Curtis Granderson or Mike Cameron?

It’s been a typically slow-feeling last week or so in Yankeeland, as some of us are still content to bask in the glow of the World Series victory, while others are looking to stoke the fires of the Hot Stove. I’m probably somewhere in the middle. I’d love to sit back and do nothing but enjoy #27, but at the same time, as a hardcore Yankee fan I’m looking for something new to read about the team every single day, hence the creation of this blog.

Last week’s Yankee rumor du jour involved the team trading for Tigers’ center fielder Curtis Granderson, as Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski has apparently been tasked with cutting payroll. Somewhat less discussed is what the Yankees would actually have to give up to acquire Granderson, although Steve at the Yankee Universe has a great post up about this potential deal (h/t to RAB).

On the face of it, trading for a guy like Granderson to play center seems like a no-brainer. Tossing stats aside for a second, I’ve personally long coveted Granderson, as the Yankees really haven’t had an outfielder with his combination of speed, athleticism, defense and bat in seemingly years (yes, I know this is all subjective — remember, tossing away stats for a sec). Not to mention the fact that Granderson’s sweet left-handed swing seems tailor-made to drop bombs over the short right field porch. Granderson hit 30 home runs last year. The last time the Yankees got 30 home runs out of center field was in 2000 from Bernie Williams.

The Yankees have gotten by with below-average offensive production from their center fielders for the last three seasons, although the platoon of Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner came pretty close to respectability in 2009. Still, neither Melky nor Gardner seem destined to be able to effectively hold down a starting outfielder role for an entire 162-game season, and I would certainly not be upset to see either one included in a potential trade for Granderson.

As the Yankee Universe notes, in addition to replacing his star center fielder, Dombrowski would also likely be looking for a young, cost-controlled starter with upside — which the Yankees seem to have in spades at double A — as well as highly touted outfield prospect Austin Jackson. Jackson’s star diminished some after a bit of a disappointing 2009 minor league campaign, and while it was once thought he might be able to start in center for the Yankees it looks like his ceiling may wind up being as a Melky/Gardner-type fourth outfielder. Even if Jackson ended up being an improvement on those two, it’s highly unlikely he’d ever be as good as Granderson, which is why, if the Tigers require Jackson plus another minor league pitcher, Cashman probably needs to make that deal.

Of course, we haven’t touched on Granderson’s kyptonite, which is an inability to hit lefthanded pitching. TYU has his righty and lefty splits from the last four years, and while he didn’t seem to have as much of a problem with lefties in 2008, he got absolutely murdered by them this past year, mustering only a .484 OPS, a number that even Tony Womack could scoff at. Given Granderson’s difficulty with lefties, the thinking is that you’d then platoon him, although it seems a bit shortsighted to trade for a starting center fielder who can’t even start all 162 games.

There was an alternative being bandied about in the RAB comment section last week, spearheaded by RAB legend TSJC, which supported signing Mike Cameron (in addition to bringing back Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui).

While the free agent Cameron is eight years older than Granderson, he also would only cost money instead of players, and had a better 2009 than Granderson. Of course, one year does not a career make, and given his age and track record, Granderson seems very likely to bounce back and produce at a higher level than the 38-year-old Cameron for the duration of both of their careers. Granderson has a career 113 OPS+, while Cameron has a respectable 107 OPS+.

For what it’s worth, Bill James is forecasting a .366 wOBA for Granderson next year, and a .330 for Cameron. If the Yankees are unable to put together an attractive-enough package to nab Granderson, then Cameron would be a decent back-up plan. But if Granderson can be had for some combination of Cabrera, Gardner, Jackson, Zach McAllister, Ivan Nova, Ian Kennedy, Austin Romine and/or spare bullpen part, as TYU suggests, I’d be all for fitting Granderson with pinstripes.

