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25 Smartest Moves of the Past 25 Years: Yankees trade for Curtis Granderson

Despite coming off a championship season, the Yankees needed an upgrade in center field: they got one in Curtis Granderson.

Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

In 2009 the Yankees opened a new stadium, won 103 games in the regular season, and won their 27th World Series championship. The season’s success was a team effort as much as any of the Yankees’ championships, as eight of the nine regulars in the starting lineup posted an OPS+ of 118 or better on the season.

With such remarkable depth in the lineup, one would assume that re-tooling heading into 2010 wouldn’t be necessary. The issue, however, was that the one regular who wasn’t quite meeting expectations was center fielder Melky Cabrera. Looking to upgrade the center field position, the Yankees took part in a three-team deal that a Venn diagram would be required to clearly detail. Regardless, when the ink dried on the paperwork, the Yankees had themselves a pretty significant upgrade.

Trade Details: Curtis Granderson to Yankees; Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to Detroit, Ian Kennedy to Arizona.

Transaction Date: 12/8/2009

NYY stats (2010-13): 115 HR, 307 RBI, 345 R, .245/.335/.495, 120 OPS+, 14.9 WAR, All-Star 2011, 2012.

After coming off an All-Star season in 2009 for the Tigers, the Yankees were hoping for more of the same from the then-29-year-old Curtis Granderson. It turns out, he provided exactly the same value in terms of WAR to the Yankees in 2010 as he did the previous season. Plus defending, plus base running, and a 108 OPS+ led to a 4.4 WAR season and made him a key part of a team that would win 95 games and reach the ALCS.

Then in 2011, Granderson really hit his pinstriped stride. He led the American League in both runs and RBI with 136 and 119 respectively (one of only six Yankees to accomplish that feat), and his 41 homers led all MLB center fielders. In a season in which Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Kemp put up monster numbers, Granderson impressively finished in the top three among MLB center fielders in WAR, OPS+, RBI, BB, OBP, and SLG. His 6.1 WAR led the 97-win Yankees among position players and his performance earned him another All-Star nod and landed him in fourth place in the AL MVP voting.

To show the newfound power stroke wasn’t a fluke, Granderson launched 43 long balls in 2012, making him one of only four MLB center fielders (and the only Yankee) to hit 41 or more homers in consecutive seasons – the other three being Duke Snider, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr. His play earned him his second All-Star nod as a Yankee, and his 3.3 WAR was fourth among position players on the 95 win Yankees.

2013 was not a stellar season for either Granderson or the Yankees. Granderson ran into a ton of bad luck during the year, as he suffered a broken bone from a HBP on two separate occasions, sidelining him for much of the season. Whether it was due to the stretches of inactivity or other factors, his performance suffered as he was only able to post a 99 OPS+ over 61 games, which turned out to be the second-lowest of his career.

Injuries and bad luck aside, Granderson’s performance had been gradually but consistently declining as well. Over his four-year tenure in New York, his whiff and chase rate increased each season while his contact rate decreased each season. His defense had also deteriorated to the point it was clear he wasn’t going to be a regular center fielder ongoing. Four years after the trade, the Yankees were faced again with having to upgrade the center field position and as a result, Granderson signed a free-agent deal with the Mets.

Although only a Yankee for four seasons, Granderson certainly left an impact with the fans as a hard-nosed and productive player and made himself a mark in the Yankees’ record book as well. In addition to being the only Yankee centerfielder to record consecutive seasons with at least 41 bombs, he also finished fifth in career homers and eighth in career WAR among Yankee center fielders, and his .495 SLG has only been topped by Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio.

Most importantly, with regards to today’s discussion, he provided an upgrade as needed and was a key contributor to some very good teams.