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.

Granderson reaches base three times in latest rehab game

In his latest minor league rehab game with Double-A Trenton this afternoon, Curtis Granderson went 1-for-3 with two walks and a strikeout. He singled to left on a jam shot and flew out to center. Granderson played the entire game at DH, and there’s a good chance he will join the Yankees when they open their series against the Padres in San Diego. That is not yet official, however.

Granderson triples, Phelps throws four innings in rehab game

In his latest minor league rehab game with Double-A Trenton, Curtis Granderson went 1-for-3 with a walk and a triple to right field. He popped out to third and flew out to center in his other two at-bats. Granderson played six innings in left field as well, though his bat is more of a concern at this point given the nature of his injury (hand). Mike Ashmore says Curtis will play with the Thunder again tomorrow, and rumor has it he could rejoin the team for the Padres series this weekend.

In the same game, David Phelps (forearm) allowed one run on three hits and two walks in four innings. He struck out six and got four ground ball outs compared to one in the air (popup). The other out came on a pickoff by the catcher. Phelps threw 50 of his 76 pitches for strikes (66%). I don’t know what the plan is now, but I assume he’ll make one more rehab start before joining the team unless the big league club suddenly needs a pitcher.

Granderson goes hitless in latest minor league rehab game

In his latest minor league rehab game with High-A Tampa, Curtis Granderson went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He flew out to center and grounded out to first in his other two at-bats while playing the entire game at DH. Nicholas Flammia says Granderson will work out in Tampa tomorrow and continue his rehab stint with Double-A Trenton on Tuesday. Before this afternoon’s game, Joe Girardi hinted Curtis could be return to the team for next weekend’s series against the Padres.

Granderson hitless, Nix doubles in latest minor league rehab games

In his second minor league rehab game with High-A Tampa, Curtis Granderson went 0-for-3 with a strikeout. He flew out to center and grounded out to second in his other two at-bats. Granderson played five innings in left field and had to field a few fly balls and scoop some base hits in front of him. Getting comfortable at the plate is more important than his defense given the nature of the injury. He’s expected to stay with Tampa through the weekend.

In the same game, Jayson Nix went 1-for-4 with a double to right field. He flew out to right, grounded out to short, and a lined out to short in his other three at-bats. He played seven innings at third base and booted a ground ball. Nix is working his way back from a hamstring problem and is much further along in his rehab than Granderson. Not sure what the plan is for him, but I suppose there’s a chance he’ll be ready in time to join the team before next week’s trip to the West Coast. Don’t quote me on that though. We’ll find out soon enough.