The first blockbuster trade of the 2009-2010 offseason has happened, pending medicals. The particulars:
- Arizona Diamondbacks receive SP Edwin Jackson (Detroit), SP Ian Kennedy (New York).
- Detroit Tigers receive SP Max Scherzer (Arizona), SP Daniel Schlereth (Arizona), CF Austin Jackson (Yankees), RP Phil Coke (Yankees)
- New York Yankees receive CF Curtis Granderson (Detroit).
Let’s look at the deal from each team’s perspective, then we’ll round it up with a consensus.
Most of the befuddlement around the three-way swap is why Arizona would want to swap Max Scherzer, a potential high-impact starter, to acquire two lesser ceiling pitchers.
To tackle Scherzer first, the 25-year old just completed his first full season in the big leagues. It was a nice start to his career, as Scherzer posted a 4.12 ERA in 170.1 innings (30 games started). Striking out 174, Scherzer’s main drawback was coughing up 20 home runs. This figure stands to improve now that he’s been sent off to Detroit and the gap-friendly Comerica Park. The fireballing right-hander is just the type of pitcher Detroit needs, especially as ace Justin Verlander inches towards free agency.
The flip side is that Scherzer is at risk for a major injury, as explained by Corey Dawkins in the 2010 Hardball Times Annual. As Dawkin explains, Scherzer had multiple instances of shoulder tendinitis during his senior season at the University of Missouri (2006). When Scherzer finally took the mound in late 2007 (contract dispute) he yo-yoed between being healthy and battling shoulder inflammation, culminating in a DL stint to start 2009 thanks to shoulder tightness.
Dawkins also cites his velocity loss. Before hitting the disabled list in 2008, Scherzer averaged around 93-94 mph with his fastball, his average in 2009 as well. However, when he returned “from the minor league DL in 2008, he was at 95 mph or greater in five of his six starts.” Could Arizona be cashing in on Scherzer’s uncertain future? Do they think Scherzer may be a Tommy John/torn labrum surgery candidate down the road?
Jackson, 26, is coming off what could be considered a breakthrough year. With a 3.62 ERA in 214 innings, there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic about E-Jax as a durable pitcher down the road, one who is less than a year older than Scherzer. While his first-half ERA was a tremendous 2.52, his second-half was at 5.07, which is what a lot of people are pointing to as an indicator Jackson is not a good pitcher. While that 3.62 ERA is a little over his head, Jackson should settle in as a 4.00-4.25 ERA-type starter for the next several years. His step forward in command was a positive indicator and again, he’s young. Durable pitchers who can slot in as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter are tough to find. Amid questions about Scherzer’s injury history and questionable durability, the Diamondbacks chose the safer route.
The major negative I hold against Jackson is his price. Jackson is under team control for two more years and is certain to get an arbitration salary around $4-5 million thanks to his successful season. That number will only rise in 2011, and then he hits free agency at the tender age of 28. If Jackson can approximate over 200 innings pitched and a cumulative ERA around 4.25 in the next two years, he’ll be looking at a very nice payday in free agency — one Arizona may not be able to avoid. That seems rather shortsighted of them.
They also received Ian Kennedy in the deal, whom we’ll cover when we look at who the Yankees gave up.
The Tigers come away in this deal with the most commodities, having brought in four players to town. Is it enough to make up for trading a star centerfielder who is under team control through 2012 with a club option for 2013? Probably not. Granderson was set to make a scant $5.5 million in 2010, although his salary was then set to zoom through the roof, ending up at $10 million in 2012. For Granderson, that’s still being undervalued.
But let’s look at who comes to Motown, now that Detroit has cleared around $10 million off their 2010 books.
The big name is Max Scherzer, whom we covered previously in the Arizona section. His potential impact on a Detroit ballclub, barring injury, could be huge. Scherzer has a great power pitcher’s build and could emerge as a dominant one-two punch along with Justin Verlander. In a region dominated by flagging revenues, the Tigers also must be considering a post-Verlander future that can be assuaged by Scherzer’s presence. It seems clear that Jackson’s failure in the second half scared the team, as well as his rising salary.
Also coming to them from the desert is lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth. The 23-year old had a rough major league debut, but blew through the minor leagues in two seasons, whiffing 60 in 39.2 innings. He was ranked Arizona’s third-best prospect entering 2009, with Baseball America saying that “Schlereth is perfectly suited to a role at the back of a bullpen. He has an explosive fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a power curveball that’s also a plus pitch, not to mention the adrenaline and makeup for the role. He showed good control of both pitches last spring and summer.” The lefty certainly has to be considered Detroit’s future closer and could end 2010 in that very role.