A peek at the top of the Yanks prospect pile

Austin Jackson, OF — Given his rather quick growth as an all-around star prospect, it’s easy to forget that many worried coming out of the draft that Jackson was a raw athlete and wouldn’t develop as a complete ballplayer. It’s been his ability to hit consistent line drives and keep his swing under control at such an early stage that makes him special. The athletic tools, plus speed and defense in center field were more of a given. The fact that he is still continuing to grow as a hitter is what makes him such an interesting commodity.

I’d love to see Montero in pinstripes eventually, however I just have a feeling he’s going to be used to fetch a major talent.

Discussion: Trading Robinson Cano?

Over the last few days, I have seen a number of commenters on the blogs that I frequent suggest that the Yankees trade Robinson Cano while his value is high. They cite his poor numbers with runners in scoring position and suggest that he has peaked to justify moving him. Personally, I would be very wary regarding any trade that includes Cano. He is a career .306/.339/.480 hitter from the middle infield, making him one of the top 5 players at a premium position (probably behind Utley and Pedroia, with judgment reserved on Zobrist). He is also signed to an affordable deal, and the Yankees do not have anyone that could adequately replace him.

I am not saying that I would never trade him. Nobody is untradeable, and there are packages for which I would send Robbie packing. However, being that he is the only young bat in the Yankees lineup, a premium bat would need to be coming back to the Yankees for any deal to work. With an aging lineup that is almost certain to begin developing holes in the coming years, the Yankees may find that Cano is more valuable to them than most of the clubs that might seek to acquire him in a trade.

What do you think? Would you trade Robbie? What would you want in return?

2009 Yankees vs. 1996 Yankees

In the wake of my paean to the 2009 Yankees, comparing Yankee championships has become a fairly popular topic among some of my fellow Yankee fans this week, and one friend — firmly entrenched in the 1996 camp — asked me to do a comparison of the two teams.

I can’t really put my finger on why I’ve been relatively dismissive of the 1996 team. I think a lot of it has to do with me being far more emotionally developed as a 28-year-old man than a 15-year-old teenager, as well as the fact that I am even more intense about the Yankees now than I was 13 years ago.

The 1996 championship team was obviously incredibly special. I remember going absolutely bananas after that ball landed in Charlie Hayes’ glove, and you could hear the collective euphoria emanating from the City’s streets for seemingly hours after the last out, a la the Giants’ 2008 Super Bowl win. This year I missed any unrestrained post-victory revelry because I was too busy celebrating the aftermath inside a bar with a victory cigar and champagne.

Additionally, to come back from being down 0-2 and beat the best team in baseball four straight games is ridiculous — games that included Jim Leyritz’s huge 3-run bomb and Andy Pettitte’s 1-0 gem in Game 5. And of course, the fact that the Yankees hadn’t won the championship in 18 years as well as the fact that it was the first Yankee World Series victory of my lifetime also made it incredibly special.

Come to think of it, 1996 was pretty damn fantastic.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

The 1996 team did not have the strongest starting rotation of a Yankee championship team. While many remember Jimmy Key as being the staff ace that year, Pettitte actually had the better year, putting up a 3.87 ERA and 4.08 FIP in 34 starts. By comparison, Key had a 4.68 ERA and a 4.48 FIP. David Cone was excellent in limited duty (11 starts), with a 3.24 FIP. Kenny Rogers was terrible (4.83 FIP), and Doc Gooden — despite the no-hitter that I was in attendance for — was pretty bad as well (4.85 FIP).

Then again, the 2009 Yankees only had three reliable starters in the postseason as well. There’s an unexpected coincidence. The Yankees’ top three starters in 2009 averaged a 3.96 FIP, while Key, Coney and Pettitte were 3.93 FIP, albeit in less innings.

The 1996 bullpen put up a 4.10 ERA in the regular season, while the 2009 bullpen pitched to a 3.91 ERA.

The 1996 offense’s .348 wOBA was 7th-best in a league where the Major League average was .336; the 2009 offense had a league-leading. 366 wOBA while league average was .329.

