) out of the Grandyman, which is better than his 2010 effort but not quite as good as what Joe expects (and what 2008 produced). I should mention that I’m a sucker for low expectations, I guess you can’t be disappointed if you don’t expect much in the first place. At his age, there’s no reason to expect Granderson’s defense to fall off a cliff, so I think his floor in 2011 is basically his 2010 self with a pretty strong likelihood of even more. If he manages to stay healthy and put together a four-plus win season, I’ll be thrilled. Anything more is gravy.

Who has minor league options left (and how many)?

Minor league options are one of baseball’s weird little quirks. Every player gets three, and they’re used whenever a guy on the 40-man roster is sent to the minors. Once you burn all three, the player has to pass through waivers to go back to the minors. Oh, and sometimes a player can qualify for a fourth option depending on some special circumstances. Yeah, it’s weird like that.

A player can only use one option a year, regardless of how many times they go up and down. That’s why you’ll see them referred to as “option years.” If a player is in the minors for more than 20 total days in a single year, it counts as an option. Anything less and it does not. To learn more about this stuff, I recommend Keith Law’s classic Death, Taxes and Major League Waivers post at Baseball Analysts. I’ll let him bore you with the details.

Obviously, options are important because they can dictate who can and who can’t be sent back to the minors. That information isn’t publicly available, at least as far as I know, so I figured I’d compile it myself. We don’t need to look at everyone on the 40-man roster simply because a bunch of guys aren’t ever going back to the minors, like CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez. A few others are on the bubble, so let’s recap them and a could of notable young regulars…

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Andrew Brackman
Although 2011 will be his fourth full season since signing his Major League contract out of the draft, Brackman still has two minor league options remaining. He signed right on the August 15th deadline in 2007 but did not spent the required 20 days in the minors because the (minor league) season ended. The Yankees then carried Brackman on the 60-day disabled list all year in 2008 (Tommy John surgery), so he collected a year of service time instead of using a minor league option. His first option was used in 2009 and his second in 2010. Brackman will qualify for a fourth option because he will have used his three original options within his first five pro seasons. That’s one of those weird rules/ So yeah, the Yankees can send him down to the minors in each of the next two seasons without consequence.

Joba Chamberlain
Joba has all three options left. He was added to the 40-man for the first time in August 2007, when he was called up to the big leagues, and he hasn’t gone back to the minors since.

Colin Curtis
The Yankees added Curtis to the 40-man for the first time this past July, when he was summoned to the big leagues because the team was dealing with injuries and needed an extra position player during the NL park stretch of their interleague scheduled. Lil’ CC hung around a while but was eventually sent back down. He remained in Triple-A for more than a month later in the year, using his first option. He has two left.

Robert Fish
Added to the 40-man roster for the first time this offseason as a Rule 5 Draft pick, Fish has all three options left. Doesn’t matter though, he’ll be offered back to the Angels before the end of Spring Training.

Brett Gardner
After starting the 2008 season in Triple-A, the Yankees called Gardner up and added him to the 40-man roster for the first time that June 30th. He was with the team for about a month, ultimately sent down on July 26th because they had to make room on the active roster for the just acquired Xavier Nady. Gardner stayed in the minors until August 15th, so he was there for exactly 20 days. That’s not an accident, it prevented an option from being used. Gardner hasn’t been back to the minors since (not counting a very brief rehab stint in 2009), so he has all three options remaining.

Steve Garrison
Claimed off waivers from the Padres last year, Garrison was added to the 40-man (by San Diego) for the first time last (2009-2010) offseason. He used an option in his injury-riddled 2010 season, so he’s got two left.

"You might be using that last option this year, Greg." (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Greg Golson
Golson’s been around the block, having first been added to the 40-man roster by the Phillies after 2008. He spent basically all of 2009 and 2010 in the minors (save for the occasional cup-of-coffee, nothing major), using up his first two options. Golson has one left, which will inevitably be used this season.

Phil Hughes
Called up as a 20-year-old in what really was an act of desperation by the Yankees, Hughes was added to the 40-man for the first time in April 2007 and then went back to the minors after blowing out his hamstring. He spent a little more than three weeks in the minors that July but it was a rehab assignment, so it didn’t count as an optional assignment. The Yankees called him back up in August, so they didn’t burn an option that season.

Hughes began the next year with the big league team, but eventually hit the disabled list and then did the rehab thing again. The Yankees kept him in the minors for close to 40 days, however the first 30 were the rehab assignment. He did not eclipse the 20-day limit and did not use a minor league option in 2009. Hughes did use his first option in 2009, when he began the year in Triple-A and was called up in late April. He hasn’t been back to the minors since and has two options remaining.

