Most of the attention during the hot stove season will be focused on Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, yet there is another extremely talented outfielder who won't command nearly as much in a contract but who can provide excellent value.
Of course, I am referring to Curtis Granderson.
Before I get into the reasons why I love Granderson in this year's market, especially compared to Choo or Ellsbury, it is important to note that he might not be available.
The 32-year-old's contract with the New York Yankees ended after the 2013 season, but the team made a qualifying offer (one year, $14.1 million) that he has until November 11 to accept.
That could also limit Granderson's market, because if he turns it down, there is a draft-pick compensation attached. Teams with a top-10 pick are protected, but everyone else will risk forfeiting their first-round selection.
Granderson told MLB Network Radio that he's considering the Yankees' offer, but finding the right situation is the most important thing (via New York Daily News):
Well, it's definitely something you've got to think about and I appreciate the Yankees extending that offer to me. You definitely got to continue to weigh all your options to see what's the best fit for you. ... You know, there are 29 other ball clubs out there and we're now at a point where every team has the chance to be a contender here in the near future.
With that caveat out of the way, Granderson has a lot of upside for a team in need of an offensive upgrade in left field. It would be wise to bet on a strong bounce-back season or two from a player who's proven himself to be one of the premiere power hitters in the game when healthy.
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Another aspect of Granderson's game that makes him a valuable offensive weapon is his speed. He's no longer a player with plus speed capable of stealing 20-25 bases like he did annually with the Tigers, but he did swipe eight bags in just 61 games last year and has always rated as an above-average baserunner, according to Fangraphs' metrics.
Ellsbury and Choo will get more in a contract from some teams this winter than Granderson, which has to be taken into account.
First, Granderson is the "elder statsmen" of the group. He will turn 33 in March and is two years removed from posting even respectable on-base percentage totals (.319 in 2012, .317 in 2013 compared to .364 in 2011).
Choo won't turn 32 until July, and Ellsbury just turned 30 in September. Ellsbury also has the benefit of being a true center fielder, which is a position neither Granderson or Choo should play at this point in their careers.
Which player would you most like to give a free-agent contract to?
Granderson played most of his games last season in center, though the Yankees also played him in the corner spots 27 times. His limited range and poor routes make him an ideal left fielder moving forward.
A player like Ellsbury, who is a terrific defender in center field and elite base stealer, offers more upside than Granderson, but he's also the biggest injury risk among these three players. He played in just 18 games in 2010, 74 games in 2012 and missed a month in 2013 with a foot problem.
Choo, for the most part, has remained healthy since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2008. He missed 77 games in 2011 but has played at least 144 games every other year since 2009.
Last year was also the first year in Granderson's career where injuries cost him a significant chunk of the season. Prior to this season, he had never missed more than 26 games in a year since becoming an everyday player in 2006.
His injury problems in 2013 weren't because of fragility, just freak accidents that occasionally happen on the field. Granderson was hit by a pitch in spring training that broke his forearm, and he suffered a broken finger after getting hit by a pitch in late May against Tampa Bay.
Hand injuries are notorious for sapping a player's power numbers. It was a big story surrounding Justin Upton in 2012 when he hit just 17 home runs with a .430 slugging percentage. He rebounded nicely with 27 homers and a .464 slugging percentage in 2013.
Dustin Pedroia admitted to Jackie MacMullan of ESPN Boston after the Red Sox won the World Series that he played all season with a torn ligament in his thumb that will require surgery, which helps explain that .415 slugging percentage, his lowest since becoming the everyday second baseman in 2007.
Finding a team that can evaluate Granderson well enough to give him the kind of contract he wants, especially if draft compensation is attached, will be problematic, because his contact and walk rates have gotten worse since his MVP-caliber 2011 season.
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Keith Law of ESPN, who ranked Granderson No. 13 on his Top 50 Free Agents List (Insider subscription required), said he would give the outfielder a three-year deal in the $40-45 million range.
While that does seem like a hefty price to pay for a player with the kinds of limitations and red flags Granderson has, it is important to remember that Choo and Ellsbury are likely to command five-year contracts in excess of $20 million per season.
All three players are severely limited against left-handed pitching, though it isn't likely to hurt Choo or Ellsbury because of their respective ages and 2013 slash lines.
You can say what you want about Granderson's inability to make contact, yet his power never suffers against left- or right-handed pitchers. Choo's slugging percentage, by comparison, is more than 200 points higher (.526) against righties from 2010-13 (compiled from FanGraphs.com).
Granderson may not have the superstar upside of those two players anymore, but considering a deal like the one Law proposes is less than what Nick Swisher (four years, $56 million) and Michael Bourn (four years, $48 million) got last year from Cleveland, and the track record of performance before 2013, especially the always-hard-to-find power, he's hardly a risky investment.
When you have three players, all with at least one notable flaw, the best of the bunch is usually the one who will cost the least in years and dollars. Granderson has little leverage, especially compared to Choo and Ellsbury, so he is the one you should want your team to sign.
In fact, looking at the money that gets handed out to players who can hit home runs, Granderson has the potential to be one of the best bargains on the market this winter.
All contract information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts unless otherwise noted.
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