Agent says Granderson’s “first choice” is returning to Yankees

Via Dan Martin: Matt Brown, agent for Curtis Granderson, confirmed his client wants to return to the Yankees next season. “That’s his first choice. He absolutely wants to stay there,” said Brown. “It looks like we’re probably headed down that [qualifying offer] road, but I think people remember what he did the previous two years.”

Granderson, 32, hit .229/.317/.407 (97 wRC+) with seven homers and eight steals in 245 plate appearances. His power (.178 ISO and 11.3% HR/FB) slipped quite a bit, which could easily stem from the fractured right forearm and fractured left hand he suffered. Brown said Granderson was not bothered by changing positions (first to left field, then to DH) this year, but he would “rather play center or certainly the outfield every day.” Martin hears the Rangers and Red Sox are potential landing spots.

The Yankees should definitely make Granderson the ~$14M qualifying offer, which would be a slight pay cut from his $15M salary this season. Missing more than a hundred games in your walk year really sucks — “There’s no getting around [it], missing 100 games the year you’re becoming a free agent isn’t great,” said Brown — but I still think teams will make multi-year offers this winter. Power is hard to find these days, even if you only project Granderson as a 25-30 homer guy going forward and not a 40+ homer guy.

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The under-the-radar Curtis Granderson

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty)
(Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

Homeruns are fun, and no one is having more fun right now than Alfonso Soriano. In 30 games since returning to the Yankees, Soriano has hit eleven homers, including several dramatic late-inning game-winners. The Bombers may not make the postseason this year, but it won’t be because he didn’t deliver after coming over from the Cubs. Soriano has been excellent and a major shot in the arm for the offense (and, somewhat surprisingly, the defense as well).

From 2011-2012, no one had more fun that Curtis Granderson. He led all of baseball with 84 homers during those two seasons, ten more than tied-for-second Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun. The self-proclaimed “not a power hitter” was baseball’s premier power hitter until a pair of fluke hit-by-pitch injuries sabotaged his 2013 season. Oddly enough, homeruns are the reason Granderson is being overlooked right now. Soriano is stealing the show.

In 24 games since coming off the DL, Curtis is hitting .291/.412/.456 (140 wRC+) with three homers, six steals (in seven attempts), 17 walks (17.5%), and 25 strikeouts (25.8%). The power production isn’t the same as it has been in recent years, but hopefully that will come around as he gets further away from the forearm and hand fractures. Granderson does have a .196 ISO in his last 15 games after putting up a .107 ISO in his first nine games back, so that’s encouraging. (Also: Hooray arbitration endpoints.)

Instead, Granderson’s recent production has come in the form of on-base ability. He reached base three times (two singles and a walk) in last night’s blowout win over the Blue Jays and has reached base at least once in 20 of his 22 starts since rejoining the team. Curtis went 0-for-4 in his first game off the DL and 0-for-4 in Friday’s series opener against the Rays. That’s it. Heck, he’s reached base at least twice in 12 of those 22 starts. That ridiculous 17.5% walk rate isn’t being padded by intentional walks (just one) or hit-by-pitches (zero) either.

Because he is a high-strikeout hitter, Granderson was stereotyped as someone who rarely walked in recent years. I have no idea why people think someone who strikes out a lot doesn’t walk much, usually the exact opposite is true, but that line of thinking does exists. Granderson doesn’t fit the bill at all though, his career walk rate (10.3%) is well-above-average and he’s been even better as a Yankee (11.4%). He has also consistently ranked among baseball’s leaders in pitches per plate appearances throughout his career. Walks require working deep counts and strikeouts are a byproduct. They come with the territory.

Obviously a 17.5% walk rate is probably not something Granderson will be able to maintain long-term. Only two guys — Jose Bautista (20.2% in 2011) and Adrian Gonzalez (17.5% in 2009) — have managed a walk rate that high over a full season in the last five years. You would expect that number to come down and his power production to go up in the coming weeks, but the season is almost over. There’s no guarantee Granderson’s walk and power rates will regress to his career norms — or, really, to his current talent level — before the end of the season. Instead of being a power hitter, he might be more of an on-base guy for the Yankees this year.

Either way, Granderson has been very productive for New York since coming off the DL. The shape of that production has been a little different than what we’ve come to expect — instead of a power-heavy 140 wRC+ it’s been an on-base heavy 140 wRC+. That’s perfectly fine. Production is production, and frankly the Yankees probably need the on-base skills more than the power right now given the rest of the roster. The rank 17th out of the 30 clubs with a 7.7% walk rate, their lowest as a team since 1991. Soriano’s homers are stealing the show, but Granderson has been outstanding as well these last few weeks.

