Thursday, December 10, 2009

Weighing the Granderson Deal From All Angles

Dec. 10, 2009
By Anthony Tripicchio

Believe it or not, Curtis Granderson isn’t the only player involved in the three-way pact capable of making an instantaneous impact.

You’ve already seen my assessment of the move from the Yankees' perspective so below is a more thorough analysis of the packages received by both Detroit and Arizona:

Detroit Tigers: SP Max Scherzer, OF Austin Jackson, LHP Dan Schlereth and LHP Phil Coke

The Tigers, in an obvious payroll slashing mode, prioritized moving both Granderson and Edwin Jackson this offseason. Little did they know they would land a stud starter who is not only capable of outperforming Jackson right away, but one who is younger and inexpensive. They have to be ecstatic that they were able to pry Scherzer away from the Diamondbacks.

Scherzer, a 24-year-old fireballer, averaged more than a strikeout per inning in 30 starts in 2009. A victim of the Diamondbacks’ anemic lineup, he won just nine games despite posting a respectable 4.12 ERA. The 6-3 Scherzer throws a violent fastball in the mid 90s with a nasty slider and changeup (changeup grip pictured) to round out his arsenal.

Scherzer’s mechanics are flawed, which lead some to question his long-term durability. Assuming the Tigers are smart with him, their outstanding trio of frontline starters (Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Scherzer) can remain intact for many years to come.

While Scherzer is poised for a breakout season, the Tigers may need to exercise patience with center fielder Austin Jackson. The 22 year-old batted .298 with four homers and 64 RBIs this past season at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

Though he may be ready defensively, Jackson’s three to one strikeout to walk ratio suggests otherwise at the plate. Further, his lowly .404 SLG suggests it’s unrealistic to expect power at the next level right now.

If Detroit deems him ready to start the season in the majors, they will bank on him playing plus defense and hope that he can utilize his speed to generate some extra base hits at the plate.

Pitchers Dan Schlereth and Phil Coke provide the Tigers with two different types of lefties. Schlereth has a live arm and if he can harness his control, could eventually be used in the back of the bullpen.

Coke, on the other hand, has the ability to start or setup depending on Detroit’s needs. He setup for the Yankees all season and was the primary lefty up until the postseason emergence of Damaso Marte.

Arizona Diamondbacks: SP Edwin Jackson, and SP Ian Kennedy

Once a prized prospect, Edwin Jackson was an abject failure as a big league pitcher until he made strides with 14 wins in 2008 for Tampa Bay. Then the Rays stunned everyone by sending Jackson to Detroit for the unheralded Matt Joyce.

Joyce could only muster 32 unproductive at bats in Tampa Bay while he languished in the minors for most of the season. Meanwhile, Detroit reaped the benefits of Jackson’s immense progress, especially in the first half when he went 7-4 with a 2.52 ERA.

Overall, he shaved eight tenths of a run off of his ERA in 2009 to 3.62 and trimmed his WHIP to a serviceable 1.26 in the AL.

Though he slowed down considerably after the All-Star break, Jackson finally displayed the promise of a big-time starter. His second half struggles can be attributed to him surpassing the 200 innings mark for the first time in his career. Crucial to his overall success was his ability to limit his walks to 70 in 214 innings, his lowest total as a starter.

Still, it’s hard to believe Arizona would be so quick to rid themselves of Scherzer unless they believed Ian Kennedy was a legitimate pitcher for the long haul.

Kennedy, who will turn 25 in 10 days, was once mentioned in the same breath with Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Injuries have beset the former 2006 first round pick and he was most recently sidetracked by an aneurysm.

Fortunately, Kennedy has fully recovered and pitched in Winter Ball to confirm as much. Kennedy’s stuff is not overpowering as his fastball tops out in the low 90s and he is reliant on his command to be effective.

Yankee officials have whispered that they believe Kennedy can win 12 games in the offensively challenged NL West. Afforded an opportunity to showcase his underappreciated ability, Kennedy is the linchpin of the three-way deal.

His upside is as high as a No. 2 starter. If he fails, Diamondbacks’ GM Josh Byrnes will join a crowded unemployment line.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Granderson Trade Depletes Farm, Handcuffs Halladay Talks

Dec. 9, 2009
By Anthony Tripicchio

Curtis Granderson, an All-Star center fielder acquired at the Indianapolis Winter Meetings, improves the Yankees’ 25-man roster immediately. Making him a top priority this offseason, however, was a mistake.

Two-time 20 game winner Roy Halladay is capable of swinging the balance of power in the AL by himself. Granderson, though a valuable player, is not.

A rotation of CC Sabathia, Halladay, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes would make the Yankees an indestructible force. With Halladay still available, the door is open for the Red Sox and Angels to close the gap on the champs.

While Granderson is a nice addition, he came at a price of two upper echelon prospects in Triple-A, starting pitcher Ian Kennedy and outfielder Austin Jackson. Those blue chippers could have been used in a package to land ace and division foe Halladay.

Now, if the Yankees wish to pursue Halladay, it will almost assuredly cost catcher Jesus Montero, the undisputed best prospect in their system, as a starting point. The aftermath of sacrificing Montero would leave the Yankees nearly barren of Double-A and Triple-A talent and limit trade maneuverability for several years.

Not to mention that the 20-year-old Montero hit .337 with 17 homers and 70 RBIs in an injury shortened 347 at bats last season in the minors. Montero will start the season in Triple-A and if he continues to hit at that rigorous pace, will be ready for the Big Show by the All-Star Break. He’s a rare find that GM Brian Cashman would be foolish to part with.

To be fair, Montero’s defensive abilities have been questioned by scouts and many envision him as a first baseman down the road. Mark Teixeira presents a road block there so the Yankees will continue to monitor his defensive development at catcher where he could be an offensive standout at the position.

With the future discussed, let’s move on to Granderson, the man that Cashman has made part of the present.

Granderson hit .249 with 30 homers and 71 RBIs last year for the Tigers. His .327 OBP was the lowest of his career as a full-time player. More troubling, perhaps, is his .183 average against left-handed pitching.
His paralysis against lefties is more a trend than an aberration as he’s hit just .202 against southpaws over the past three seasons. The Yankees routinely pounded lefties in 2009.

In Granderson’s defense, Comerica Park is a spacious pitcher’s park which likely transformed some of his homers into doubles and triples. The fabled right field short porch in Yankee Stadium should treat him more altruistically. Johnny Damon found the new stadium charitable last season as he hit a career high 24 homers, a fact that undoubtedly entered into Cashman’s mind as he pulled the trigger on the deal.

The Yankees would love to see Granderson duplicate his earth shattering 2007 season when he hit .302 with 23 homers and 74 RBI and tallied an astounding 84 extra-base hits. As a complementary player in New York surrounded by stars, he won’t need to produce robust numbers, but he’s proven that he has the potential to do so.

With Granderson secured at a reasonable salary for $25.75 million over three seasons, the Yankees have flexibility while they decide whether to retain Damon and World Series MVP Hideki Matsui. As it stands, the Yankees have leverage and can play Matsui against Damon in negotiations. They no longer need someone to play left field since they will shift Nick Swisher or Melky Cabrera there.

The designated hitter spot is the void in the lineup. Matsui, as a result, is more of a fit than originally perceived.