Not too long ago, I wrote about the trade that brought Michael Pineda to the Yankees in exchange for Jesus Montero. What prompted that piece was the same question that brings me here. D-Rays Bay editor Danny Russell found and shared a Reddit thread that posed the following question:
What's a trade or signing your team made that made you go "Why the hell did we do that?" but ended up working for you in the long run?
Again, my gut reaction to that question was the Pineda trade, and after some reflection I concluded that it was indeed a trade that after some initial reservation, has worked out for the Yankees in the long run. The second move that came to mind as an answer was the trade for Curtis Granderson.
On December 8, 2009 the Yankees were part of the following three-team trade:
Obviously there were a lot of moving parts in this trade. I remember when the trade happened, there was a decent amount of outcry because the Yankees were sending a young, exciting pitcher and one of the organization's top prospects, if not the top prospect, in exchange for an outfielder that, even though he showed power and speed (30 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 2009), caused panic due to his paltry .327 on-base percentage, 141 strikeouts, and .183 batting average (180 at-bats) against left-handed pitchers that year.
Yet the Yankees felt the need to trade for him. They had a hole in their outfield after deciding to move on from Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui just spent a year as the designated hitter (and the Yankees were also content with moving on from him), and they didn't feel like Jackson was quite ready for the majors. Which left them to explore other options, and eventually led them to Curtis Granderson.
Now if one looked at the trade as a whole, the Tigers or the Yankees could be seen as the "winners" of the trade, but one would be hard-pressed to find a clear-cut winner. After all, the Tigers did get themselves a Cy Young winner in Scherzer, a few solid and potential all-star seasons in Jackson, and Coke was a decent-ish relief option who played a lot of games for the Tigers. The Yankees, on the other hand, ended up acquiring a solid middle-of-the-lineup power threat who gave them back-to-back 40 home run seasons.
There may not be a clear-cut winner, but almost everyone should agree that by focusing just on what the Yankees gave up and received, they come out quite ahead.
Austin Jackson was arguably the Yankees' top prospect after the 2009 season, in which he hit .300/.354/.405 with 24 stolen bases for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Unlike the Yankees, Detroit believed Jackson was ready to be a major league player so after the trade they made him their starting center fielder. Jackson rewarded their faith in him by hitting .293/.345/.400 with 27 stolen bases, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting for 2010. He lost out to then-Rangers' closer, Neftali Feliz.
Jackson followed his strong 2010 campaign with two solid seasons in 2011, and 2012. In 2011, he won the Fielding Bible Award as MLB's best defensive center fielder, but his hitting went down as he only slashed .249/.317/.349, though he did still manage to steal 20 bases. While I'm sure many thought or hoped that his 2011 hitting was just a fluke, now it seems like it's more on par with the norm for Jackson. 2012 though, saw his hitting come back to 2010 levels when he hit .300/.377/.479.
Unfortunately for Jackson, 2013 saw him catch the injury bug (limited to 129 games) as he hit a decent .272/.337/.417 but the speed was gone. After only stealing 12 bases in 2012, Jackson only swiped eight bags in 2013. During the 2014 season, the Tigers traded Jackson to the Mariners after an underwhelming start to the season. Since being traded to the Mariners in 2014, Jackson was traded to the Cubs in 2015 and then signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the White Sox for the 2016 season.
Ian Kennedy made his major league debut as a September call up in the 2007 season. He pitched to a 1.89 ERA across three starts and 19 innings, impressing enough to earn himself a job on the Opening Day roster in 2008. A slow start to 2008 saw Kennedy get demoted to AAA. After coming back from an injury, Kennedy got another chance to pitch in the majors in August of 2008 but after he allowed five runs in two innings in his start, Kennedy was again sent back down to AAA. In the early goings of 2009, Kennedy underwent surgery for an aneurysm in his right armpit, but made his way back to pitch in majors, once again as a September call up.
As much potential as Kennedy showed, he failed to live up to the hype and so the Yankees agreed to part with him in the Granderson trade. 2010 was Kennedy's first fully healthy season in a couple years, and saw him pitch to a 3.80 ERA (4.33 FIP) in 194 innings pitched. His season was good enough for him to be given the honor of being the Diamondbacks' Opening Day starter in 2011.
2011 was the best year of Kennedy's career, which ultimately ended with him finishing fourth in Cy Young awarding, and 14th in MVP voting. He and his 21-4 record, helped lead the Diamondbacks from last to first place in the NL West, as he pitched to a 2.88 ERA (3.22 FIP), while raking up 198 strikeouts in 222 innings pitched. Since that 2012 campaign, however, Kennedy just hasn't been the same pitcher.
While 2012 wasn't a terrible season, it was still a disappointment after 2011. He finished with a 4.02 ERA (4.04 FIP) in 208.1 innings pitched. Kennedy's 2013 season, during which he was traded from the Diamondbacks to the Padres, ended with an abysmal 4.91 ERA (4.59 FIP) in 181.1 innings pitched. The number was only that low because he did pitch "better" after being traded to the Padres.
2014 was a better season for Kennedy as he went 13-13 with a 3.63 ERA (3.21 FIP), but in 2015 he once again showed that at this point he's just a mediocre middle/back of the rotation pitcher as a result of his 4.28 ERA (4.51 FIP) in 168.1 innings pitched. Even though, outside of 2011, Kennedy hasn't really been the impressive pitcher people thought he might be, Kennedy still managed to sign a five-year/$70 million deal with the Royals.
That leaves Curtis Granderson as the remaining major piece from the Yankees side of things (yes Phil Coke was also a thing, but Phil Coke). In his first season with the Yankees, Granderson slashed .247/.324/.468 with 24 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 136 games as the team's starting center fielder. His season was a slight disappointment, considering what the Yankees gave up for him, but luckily all hope was not lost then.
2011 was finally Granderson's breakout year, when he hit .262/.364/.552 (.916 OPS!). That year he slugged 41 home runs, drove in 119 runs (led MLB), and scored 136 runs (led MLB), so it's no wonder why he finished fourth in MVP voting, earned All-Star honors and won a Silver Slugger that year. He followed that 2011 season with an equally impressive 2012 when he hit 43 home runs and drove in 103 runs, even though his overall hitting dipped to .232/.319/.492.
Injuries plagued Granderson (and just about everyone not named Chris Stewart) in 2013, when he was limited to just 61 games. It was a truly upsetting final season in pinstripes for Granderson, after becoming a favorite of the fans. In addition to his ability to mash home runs, Granderson was also someone the Yankees and their fans could be proud of off the field. He's been an ambassador for the game internationally and through his foundation, Grand Kids Foundation, he has raised money to benefit inner-city children's educations. He eventually signed a four-year/$60 million deal with the Mets as a free agent prior to the 2014 season, where he had a below average 2014, but rebounded nicely to be one of the Mets' best hitters in 2015.
Comparing Granderson's 2010 to Jackson's 2010, anyone could easily see why many fans started judging the trade as a bust for the Yankees after year one, especially when factoring that the team lost a decent starting pitcher in Kennedy as well. However, I think most fans can agree the Yankees came out ahead in this trade. They traded two strong seasons (one from Jackson and one from Kennedy) for 115 home runs and 307 RBI, something I believe Cashman and co. do again without hesitation. Plus Yankee fans will always have this game:
I remember being so anxious to see if he could just keep hitting home runs.
If this trade does nothing else, it should at least teach fans that year one of a trade is not the most reliable. It is sometimes easier to look back at these trades with an open mind years later when none of the players are still involved with their respective teams.
*Season statistics provided by Baseball-Reference.