Mailbag: Granderson, Beltran, Choo, Trout, PEDs

Got five questions for you this week. The best way to send us anything is the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Al Bello/Getty Images)

John asks: Looking ahead to next year (because that’s sort of all we have at this point) the Yankees clearly need another outfielder (or two). As such, being purely hypothetical here, would you rather have Curtis Granderson at 1/$14M, Carlos Beltran at 2/$30M or Shin-Soo Choo at 4/$60M?

Of those three choices, I’m definitely taking Granderson on a one-year, $14M deal. Beltran would be my second choice and Choo a distant third. Choo sure gets a lot of attention for an injury prone platoon player who isn’t all that good on defense, doesn’t he? He’s awesome against right-handed pitchers, among the best in the world, but there’s much more to life than that.

Anyway, Beltran is still a really good hitter, the the big drop in walk rate and overall rise in swing-and-miss rate are major red flags for a 36-year-old hitter. I’ve explained this before. Add in his injury history and the overall risk that comes with guys closer to 40 than 30, and I’m very skeptical about giving him a multi-year pact. I don’t think it would be a disaster if the Yankee signed Beltran to a two-year, $30M contract (that would be a nice raise from his current two-year, $26M deal), but it’s not a slam dunk at this point.

Granderson, even at a premium salary, on a one-year contract is a pretty great deal. All of his injuries this year were flukes, he’s shown his old power, and he’s not at the point where you’d expect him fall of a cliff at age 32 (33 in March). The Yankees have enough really old veteran players on multi-year pacts and I really don’t want to see them add another to the pile at this point. Granderson for one year limits the risk and gives them a productive player. He’s the lesser of three evils, in this scenario.

Nick asks: Suggested post (motivated mainly by Jon Morosi’s column): Hiroki Kuroda‘s chances of winning the Cy Young. Consider the contenders and say what Hiroki realistically needs to do between now and season end to be in with any kind of shot.

I looked at the AL Cy Young race a little more in depth at CBS last week, so I’ll point you to that rather than regurgitate it all here. Long story short: there are a lot of legitimate candidates in the AL but Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer stand out from the pack right now. Chris Sale deserves to be in that group as well, but he won’t get much love thanks to his crummy teammates.

Kuroda has the great 2.33 ERA and AL-best 174 ERA+, but his record (11-7) isn’t anything special, his strikeout rate (6.40 K/9 and 18.1 K%) is below-average, and his FIP (3.25) is very good but not on par with the other Cy Young candidates. To make a serious push for the award, pretty much one thing has to happen: the Yankees need to win his starts. A lot of them. He’ll have to maintain that ERA/FIP and finish the year with an 18-8 record or something to have a serious shot. That’s the easiest way to do it.

Even then, it’s probably not enough. Remember, for a Yankee to win a major award, they need to have an insanely great year that is far better than the other candidates. Think 2007 Alex Rodriguez. There’s definitely a Yankee bias at work in the voting. Kuroda’s been awesome, but his performance this year is still a notch between Felix, Scherzer, and Sale for me. Those guys have been outrageously good.

(Drew Hallowell/Getty)
(Drew Hallowell/Getty)

Brian asks: I saw a little blurb on MLBTR regarding Mike Trout and the Angels. Trout is obviously worth far more than his current league minimum contract, but if the Angels sit back and decide to continue to paying him league minimum, could Trout theoretically hold out like they do in football? Is there any baseball precedent to that?

There is no precedent for that in baseball as far as I know, certainly not recently. If he were the hold out, I imagine the team would suspend him without pay, which would do some damage to his image. It happens. At this point of his career, Trout is stuck making whatever the Angels are willing to pay him. Is it fair? Of course not. But that’s the salary system that was collectively bargained.

Trout has one more year at (or near) the league minimum before becoming eligible for arbitration, when he’ll at least have some say in his salary. He can’t become a free agent until after the 2017 campaign. I don’t know if Trout will hold enough of a grudge to pass on a long-term contract if the Halos make an offer, but it would surprise me. He’s already in nine-figure contract extension territory and that’s hard to pass up.

Rosco asks: I know a lot of people are praising MLB for suspending players for PEDs associated with the Miami clinic, but shouldn’t we worry that none of them tested positive? How many other players are using that we do not know about because it seems the testing systems has some holes?