Phil Coke is a left-handed reliever from New York who throws hard. That’s about all you can say about the 27-year old. He was especially prone to the long-ball, which should be mitigated somewhat by moving to Comerica Park. He has a shot to emerge as a setup man, but nothing much past that.
Austin Jackson was tabbed New York’s best prospect of 2009 and if he hadn’t been traded, stood a good bet of repeating that honor in 2010. Jackson won’t overwhelm you with his game, but he won’t cause you to gnash your teeth, either. The 22-year old hit .300/.354/.405 in Triple-A, cranking 23 doubles and banging out four home runs. As he grows older, he should increase his power output and should top 10 home runs on a regular basis. Listening to people describe Austin Jackson made me keep hearkening back to J.D. Drew: each of his facets of the game ranges from average to good. Jackson probably won’t be a star, but he’s absolutely a bona fide starter on a championship team. He’s no Curtis Granderson, though, although he does gain the platoon advantage that New York will have to work around.
New York Yankees
And now we come to Curtis Granderson. I’m going to put him off him for a minute to finish up the other part of the deal: Ian Kennedy.
Kennedy had a nice debut in 2007, throwing three sharp games at the age of 22. Much like a player 202 miles north in Boston, Kennedy stumbled massively in 2008 when handed a more significant role. He then suffered an aneurysm in his right arm which knocked him out for most of 2009. He came back strong late in the game, tossing four starts of a 1.59 ERA and 3.57 K/BB before moving to the Arizona Fall League where he turned heads with his stuff. The righty credited the AFL success due to increased confidence in his cutter and two-seam fastball. That’s not all that he did well, though. As Adam Foster tweets, Kennedy’s changeup was dominating as well.
The book on Kennedy projects him as a back-of-the-rotation starter. I would argue that that’s Kennedy’s worse-case scenario, especially moving to the National League. That’s why I’m cautiously optimistic from Arizona’s perspective. Assuming the team whiffed on projecting Scherzer’s injury history, they still come away with two above-average starters they can stick in their rotation — one of which is cost-controlled for years to come.
As for Granderson, he’s the star of the trade. Quite frankly, I’m baffled at how little New York had to give up to bring a game-changer to town. Early reports had the deal minus Schlereth and plus Michael Dunn from the Yankees. Dunn is a converted pitcher with a big arm. At the end of the day, though, he’s still a middle reliever. Hearing that the Yankees did not want to do the former iteration of the deal made me chuckle. It was simply a posturing move to have to give up less — and it worked. Credit the Yankees for holding their ground and getting the other two teams to blink. Make no mistake about it, though: the Yankees would not have walked away from including Dunn if the deal was at an impasse and only Dunn would get it… well, done.
Granderson had an off 2009 compared with his previous seasons, but still managed to crank 30 home runs. As a left-hander moving to a lefty-power friendly park, I’m not ruling out 40 jacks for the 29-year old.
As the team looks to get younger and more athletic, Granderson was the logical choice. The one knock against Granderson is his platoon splits, as he is a complete and utter liability against left-handers. The payoff on the strong side makes it worth it, though. New York can just carry a platoon outfielder on the bench, which figures to strengthen the bench more than if they had a “regular” bench player in the fourth outfielder position — assuming the Yankees even platoon Granderson. Given the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium, the club may try to squeeze out production against left-handers until they evaluate themselves his ability to hit lefties.
While Granderson’s personality doesn’t really manifest itself on the field, Yankee fans have come to realize the value of a strong clubhouse with likable players. Granderson should fit in perfectly, and should become a tremendous fan favorite in the Big Apple. He was the face of the franchise back in Motown, and Detroit fans are absolutely agonized over losing Granderson. Apparently the team will even lose season tickets over this deal.
The fallout from this deal is immediately manifested in the Yankees’ ability to play hardball with Johnny Damon. I don’t think they should hardball him to the point where Damon will walk, though. Damon is a great player in left field for the club, and there’s no way I see the Yankees settling for Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera in the corner. One of the two is likely to be dealt for a reliever (Cubs?), and Damon resigned. If Damon walks, the club can just go sign one of the other left-fielders in the free agent market to bring pop to the lineup.
Tying all of the analysis together, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Yankees clearly won their end of the deal while the Tigers took a major, major risk in dealing Granderson that may not pay off. The pieces the Tigers got will certainly extend their competitive window as well as reduce payroll, but I don’t see Scherzer or Jackson (Austin) being the impact player that Granderson was. From Arizona’s perspective, I can understand their stance — assuming it’s injury-related — but I’m a bit baffled as to why they chose Edwin Jackson, who will quickly price himself out of Arizona’s budget. From a “win-now” perspective, Arizona could see a benefit to the deal. Long-term, this deal from their perspective will be judged by Max Scherzer’s career — which might be Detroit’s saving grace for dealing Granderson.