Boone Logan
Logan’s out-of-options. He was first added to the 40-man by the White Sox in 2006, when they took him north out of camp because he had a great Spring Training despite having a total of 5.1 innings at the Single-A level to his credit. Yep. Boone spent considerable time in the minors in 2006, 2009, and 2010, burning all three options.

Justin Maxwell
Joel Sherman confirmed that Maxwell has one option remaining when he was acquired last month.

Sergio Mitre
The Experience has been out-of-options for a year now.

No need to look over your shoulder David, you aren't going back to the minors anytime soon. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

David Robertson
Called up and added to the 40-man roster for the first time on the same day as Gardner, Robertson went back to the minors on August 28th (in favor of Al Aceves) and then resurfaced 16 days later, preserving an option. He bounced up and down in April and May of 2009, burning an option. Robertson hasn’t been back to the minors since late May of 2009, so he still has two options at his disposal.

Romulo Sanchez
Chad Jennings confirmed with the Yankees this past December that Romulo is out-of-options.

Daniel Turpen
Same exact deal is Fish, so just re-read his comment and change “Fish” to “Turpen” and “Angels” to “Red Sox.”

Frankie Cervelli
Believe it or not, the Yankees added Cervelli to the 40-man roster for the first time after the 2007 season. That’s when he was first eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, before he ever got out of A-ball. Anyway, he spent most of 2008 in the minors, burning one options then spent the first five weeks of 2009 in the minors, burning another option. Frankie hasn’t been back to the minors since, so he still has that one option remaining.

Ramiro Pena
Pena was added to the 40-man roster for the first time in 2009, when he surprisingly broke camp with the big league team as the utility infielder. He went back to the minors for 43 games that summer, burning one option. Ramiro hasn’t been back down since, so he has two left.

* * *

Dellin Betances, Brandon Laird, Melky Mesa, and Ryan Pope were all added to the 40-man roster for the first time this offseason, so all three guys have all three options remaining. Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, Reegie Corona, Eduardo Nunez, and Kevin Russo were each added to the 40-man roster for the first time last offseason, and since they all spent most of 2010 in the minors, they all have two options left.

Standard disclaimer here: I can’t guarantee the accuracy of the above info. MLB has some weird rules, and what is and what is not an optional assignment is one of them. I do feel pretty confident though, the only real question is Gardner. Does exactly 20 days in the minors count as an option, or does it have to be more? Either way, it shouldn’t become an issue. Fish, Turpen, and Romulo are goners and probably soon, before the end of camp. That’ll free up three 40-man roster spots, at least one of which will go to Jesus Montero at some point. Let’s hope he never uses any of his minor league options.

Dissecting the Great City Subway Race

During old Yankee Stadium's final year, somehow, the B won the subway race 26 times. It's a New York City miracle. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The between-innings entertainment at Yankee Stadium has largely run its course these days. Most fans who trek up to the Bronx would like to do unmentionable things to the Zales Fan Marquee guy; the YMCA merits an eyeroll; Cotton Eye Joe has been banished to points of the game when fans aren’t paying attention; and the blooper reel still features Montreal Expos and a Tommy Lasorda clip from the 2001 All Star Game.

By now, I mostly ignore the distractions. A few years ago, my dad decided to try to tune out the noise the PA system throws at fans between innings and just focus instead on what the players are doing. I’ll watch A-Rod take a long pass from Teixeira or check out Jeter throwing BBs from beyond third base as the guy on the mounds get ready. But one aspect of the stadium entertainment grabs my attention: the Great City Subway Race which arrives around the middle of the 4th inning.

Once upon a time, the Great City Subway Race had some charm. This guy with a heavy Noo Yawk accent used to announce the contest between the 4, D and C trains, but this was ages ago, when the C ran where the B does today. The DiamondVision screen used to show actual footage from inside the subway system, and the race kinda sorta resembled the real thing. Today, it’s all just special effects and some guy who sounds like he’s from Indiana.

But that’s not important. What really grinds my gears is the portrayal of the trains and their routes. It’s just wrong.

Supposedly, the BMT trains are at Herald Square and the 4 is starting from Grand Central. (Photo by Amanda Rykoff)

I’m not sure where to begin. What stations are these? The announcer claims its Herald Square on the left and Grand Central on the right, but a quick visual glance proves that neither are what they say they are. Meanwhile, the blue D train just doesn’t make sense. Blue is the trunk line color for the 8th Ave. line, and at no point is the D considered the 8th Ave. line. Meanwhile, why are the B and D on separate tracks at Herald Square? Is the B going to Queens? Who killed the F train?