That’s the part going completely unnoticed. Not a single player tested positive and a local newspaper in Miami managed to get wind of the scandal before the league. That’s the nature of the beast though, the drugs will always be ahead of the tests. There’s no doubt the recent suspensions send a strong message — we’re going to go to great lengths to find you if you’ve been cheating! — but that alone won’t be enough of a disincentive for many players. The only thing MLB can do is test and test, that’s all. Sports will never be completely clean.

Lee asks: I saw these stats on defensive shifts a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t seen any commentary on them anywhere, and would love to hear your thoughts. The Yankees are THIRD in the use of defensive shifts? Wow, I guess I’ve been so mesmerized by how bad their offense is that I didn’t notice! But even more incredible, ZERO runs saved???? That’s almost funny — they just can’t get anything right this year.

Yeah, the Yankees definitely seem to suck at shift. Anecdotally, they seem to pitch away from the situation quite a bit, meaning they pitch outside with soft stuff while playing the hitter to pull. That doesn’t make sense. The defense on the left side of the infield has been terrible pretty much all year, which is another factor. I give them credit for trying — it’s interesting that four of the top five shifting teams are from the AL East, no? — but I’m not sure they have the personnel to pull off some fancy shifts at this point. The infield defense is too immobile.

Fitting Curtis Granderson into an unnecessarily crowded 2014 outfield

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

Thanks to two fluke long-ish term hit-by-pitch injuries, Curtis Granderson‘s contract year has been a disaster. Sure, he’s back on the field now with less than two months to play, but that’s not much time for him to showcase himself to prospective employers. If he stinks, is it because of the injuries? If he’s great, is it because he’s well-rested at a time when other players are grinding and dealing with the fatigue of 100+ games already played? It’s a tough spot.

The Yankees, of course, are one of those prospective employers. They know him better than anyone right now. They know his work ethic, his personality, his medical information, pretty much everything you’d want to know about a player before paying them many millions of dollars. They also know their lineup is woefully short on power and figures to remain that way next season even if Robinson Cano re-signs and Mark Teixeira comes back perfectly healthy. Even with all the strikeouts, there’s a place for Granderson in the team’s 2014 lineup.

That said, the Bombers already have four veteran outfielders under contract for next season: Brett Gardner (he qualifies as a veteran by now, right?), Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells, and Alfonso Soriano. There’s also the currently injured Zoilo Almonte, who did enough during his month-long cameo to at least earn a long look in Spring Training. Melky Mesa will also be out of minor league options next year, though he hasn’t exactly forced his way into the team’s long-term picture this season.

That’s a lot of bodies for a few spots, but it really isn’t. Soriano can hide as the DH next year — his right-handed power makes him useful and worth keeping around at this point — and Almonte can go back to Triple-A Scranton as a depth piece. Vernon Wells has already been marginalized this year, starting just four of the team’s last eleven and 24 of their last 43 games. That’s what happens when you’re a sub-replacement level hitter for about three months. The Yankees owe Wells $2.4M in real dollars next year, but thanks to some fancy accounting he has zero impact on the luxury tax. Being “free” might be enough to save his job.

As Matt wrote over the weekend, Granderson is a prime candidate to receive a qualifying offer after the season. They’re expected to be worth $14M this winter, which would be a pay cut from his current $15M salary. If Granderson accepts, great. They’ll make room for his power in the lineup. If he declines, the Yankees will get a supplement first round pick if he signs elsewhere. As it stands right now, making Curtis the qualifying offer is a no-brainer. I know if I was a fan of another team, Granderson would definitely someone I would be focusing on as a potential “buy low” candidate over the winter thanks to the injuries. A qualifying offer would be a no-lose situation for New York.

The question now is how expendable do the Yankees consider Granderson? Do they consider Soriano-Gardner-Ichiro with Wells and maybe Almonte on the bench to be a viable outfield? They shouldn’t, but they might. The team has made some … questionable, roster choices over the last 18 months or so. Dumping Granderson would free up a lot of space under that all-important $189M luxury tax limit, and Hal Steinbrenner has made it very, very clear that getting under the threshold is important to him. Could it be so important they don’t even risk a qualifying offer? That I doubt, at worst they’d be able to trade Granderson and his $14M before next season. We can’t know that for sure, however.

