Curtis Granderson received a qualifying offer (a one-year deal worth $14.1 million) from the New York Yankees Monday, ensuring that New York will receive a draft pick after the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft if Granderson signs elsewhere. Granderson is a free agent right now, but has until Saturday to decide whether to accept the Yankees’ offer, a deadline after which (assuming he declines the offer) things can really heat up.
In the days and hours leading up to the Monday deadline to issue those offers, the Yankees waffled openly over whether or not to make that offer to Granderson. That was strange. Even Jon Heyman thought so.
It was strange, because Granderson is a pretty clear bargain at $14.1 million on a single-year deal. Even for two or three years, eight figures in annual salary is not all that unreasonable for him. What had the Yankees balking at the thought of paying him that money, and what might make him a bargain on the free-agent market, is recency bias.
Pretend these were the last two seasons you were looking at, as a player attained free agency:
Curtis Granderson, 2011-12
*TAv is True Average, a Baseball Prospectus invention. It captures offense holistically and precisely, and expresses a player’s quality with a number on the same scale as batting average. Since the league-average batter hit .255 in 2013, you can gauge a player by how far above or below that number his number is. Short version: Granderson was a star in 2011, and quite good in 2012.
That’d be awfully appealing, wouldn’t it? Now, you have to account for the fact that Granderson called Yankee Stadium home during those seasons, and that the short porch in right field there is wildly conducive to Granderson’s fastball-killing, fly-ball-dependent approach. The home-run totals, while impressive and fun, don’t imply elite power in his case.
The reason Granderson’s star has dimmed so badly is the existence of this season, standing in front of those two as one looks back down Granderson’s timeline:
Curtis Granderson, 2013
Granderson played in just 61 games in 2013, missing more contests than he had during the seven previous seasons combined. The culprits were flukes, a pitch that hit him and broke his forearm during the spring, and another that hit him and broke his hand when he came back in May. Those aren’t chronic issues, medically, but since Granderson depends on his bat speed—he kills fastballs, but struggles against good secondary stuff as it is—they’re still ominous.
His strikeout and walk rates held basically steady. He got about the same rate of hits on balls in play. All Granderson lost was power, and that tends to happen in the short term after hand injuries, and it tends to come back. Now, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Granderson will be 33 in 2014, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of bouncing back from injury and becoming, more or less, the same player he was in 2011 and 2012.
In those seasons, though, Granderson played center field, and by the end of that period, he was quite bad out there. He’s an aggressive fielder with a fair arm, but he’s lost the speed to make up for mistakes out there, and he doesn’t take perfect routes. He reminds me of Shane Victorino a year ago, having just gotten a taste of playing the corner outfield spots, and peddling himself to teams as a corner guy and center-field fill-in. Victorino found a home in Boston, hit well enough to earn his deal and turned out to be an exceptional corner outfielder. Granderson could do the same.
As for where he could do it, the list is pretty long, which is a good thing for Granderson. It’s unlikely the Yankees would want him back on a long-term deal, but he could take the qualifying offer. Beyond that, the Orioles have an open corner outfield spot. So do the Cubs, and Wrigley Field’s center field is so small that Granderson could also play there, if he goes to the North Side. The Rockies, Astros, Royals, Twins, Mets, Athletics, Giants, Mariners and Rangers all make varying degrees of sense. There’s no perfect fit, but if I had to guess, I’d guess Granderson will be either a Met or a Ranger. In either place, he could thrive, and for what he’s likely to cost—Victorino’s three-year, $39-million deal even seems too rich to project for him—he should be a steal.
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