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People v. Curtis Granderson

Curtis Granderson listens to a question from the

Curtis Granderson listens to a question from the media before Game 4 of the ALCS. (Oct. 18, 2012) Credit: AP

In baseball free agency, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. Fans who will do anything to keep their favorite players and fans who have no problem kicking any player to the curb.

This is Part 4 of our series looking at upcoming free agents for the Mets and Yankees and arguing for and against keeping them.

(Insert the "Law & Order" clang, clang here, just in case you didn't already catch the reference.)

The case:

Curtis Granderson is a 31-year-old centerfielder for the Yankees. The Yankees hold a $15 million club option on him for the 2013 season with a $2 million buyout. The option was originally $13 million, but increased because he finished fourth in MVP voting during the 2011 season. A poor 2012 postseason, however, has made his return to the Yankees somewhat questionable.

The facts:

Granderson is a three-time All-Star and has twice finished in the top 10 of the American League MVP voting. He has a .262 average, .341 on-base percentage and 210 home runs during his nine-year career. He spent the first six seasons of his career in Detroit before a trade sent him to New York. In 2011 he led the AL in runs (136) and RBIs (119), while also finishing with 41 home runs. He hit 43 home runs in 2012, becoming only the fifth Yankee to hit at least 40 home runs in back-to-back seasons.

The prosecution:

In Detroit, Granderson was a dynamic player. An above-average centerfielder with speed and pop. He wasn't a star, but he was a solid and dependable second-tier player.

Since the trade that made him a Yankee, Granderson has become a two-true-outcomes player: he hits lots of home runs and he strikes out a lot.

Prior to coming to New York, Granderson never hit more than 30 home runs, and normally hit in the low-to-mid 20s. He also never had a batting average below .249 in any full season, and managed to hit anywhere from 23-38 doubles per year.

But somewhere near the end of his injury plagued first season with the Yankees, 2010, Granderson became seduced by the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium and began to become a home run hitter. After hitting 102 home runs in six seasons in Detroit, he hit 108 in three seasons with the Yankees. The change didn't cause too much worry in 2011 because Granderson maintained a .262 average and .364 OBP while also stealing 25 bases.

Then pitchers figured out that Granderson was just taking big hacks, and he stopped getting so many fastballs. His percentage of sliders went up 2.3 percent from 2011 to 2012 and his curveball percentage went up 1.5 percent. At the end of the year Granderson hit .232 and had just a .319 OBP. He followed that up by going 3-for-30 in the postseason, including 0-for-11 in the ALCS.

From 2007-2009 with Detroit, Granderson kept his strikeout rate below 20.9 percent. He put more balls in play, and with his speed, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was over .300 in 2007 and 2008. He hit .302 and .280 those years, respectively. With the Yankees, his strikeout rate has risen every year, from 22 percent in 2010 to 24.5 percent in 2011 to 28.5 percent in 2012. He hasn't posted an average over .262 with the Yankees.

Despite being one of the leading home run hitters in all of baseball, Granderson posted just a 2.6 WAR, an advanced stat that measures the number of wins a player adds over a replacement-level player. That figure tied him for 90th in MLB for all qualified batters.

Then there's Granderson's declining defensive performance. In 2010, he posted a 7.9 UZR/150, an advanced stat that measures a player's ability to get to balls hit in his zone. In 2011 that number dropped to -5.3 and in 2012 it fell to a career-worst -18.2.

It seems the Grandy Man actually can't.

The defense:

We're talking about the New York Yankees and home runs. They go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Granderson is the perfect fit for the Yankees.

This is not the 2009 Yankees. This team isn't stocked with superior home run hitters. It has several aging players who can manage anywhere from 15-25 homers. That makes Granderson's presence all the more important. He's a true home run threat, and it's not as if he isn't being productive with his at-bats. He's driven in over 100 runs in each of the last two seasons, also scoring over 100 runs during that time.

He's a speed threat, with 47 stolen bases in three seasons as a Yankee, in a lineup full of slower players.

And, this past October aside, he's performed in the playoffs.

Prior to this season, Granderson hit .312 with two home runs in three playoff series' with the Yankees. He's a .267 postseason hitter with five home runs and 16 RBIs overall, discounting this postseason.

Are we really going to run a guy out of town who just led the team in home runs because he had a single bad year in the playoffs? If that was the solution, A-Rod would have been gone after 2004. Or 2005. Or...well, you get the point.

Granderson is a valuable asset to the Yankees because he compensates for their current weaknesses: superb power and speed.

The Yankees have to keep Curtis.

The verdict:

This is actually an easier decision for the Yankees than it otherwise would be because of the presence of Brett Gardner. Gardner is an extraordinary fielder and his natural position is center. And he's a major speed threat.

With Granderson only a year away from free agency, and prospects of a long-term deal looking shaky (he'll be 33 when he starts the 2014 season), it makes sense for the Yankees to pick up the option—and then trade Granderson.

Gardner slides into center field, the Yankees re-sign Ichiro and then plug a free agent power bat into left field on a one-year deal (think a Torii Hunter type). The Yankees save a $15 million price tag for a streaky and subpar-fielding centerfielder, get a player or two in return and revamp an outfield that, for the most part, severely underperformed in the playoffs.


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