Even though the Yankees have a bunch of warm bodies slated for the outfield next year, only one of those guys (Gardner) is a legitimate above-average player. Everyone else is above-average name value with meh on-field value. If he’s willing to take a one-year pillow contract to rebuild value, Granderson would fit right into their left field picture and the middle of the lineup. If he wants a multi-year deal — it’s very possible he gets offered one, teams have a lot of money to spend but not many places to spend it these days — then chances are he’ll be suiting up elsewhere. That would be a shame, because the Yankees could use his bat next season even though they already have a bunch of warm outfield bodies under contract.

Pondering the fate of Curtis Granderson

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

I wrote about Phil Hughes’ upcoming contract yesterday*, and as I was writing it, I thought it might be fun to contemplate Curtis Granderson‘s future as well.  Specifically, I pondered whether he’ll A) remain in pinstripes, and b) if he doesn’t, what kind of contract could he be in line for on the free agent market.

Despite having an MVP caliber season in 2011, the Grandyman still has plenty of detractors. To be fair, some of the criticisms Granderson receives are legitimate gripes.  He doesn’t hit for average (career .262 BA, though he’s been about 30-40 points below that the past few seasons), he strikes out a ton (career 22.9 K%), and shows noticeable splits against lefties (career 85 wRC+ against southpaws, 132 wRC+ against righties). In 2012, he batted .232/.319/.492 (.346 wOBA, 119 wRC+) which was good for a 2.3 fWAR — a value basically equivalent to league average. This year, in limited time he’s hit .208/.333/.340 (.309 wOBA, 91 wRC+). That’s not exactly what you want to be seeing from a $15M dollar (now corner) outfielder.

However, one has to also give Curtis credit for his ability to hit the long ball, which is an increasingly valuable trait.  He hit 24 home runs in 2010 and 40+ home runs in each of the past two seasons. He’ll also show some patience (career 10.2 BB%) as well — and that shouldn’t be ignored given the impatient nature of this year’s Yankees squad.  On top of that, he can play a passable center field  though admittedly, his defense leaves something to be desired. Despite some unlucky injuries this season, he’s been pretty durable over the years, and I think it’s okay to assume he’ll be okay going forward. For what it’s worth, Granderson’s also the consummate professional and a respected ambassador of the sport, which is important for teams like the Yankees who value character and makeup.

The Yankees do have a surplus of outfielders, though I’d argue most of them are not ideally fit to be full-time starters.  I think it’s probably fair to wonder whether Granderson is more valuable than Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano, and Vernon Wells. Heck, maybe you throw Brett Gardner in the mix too. Regardless of how you rank those guys, Granderson ultimately cracks the top three choices for New York’s everyday lineup. In terms of 2014 free agents, there really aren’t many quality left fielders available (unless you count Nate McLouth, which I don’t), and the only center fielder who really poses any upgrade to Granderson is Jacoby Ellsbury (who for the record, is also a player I have my doubts about).  My point here is it may behoove the Yankees to keep Grandy around for another year even if he’s not part of the long-term plan.  Conversely, the weak market could also play to Granderson’s advantage (though 2015 could actually be an even weaker market).

Depending on how serious the Yankees are in achieving their $189M budget (or remaining competitive for that matter), a qualifying offer might be in order.  This would give Granderson an opportunity to improve his value next season and would give the Yankees a trade chip that could potentially pay off if next season doesn’t work out.  In terms of salary, Grandy is currently earning $15M so the qualifying offer wouldn’t pose much of a pay cut, which isn’t all that bad considering the fact that this year was a lost year.  Obviously, if Grandy declined the offer, the Yankees would get the compensation draft pick which helps the team as well.  Now, before we go any further, I’d like to note that I think this is going to happen.  I don’t envision the Yankees simply cutting ties with Curtis at the end of the season, and frankly, I’m okay with seeing him in pinstripes for one more season.

But what happens if the Yankees do cut ties?  Well, it’s hard to tell what the market looks like for Granderson at this point.  If this season weren’t such a disaster, I’d say he could expect a big payday — probably one comparable to his old battery mate, Nick Swisher (four years, $56M with a $14M option in 2017)  or once-capable MLB player, Jason Bay (four year, $66M with an additional club option year).  As it stands, this year has been awful though, so obviously things could go a little differently.  For what it’s worth, Swisher was given the qualifying offer, so maybe they’re willing to go that route again.