Some detractors will say the 2009 Yankees were a bunch of hired mercenaries, and it’s somehow less special because three big free agents (Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira) helped win it all. Of course, it’s not as if the entire 1996 Yankee team was homegrown — David Cone nearly left to play for the Orioles after the 1995 season, erstwhile ace Jimmy Key was signed as a free agent, Tino Martinez came over via trade, and both Wade Boggs, the starting 3B, and Mariano Duncan, the starting 2B, signed with the team as free agents. The common denominator for both the 1996 and 2009 teams? Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, although Posada only had 15 plate appearances and no postseason at-bats in ’96.

In fact, of the 1996 team’s starting nine, rotation and primary bullpen cogs, only four (Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera, Bernie Williams) players were homegrown. Guess how many homegrown players the 2009 Yankees fielded in the starting lineup, rotation and bullpen corps? Eleven (Jeter, Posada, Cano, Cabrera, Pettitte, Rivera, Chamberlain, Hughes, Aceves, Robertson, Coke).

Despite winning the AL East by four games, few expected the 1996 Yankees to go very far in the postseason, although they did have the best FIP in the American League. After beating the Rangers in four games (Game 1 ALDS that year remains Texas’ only postseason victory), the Yankees received a little luck in Game 1 of the ALCS against the birds in the person of Jeffrey Maier, who helped a Derek Jeter home run over the wall in right field. I was at that game, and it was fantastic. Oddly enough, I don’t remember too much else from that ALCS against the Orioles, probably because the Yankees dispatched the O’s pretty handily.

And then of course, the World Series against the Braves, who were the best team in the National League that year (#2 in wOBA and #1 in FIP), featured absurd pitching (3.50(!) team FIP) and were looking to repeat as champions. Things looked particularly grim after the Yankees lost the first two games at home by a combined 16-1. Fortunately the Series basically turned on one swing — that of Jim Leyritz’s game-tying three-run home run off Mark Wohlers in the top of the 8th. After that, the Yankees would never trail again in the 1996 World Series, toppling Goliath once and for all in Game 6.

In 2009, the Yankees got to face a Twins team missing their elite first baseman in the first round; the team that has given them more problems than any other during the past decade in the ALCS; and the best team in the National League in the World Series. Like the 1996 Yankees, the only time the 2009 team was ever really on the ropes in the postseason was after Game 1 of the World Series at home, and both teams took care of business in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium.

The 1996 Yankees’ primary heartache came the year earlier, losing to the Mariners 3 games to two in the first-ever ALDS. Prior to that, the team was, for the most part, pretty bad in the 18 championship-less years.

In the last nine years, the Yankees have had to endure two World Series losses, four ALDS losses (two at the hands of the hated Angels) and one utterly traumatic ALCS loss to the team’s archrivals while also having to see said archrivals not only break an 86-year championship drought, but then win it all again two years later. Not to mention the fact that the overall playing field in Major League Baseball has improved significantly over the past decade.

So was the 1996 championship “better” than 2009? In some ways — ending a longer drought, no one having any preconceived notions about “expecting” to win anything, incredible campaigns from supremely talented youngsters like Jeter and Rivera — yes.

In other ways — tougher AL East; higher level of competition across the league; being expected to win it all every year simply because the team has the highest payroll in the league, despite the fact that spending the most money does not buy a championship year in and year out; incredible campaigns from homegrown studs like Jeter and Rivera who seemingly should be on the decline but somehow keep getting better; a historical and vindicating (.365/.500/.808, 6HR, 18RBI, .365 wOBA) performance from supposed-playoff-choker-cum-reason-the-team-even-made-it-back-to-the-World-Series Alex Rodriguez — no.

Johan Santana all over again

Although there’s far less urgency this time around than two years ago with the Johan Santana fiasco, the Daily News is speculating that Roy Halladay could be on the trading block this winter, with — surprise, surprise — both the Yankees and Red Sox as primary suitors.

While this is clearly a classic offseason media ploy to sell papers, what fun would the Hot Stove be without some irresponsible rumormongering?

