Would Yankees Re-Signing Nick Swisher Be Worth Trading Away Curtis Granderson?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterAugust 30, 2012

June 1, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson (right) receives congratulations from right fielder Nick Swisher (33) after hitting a grand slam home run during the second inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

By now, one gets the sense that most fans of the New York Yankees have come to terms with the very real possibility that Nick Swisher won't be back in pinstripes in 2013.

In fact, the recent report from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com that claimed Swisher is looking for Jayson Werth money in free agency may as well have sealed the deal. It certainly had me thinking that Swisher's time in pinstripes is nearing its inevitable end.

Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News would have everyone think otherwise.

In an article published on Wednesday, Feinsand argued that the Yankees would be crazy to let Swisher walk as a free agent. He brings a ton of competitiveness to the table, and he's been a consistent producer for the Bombers ever since he joined the team in 2009. He's hit at least 23 homers and driven in at least 82 runs each year he's been in town, and he doesn't have very far to go before he does so again in 2012.

The Yankees aren't going to be able to lower Swisher's price tag by trying to exploit his admitted love for the city of New York and the team itself. Swisher is going to get his, and that means he's not about to offer the Yankees a proverbial "hometown discount."

Such things are for small-market teams like the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays, not the mighty New York Yankees.

Feinsand speculates that it will take a four or five-year deal worth about $15 million per year to keep Swisher. If it's true that Swisher wants Werth money, however, it will take something akin to the seven-year, $126 million contract Werth signed with the Washington Nationals back in 2010. That's an annual average of $18 million per year.

A contract such as that would certainly complicate the Yankees' goal of getting under the $189 million luxury tax threshold by 2014. Further complicating matters is the fact that Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are due to hit free agency after the 2013 season. Both of them are in the market for extensions.

The Yankees aren't going to be able to keep Swisher, Cano and Granderson long term. Not as long as they plan to be a little bit more frugal with their riches, anyway. They're only going to be able to keep two of them.

Feinsand's solution: Sign Swisher this offseason and subsequently trade Granderson.

Better him than Cano, right? Cano is pretty well established as the best and most dependable second baseman in the game at this point, and second basemen who are elite offensively and defensively like he is just don't come around very often. Brian Cashman should hand Cano a blank check and walk away with no regrets.

Because Cano probably isn't going anywhere one way or the other, this discussion boils down to whether it's better to keep Swisher or Granderson long term. 

Conventional wisdom suggests it's better to keep Granderson, as he's a center fielder with speed and 40-homer power. Not unlike Cano, players like Granderson just don't come around very often.

It will cost a lot to keep him, however. Granderson's option for 2013 with pay him $13 million. An extension would have to pay him a lot more than that per anum.

Recent contracts that come to mind as good guidelines for Granderson's prospective extension are those of Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, who both have deals worth roughly $20 million per season. Feinsand noted in his article that the expectation around the league is that this is exactly the kind of money Granderson is going to demand in his next deal.

Here's the dilemma: Granderson isn't worth that kind of money. 

Granderson had an exceptional season in 2011, clubbing 41 homers and stealing 25 bases while playing solid defense in center field. He finished eighth in the majors with a WAR of 7.0, according to FanGraphs

Granderson also had a brilliant season in 2007, when he hit over .300 with 23 homers and 26 stolen bases while playing excellent defense in center field. He finished sixth in baseball in WAR that year.

The problem is that seasons such as 2007 and 2011 are not the norm for Granderson. He was very good in 2008, 2009 and 2010, but well short of brilliant each year, and this year the only thing that hasn't regressed is his power.

Granderson's 33 home runs at this juncture put him on pace to finish with 41 once again, according to ESPN.com, but he hasn't been the same kind of dominant force that he was on offense in 2011. Per FanGraphs, Granderson's wOBA has dipped all the way from .394 last season to .345 this season. He only has eight stolen bases all season and he's striking out more frequently than ever before, nearly 28 percent of the time he comes to the plate.

Granderson has also regressed on defense. His -16.2 UZR is the worst among all qualified major league center fielders, and he also boasts a well below-average DRS of -9.

A good comparison for Granderson at this point is not Carl Crawford or Matt Kemp, but rather Adam Dunn. His .353 wOBA and 120 weighted runs created (via FanGraphs) are similar to Granderson's .345 wOBA and 115 weighted runs created. Both also strike out a lot, and both fail to provide good value on defense.

It's no surprise, then, that Granderson and Dunn have nearly identical WARs. FanGraphs has Granderson at 2.0 and Dunn at 1.9.

Swisher's WAR, meanwhile, is at 3.1 this season. That's par for the course for him, as he posted a 3.2 WAR in 2009, a 4.1 WAR in 2010 and a 3.8 WAR in 2011. 

Thus, the Yankees know what they're going to get from Swisher on an annual basis. Paying him Werth money would still represent an overpay, but the Yankees are better off signing Swisher for Werth money than they are signing Granderson for Crawford/Kemp money. Swisher would still be expensive, to be sure, but he'd be a cheaper and safer long-term option than Granderson.

And given the organization's economic plan, cheaper and safer is what it's all about.

The Yankees' desire to be more responsible with their cash is exactly why they'd have to trade Granderson if they were to re-sign Swisher. Sure, they could play the 2013 season with Swisher, Granderson and Cano all aboard and then just watch Granderson walk as a free agent, but they'd have to do so knowing they wouldn't get anything for him in return. Other teams don't like to be that passive with pending free agents, and the Yankees shouldn't be that passive with Granderson.

Trading Granderson this winter while he still has tons of value would be a great way for them to get exactly the kind of good, cheap players they're going to need in order to keep their payroll low going forward into the future. Keep in mind that the free-agent market for outfielders is going to be a little thin this winter, so Brian Cashman likely wouldn't have too much trouble finding a take for Granderson on the trade market.

Ideally, Cashman would get a quality left fielder and other pieces in exchange for Granderson. The Yankees could then play 2013 with Swisher in right field and Brett Gardner in center.

As Feinsand noted, having Gardner play center would be a significant defensive upgrade. He had the highest UZR of any player in baseball in 2011, and his range will play just as well in center as it does in left.

So, in theory, the Yankees wouldn't miss Granderson all that much if they were to trade him after re-signing Swisher. Their new left fielder would produce, Gardner would provide excellent defense in center field and good value on offense, and Swisher would be his usual Swisher-ific self. 

This is not to say that Cashman has an easy decision on his hands. Players with 40-homer power aren't parted with easily, especially when they have as much upside as Granderson. I'd say Swisher has the higher floor between the two players, but there's no question Granderson has the higher ceiling.

But these days, Cashman needs to be more creative than ever before. He has an array of solutions at his disposal to the Swisher-Cano-Granderson dilemma. Feinsand's notion of re-signing Swisher and trading Granderson is definitely one of the more creative ones.

At the very least, it's an idea that Yankees fans shouldn't just reject offhand. 

Same goes for Brian Cashman.

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