As the trains depart from their mid-route terminals en route to Yankee Stadium, the announcer gets quite excited. We watch the B and D start to pull out, shift to the East Side to catch the 4 leaving and then…zoom past Times Square to get back to the B and D? The B and D never pass through Times Square, and to go from Grand Central to the 6th Ave. line involves a trek through Bryant Park. The camera is lost.

As the trains head uptown, the announcer likes to say they are “neck and neck” as they motor toward the Bronx. There is but one problem: Remember how the B and the D started out on separate tracks at Herald Square? Well, as the 6th Ave. express departs Rockefeller Center and heads into 7th Ave., it’s a single track. The B or D will have to go first, and if the D goes first, the B train — a painfully slow local that makes seven more stops than the D along Central Park — will never catch up. Even if the B goes first, the D will pass it before the Museum of Natural History. Yet, somehow, the two trains seem to draw even somewhere under the park. Some race, huh?

What are these trains doing aboveground? (Photo by flickr user fastlaine)

As we speed to the finish line, something funny happens. All of the trains are magically aboveground and seemingly at grade! These trains are now literally running through the South Bronx. Who needs parks when we’ve got open subway tracks? That’s neighborhood transformation at its finest.

Finally, someone has to win, and while the B in Brooklyn is my lifeline to law school in the morning, every time the B wins the subway race at Yankee Stadium, I die a little inside. The B makes eight stops that the D skips, and the 4 is faster (or if it’s a weekday and rush hour, slower) than either. What the Yanks need is some realism. Give me a sick passenger, an unavoidable delay and the D train making stops along the A from West 4th St. to Columbus Circle, and I’ll be a much happier camper.

I’d be remiss to end this post without mentioning the people who have heard me complain about this the most. Of course, my parents and sister get an acknowledgement as do Amanda Rykoff, Stefanie, Leonora, Jake, Mark Schwartz, Kiersten, and everyone else on Twitter who obsesses over the subway. Don’t forget: There’s always Second Ave. Sagas for all of your transit. Now back to your regularly scheduled hand-wringing over the Yanks’ rotation.

Cashman was ‘this close’ to signing Hall

For some reason or another, Bill Hall has been one of those players constantly linked to the Yanks in recent years. During the Winter Meetings in December 2008, Mike wondered why Hall was being connected to the Yanks, and in November of 2010, we heard some low-level rumblings about a connection between Hall and the Bombers. Ultimately, though, the 31-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Astros for $3 million, and the two sides hold a mutual option for $4 million.

For a guy who’s going to give you 0.5-1 wins above replacement, that’s not an awful deal, and today, we learn it could’ve been the Yanks’ checks Hall might have cashed this year. Jack Curry, via Twitter, relates an exchange from today’s game. Brian Cashman says to Hall, “I almost had you. It was this close.” Hall, says Curry, sheepishly says, “Sorry.”

The Yanks won’t miss Bill Hall’s production or lack thereof, and they should be able to replicate it with the much cheaper cast of characters they have in camp right now. It’s always entertaining though to ponder the deals that weren’t. I wonder how many other close calls the Yanks have had over the years.

Open Thread: March 2nd Camp Notes

Too lazy to throw overhand. (AP Photo/Margaret Bowles)

Today’s round-up…

  • The Yankees beat the Astros 6-5 this afternoon after Russell Martin coaxed a walk-off walk out of former Yankees farmhand Lance Pendleton. A.J. Burnett showed off some new mechanics with two scoreless innings, but David Phelps fell victim to some poor defense in a four (unearned) run inning. Derek Jeter actually hit two balls in the air, hard too, one into Michael Bourn’s glove and another into the grass for a single. The Yankees scored four in the ninth to tie (Melky Mesa had the game-tying two-run single) and a fifth to win. Here’s the box score.
  • CC Sabathia, Mark Prior, Bartolo Colon, Dellin Betances, and Pedro Feliciano all threw side sessions this morning as scheduled. Romulo Sanchez and Warner Madrigal threw simulated games with Austin Krum and Doug Bernier standing in as batters. (Chad Jennings)
  • Martin is wearing a brace around his surgically repaired knee, but he’ll again serve as the designated hitter tomorrow and then catch in Friday’s game. (Dan Barbarisi & Marc Carig)
  • Old buddy Chad Gaudin will be starting for the Nationals against the Yanks on Saturday. Jamie Shields and Clay Buchholz will the opposing starters on Thursday and Friday, respectively. (Carig)

This is your open thread for the night. Today’s game is being replayed on YES starting at 7pm ET, and MLB Network is replaying this afternoon’s Royals-Dodgers game starting at 9pm ET. The Devils, Islanders, and Knicks will all be playing regular season games that actually mean something. Anything goes, so have at it.