There are some similarities to the Phil Hughes Hostage Drama of ’07, in that, like Santana, Roy Halladay is only under contract with the Blue Jays for one more year, and with Halladay uninterested in sticking around, Toronto may be looking to get some players back instead of letting Halladay play out the remainder of his deal.

However, the Twins made it pretty clear they were looking to deal Santana that year — who even knows whether Toronto would actually consider pulling the trigger on a deal like this, especially with an intradivision rival.

The Yankees’ best move is to stand pat. If talks appear to be heating up, obviously the team needs to stay involved, but only to drive the price up. You have to figure that Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos is smarter than Twins GM Bill Smith, and isn’t going to fork Halladay over for four absolute scrubs.

I advocated not trading for Santana because I believed in Phil Hughes and didn’t feel it was worth it to sacrifice both players and cash for a player who could be had for nothing but cash after the season ended. Admittedly I was surprised to see the Mets swoop in and somehow swap a bunch of crap for one of the best pitchers in baseball, but I’d do it all over again. Let someone else overpay in young players to get Halladay. If no one wowed the Blue Jays back at the trade deadline, chances are he’ll end up playing out the year with the Blue Jays, and once he becomes a free agent in the 2010 offseason, the Yankees can outbid everyone, piling dump truck after dump truck full of money on Roy’s lawn (a la The Ten’s amazing CAT Scan bit).

Can you imagine a rotation of Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes? Sounds pretty good to me.

Yankees want Halladay?

From Mark Feinsand (Daily News):

Halladay wants out of Toronto, but it’s unlikely that he would waive his no-trade clause to be dealt to a team unless he was able to sign a long-term extension – something only a select few teams have the resources to do, most notably the Yankees and Red Sox.

It would likely take a bigger package for one of the division rivals to land Halladay, but if they have the opportunity to do so, the belief inside the Yankees organization is that it would be well worth it to pair the righthander with CC Sabathia atop a rotation that would then feature A.J. Burnett – who considers Halladay to be a mentor – as its No. 3 starter.

A source with knowledge of the Yankees’ thinking said the Bombers already have their sights set on signing either Halladay or Cliff Lee if both become free agents after next season. Yankees executives, however, fear that Lee might sign a long-term deal with the Phillies before becoming a free agent, leaving Halladay as the lone target for teams looking for an ace.

Brian Cashman has been hesitant to deal his top-notch prospects in recent years, but after seeing the difference a dominant starting pitcher such as Sabathia can make, ownership may force Cashman’s hand, sending away blue-chippers such as Jesus Montero and Austin Jackson in a package with either Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain.

This sounds awfully similar to the Santana sweepstakes in 2007.

I think we’ll have a similar result, too, with Halladay being traded to another team, not named the Yankees. When compared to the way in which the Yankees handled the Santana situation, I see no reason for the organization to operate any differently with Halladay. Halladay is currently a better pitcher, that much is true, but he’s also older and will cost more than what the Mets offered the Twins for Johan Santana. Perhaps it really is best to let Halladay go this winter while keeping one’s fingers crossed that he’ll be a free agent after the season is over.

Plus, I wouldn’t fret over the Red Sox acquiring him just yet (offensive upgrades are their main priority).

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Tex, Jeter win Silver Slugger Awards

About 45 minutes ago, it was announced that Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira have both won the American League’s 2009 Silver Slugger Award at their respective positions (read about all the winners here). The pinstriped duo also took home Gold Glove Awards earlier in the week. That World Series title is probably a pretty big deal, too.

The argument for John Lackey

On the heels of Larry’s excellent analysis of the 2009 Yankees pitching staff, I want to double down on my earlier recommendation that the Yankees sign John Lackey, immediately. (Quick tangent here, after reading Larry’s piece, ask yourself, did you ever see this team doing what it did? Yeah, me too, but it was still amazing).

