The news that the New York Yankees are near completing a deal for Detroit’s Curtis Granderson caught a lot of Yankee fans by surprise.
Casual fans may know little about Granderson. Most talk of the deal has focused on the fact that Granderson is an All-Star center fielder.
But former Tigers 1st base coach Andy Van Slyke has seen Granderson up close. A former major league center field himself, Van Slyke doesn't think much of Granderson's defense.
While Van Slyke praised Granderson highly as a person and a teammate—if he had a daughter he would want her to marry Granderson—his thoughts of the outfielder's skills were not as positive.
In today’s New York Post, Van Slyke was quoted as saying that Granderson is not a pure center fielder and would be better positioned at one of the corner outfield positions.
If Van Slyke is right about Granderson, then the question has to be asked whether the Yankees will be better defensively with him roaming center field instead of Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner?
That makes you wonder whether Yankees' General Manager Brian Cashman has already thought about putting Granderson in left field to replace Johnny Damon if he is not re-signed.
Analysts at ESPN were asking some of the same questions today. They pointed out that Granderson was not great in center for the Tigers in 2009, often having trouble tracking the ball.
So if Granderson is not an upgrade in center field, is his offense such an improvement that it warranted the Yankees giving away a promising stud in Austin Jackson, a first round draft pick in Ian Kennedy, and a left-handed reliever in Phil Coke?
Comparing Granderson to either Damon or Melky Cabrera still leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
Over the past three seasons Granderson has had fewer hits, doubles, home runs, and RBI than Damon. He has also walked less than Damon, had a lower batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS+ than Damon. The only area where Granderson has surpassed Damon is in runs scored—with 30 more runs over the three year period.
The biggest advantage that Granderson seems to have over Damon is that he is eight years younger and might have a brighter future than the aging Damon.
Granderson’s comparison with Melky is not much better. In 2009 Melky hit 25 points higher with a better on-base percentage, and his OPS+ was only one point less than Granderson's.
Melky had 485 at-bats compared to 631 for Granderson, but Cabrera's 68 RBI are almost as good as Granderson's 71. On top of that, Melky struck out only 59 times compared to Granderson’s 141.
So it would not appear that Granderson is going to be a major upgrade offensively over Cabrera. The only place where Granderson is significantly better is in home runs, having hit 17 more.
For the second season in a row Cashman has brought in an outfielder coming off a down year, is prone to strike out too much, and has serious questions defensively.
Nick Swisher won a lot of fans in New York, but undoubtedly would have had a much smaller role if Xavier Nady had remained healthy.
Serious concern has to overcome fans who consider the number of strikeouts that Granderson and Swisher will rack up in 2010 if they play in the same outfield.
Neither general managers nor fans have crystal balls. Only time will tell how good a deal Cashman made in acquiring Granderson.
Many questions will remain until that time unfolds.