Maybe if teams feel there are some question marks surrounding Grandy’s skill set moving forward, they offer him a deal similar to Corey Hart (three years, $26.5M) now.  Although it isn’t totally relevant, I also wonder if a guy like Nelson Cruz impacts how things go.  If he ends up getting a deal better than Melky Cabrera, maybe that inflates the contracts offered for everyone who is presumably “clean.”  Granderson’s injuries were an unlucky twist of fate for him.  It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Yankees immediate future.

*As an aside, I think I’m done writing about Phil Hughes for a while.  It’s getting exhausting.

Yankees activate Curtis Granderson, and down Melky Mesa

As expected, the Yankees have activated Curtis Granderson off the 60-day DL in time for tonight’s game. He is in the lineup, batting fifth and playing left field. Melky Mesa was sent to Triple-A Scranton to clear a spot on the 25-man roster, and Thomas Neal was designated for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.

Eagerly awaiting Curtis Granderson’s return

(Martin Griff/Times of Trenton)
(Martin Griff/Times of Trenton)

To date, this has been a lost season for Curtis Granderson. Two long-ish term fluke injuries have limited him to just eight (!) of the team’s first 107 games, and the Yankees have sorely missed his power production in the middle of the lineup. The injuries also came at a bad time for Curtis personally, since he’s due to become a free agent for the first time this winter. That’s unfortunate.

The good news is that Granderson’s time on the DL is about to come to an end. He wrapped up his six-game minor league rehab assignment yesterday, going 4-for-19 (.211) with four walks and five strikeouts with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Granderson played left field in four of the six games — he was the DH in the other two, once because he had a stomach bug and couldn’t play the field as scheduled — and reported no problems with his left hand.

“Curtis has been a vital part of our offense,” said Derek Jeter to Wally Matthews. “He’s a guy that can change the game with one swing. We’re looking forward to him coming back, but just because Curtis is back doesn’t mean we can sit back and relax. Everybody has a job to do and everyone needs to do it.”

As a team, the Yankees have hit just 28 homers in 53 games since the calendar flipped to June, including a recent eight-game homer-less streak that was their longest since going ten straight in April 1984. That’s where Granderson, a flawed hitter who won’t hit for much average and will strike out a bunch, figures to give the team a big boost. They need someone who can put a run(s) on the board with one swing, and few hitters in the world can do that as well as Curtis. That his left hand was broken and not the right (front hand) bodes well for retaining that power after the injury.

There’s also this: the Yankees have become a very impatient team. They rank 19th in baseball with a 7.5% walk rate, their lowest since 1990 and their first time below 8.5% since 2001. Outside of Brett Gardner, who is seventh in baseball with an average of 4.24 pitches per plate appearance, not a single regular sees more than 3.75 pitches per plate appearance. That’s awful and leads to a lot of quick outs, as you may have noticed. In addition to hitting for power, one of Granderson’s strengths is drawing walks (11.0% in 2012, 10.1 % career) and seeing pitches (4.27 P/PA in 2012, 4.16 career). That will be a welcome addition to the offense.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Although the Yankees are lefty-heavy, it won’t be tough to squeeze Granderson’s bat back into the lineup. I assume Melky Mesa will be sent to Triple-A to clear a 25-man roster spot and either Luis Cruz or Zoilo Almonte will be transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man spot, but that’s the easy part. Granderson should play left field every day, pushing Alfonso Soriano into the DH role. Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells will have to duke it out for playing time in right. The regular lineup could look something like this:

  1. CF Gardner
  2. SS Jeter
  3. 2B Robinson Cano
  4. LF Granderson
  5. DH Soriano
  6. 1B Lyle Overbay
  7. RF Ichiro or Wells
  8. Third Base
  9. Catcher

That splits up the lefties a bit, rather than batting Soriano cleanup and having three straight lefty bats from the five through seven slots whenever Ichiro plays. It’s not perfect, but that suddenly looks like a competitive big league lineup. Four guys you can expect to be above-average, two you can expect to be about average, and three that range from below-average to awful. It’s not a classic Yankees lineup, but it’s far better than what they’ve trotted out there for most of the season.

So, this is it. The Yankees are at full strength now. With the exception of Alex Rodriguez, who is facing a Biogenesis-related suspension, all of the injured position players will be back as soon as Granderson is activated. Frankie Cervelli is heading to see Dr. Andrews and is unlikely to play again this year, and the trio of Cruz, Almonte, and Travis Hafner are largely inconsequential. This is it barring an August waiver trade. With Curtis back, the Yankees are as close to full strength as they’re going to get, and now is the time to make a run at that second wildcard spot.