With their 8-1 drubbing of the Yankees on Thursday night, the Detroit Tigers completed one of the most surprising, captivating and convincing ALCS sweeps in major league history.
Right-handed strikeout maven Max Scherzer started the contest for Detroit, punching out 10 in just 5.2 innings. Lefty reliever Phil Coke finished it with two perfect frames in relief. And star centerfielder Austin Jackson notched two hits for the victorious Tigers, including a solo home run in the seventh inning to put Detroit up 7-1.
All three players arrived in Motown a little less than three years ago in a blockbuster trade that involved their Friday night foes from the Bronx. In exchange for the talent-laden trio, Detroit sent All-Star centerfielder Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and starting pitcher Edwin Jackson to Arizona.
On Thursday, the contrast between former trade partners couldn't have been clearer.
Granderson began the game on New York's bench, whiffing in his lone pinch-hit appearance to finish the 2012 postseason with a .100 batting average and an astonishing 16 strikeouts. Jackson was busy nursing the wounds of an early playoff exit, as a member of the Washington Nationals.
You already know what the aforementioned Tigers did.
Of course, one can't properly evaluate such a seismic shift in personnel based on one game or series.
So with Game 4 as our exploratory impetus, let's take a look at how each player involved in the trade has fared since swapping uniforms.
Austin Jackson — .280/.346/.416, 106 OPS+, 14.9 rWAR
Max Scherzer — 578.1 IP, 3.17 SO/BB, 3.89 ERA, 107 ERA+
Phil Coke — 227.1 IP, 2.06 SO/BB, 4.16 ERA, 100 ERA+
Daniel Schlereth — 74.2 IP, 1.50 SO/BB, 3.98 ERA, 106 ERA+
Curtis Granderson — .247/.337/.506, 122 OPS+, 12.0 rWAR
Ian Kennedy — 624.1 IP, 3.07 SO/BB, 3.55 ERA, 116 ERA+
Edwin Jackson — 134.1 IP, 1.73 SO/BB, 5.16 ERA, 82 ERA+ (Jackson was traded to White Sox midway through 2010 for pitching prospects David Holmberg and Daniel Hudson. He signed with the Washington Nationals as a free agent last winter.)
Stats alone paint a favorable picture for Detroit. Jackson, Scherzer and Coke have all played well since the trade, and, perhaps just as important, played frequently. Schlereth is injured at the moment, but has showed promise as a relief arm.
The Yankees have profited, too. If you isolate offensive production, Granderson has been the best player in the deal. Jackson has the higher WAR, but that's due to his defensive aptitude.
If you're among those who distrust advanced fielding metrics, you might argue that the offensive gap between Granderson and Jackson over the last three years negates the value added by Scherzer's slightly above-average mound work and Coke's marginal results as a reliever.
Which is to say that I could understand how someone with pinstriped glasses might look at the last three years of data and conclude that the trade was a draw.
But the trade isn't over, and looking back only tells us so much.
That in mind, let's run another side-by-side comparison, this time listing each player's age, 2012 salary, salary status for next year and earliest date of free agency.
Austin Jackson — 25, $500,000, Arbitration eligible, 2016
Max Scherzer — 28, $3.75 million, Arbitration eligible, 2015
Phil Coke — 30, $1.1 million, Arbitration eligible, 2015
Daniel Schlereth — 26, $490,000, Pre-Arbitration, 2017
Curtis Granderson — 31, $10 million, $13 million team option/$2 million buyout, 2013
Ian Kennedy — 27, $519,000, Arbitration eligible, 2016
Edwin Jackson — (no longer with team)
This is where the lightbulb goes off, the point where you press your palm against your forehead and shout, "Holy crap, the Tigers robbed the Yankees blind!"
Detroit has two emerging talents—Jackson and Scherzer—under team control at an affordable rate through the 2014 season. Better yet, those arbitration years coincide with what standard baseball aging curves tell us should be their athletic primes.
And the numbers back it up. Jackson and Scherzer both notched career highs in WAR this past season, prime evidence that each player is trending up.
New York, meanwhile, must navigate the treacherous fiscal territory that comes with an expensive player in obvious decline.
Burdened by a career high in strikeouts, Granderson's OBP and WAR both hit seven-season lows in 2012. Adding to the gloom, his OPS suffered a 100-point drop from the year prior.
Now New York has to decide whether or not Granderson, entering his age-32 season, is worth an additional $13 million next season. Once he hits free agency, the commitment grows even steeper in terms of years and guaranteed dollars.
The Yankees, being the Yankees, can afford to pony up.
But should they? And with the Bombers aiming to stay under the luxury tax beginning in 2014, will they?
On the other side of the trade ledger, the Tigers have no such hang-ups.
They already have their centerfielder of the future in house, along with a pitcher as promising as any in baseball.
Each has the potential to forge an All-Star career—just as soon as they get the champagne out of their eyes.
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