Larry was quick to point out that signing Lackey is not recognized universally as the right move. The argument against Lackey has two pillars: 1) Brian Cashman didn’t throw the kitchen sink at Minnesota for Johan Santana in 2007, and won, big. The Yanks got CC Sabathia one year later and still have two potential starters developing in Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes; and 2) The 2010 free-agent pitching class is crazy deep, featuring Roy Halladay, Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb and Dontrelle Willis. (What, no love for D-Train?)

The Yankees have the following dilemma: Sign Lackey, the best free-agent pitcher available in 2009, or wait until next year and make a big splash on a better pitcher. Allow me several paragraphs to ARGUE INSANELY FOR JOHN LACKEY! Ahem.

The Yankees got lucky in 2008. As I already mentioned, CC wanted to come anywhere but New York. ANY-WHERE. It took an extra year and $20 million to convince him. Everything turned out great in the end, but there is no guarantee we can lure one of the marquee free agent pitchers to New York. Expect Boston to keep Beckett and Lee to re-sign with Philadelphia. Brandon Webb had shoulder surgery (never good) and is an NL pitcher. The Yankees could potentially get their hands on Roy Halladay…(sorry, I suddenly began salivating uncontrollably) but he’s old, and will cost a fortune. (D-Train, however, will be available.) The Yankees could easily come away empty-handed.

Waiting until after the 2010 season to fix a glaring need in the rotation also brings the following numbers to mind: 35, 37, 34, 40, 37, 35, 35. That’s not last night’s winning lotto numbers. That is how old the following really old Yankees are, right now: Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. Those dudes are old. They will be not one, but TWO, years older (assuming we keep all these guys that long) in 2011, the earliest the Yankees would be able to field a rotation with a 2010 signing. Injuries happen. Aging happens. You know this. Just ask your mother. These guys are playing well right now, why risk waiting until after 2010 when the team knows it can compete AGAIN in 2010?

The Yankees also have lineup issues looming on the horizon. We don’t like to talk about it, but the window is closing on some of these guys. As a result, Cashman is justifiably looking to get younger. The 2011 position players may not be as good both in terms of age but also talent on the field as the team in 2010. (The Yanks could turn around, sign Matt Holliday, and prove me completely wrong, but its dangerous to assume the team will get better.)

That brings me to my main point, which is that it’s stupid to play for the 2011 season when the team is ready to compete and possibly REPEAT in 2010. 2011 is a complete unknown. The best input for making predictions about that season is 2010, which hasn’t even begun on the calendar yet. The best input for making predictions about 2010 is 2009. I forget how that turned out.

The Yankees are only a handful of pieces away from fielding a 1998-esque team in 2010. They could easily put the best offense on the diamond and an untouchable pitching staff on the mound. They should go for it, particularly since the Angels don’t feel Lackey is worth more than $10 million per year. The Yankees are most likely seen to be competing against the Mets to sign him. Even if Matsui or Damon gets away, the eight remaining position players from last year combined with a rotation of CC, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Joba or Hughes, and then with Lackey, is a beast that would compete for years.

Finally, signing Lackey does not preclude signing Halladay or Beckett. Andy Pettitte, god bless him, is 37 years old. He’ll be 38 years old next year, and has been playing the retirement hokey-pokey for a while. As much as we love him, its important to remember that in all probability he’ll represent a starting pitcher, at $12-$13 million, coming off the books in 2010. That alone isn’t enough to get a Roy Halladay or a Josh Beckett, but its most of the way there. We saw in 2008 that the Yankees ARE willing to expand payroll for the right players. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to fantasize about a pitching staff of CC, Halladay, A.J., Lackey and Joba/Hughes.

(Necessary addition: Rumors are circulating that the Yanks and Sox are in the trade hunt for Roy Halladay THIS offseason. This surely means losing one of Joba or Hughes. Roy Halladay’s 2009 pitcher VORP? 74.8. The combined 2009 pitcher VORPs of Lackey and Hughes? 59.1. The difference is roughly equal to the difference between Lackey and Doc’s ERAs, or 1/2 a run per game. Not worth giving up one of our young pitching prospects over.)