December 6, 2013
Granderson Takes the 4 to the 7 to $60 Million
Signed OF-L Curtis Granderson to a four-year deal worth $60 million. [12/6]
Sandy Alderson entered his fourth offseason as Mets general manager with the organization's oft-questioned financial capabilities looming overhead. From the outside looking in, the Alderson-led Mets have progressed toward surrounding David Wright with quality young talent. It hasn't been easy or quick, and you wonder how a Jose Reyes trade would have changed things, but the Mets have two stars to their name in Wright and Matt Harvey, two MLB-ready youngsters in Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud, and more talented prospects coming. It was, in other words, about time to buttress the core with choice external additions.
Granderson is where those additions start. It's not that Alderson hasn't added veterans along the way, but that he's done so in ... well, the cheapest way possible. He deserves credit for finagling tremendous bang for his buck from veteran outfielders like Marlon Byrd and Scott Hairston, and for getting some contribution from waiver-wire pickups like Mike Baxter. For the most part, however, Alderson's Mets teams have been homegrown; even today, with Granderson included, the Mets have drafted or signed as amateurs 26 of the 35 players on their 40-man roster. But this offseason has been different. Alderson has, for the first time, signed free-agent hitters to deals worth more than $2 million guaranteed. Granderson's deal, as it turns out, is the first time he'd given a free-agent hitter multiple years.
It seems the Mets, who have won between 74 and 77 games in each of Alderson's first three seasons, are finally making a push to improve by spending money. And why not? Their next few budget years include guarantees to Wright ($20 million through 2018 before costs start to decline) and Jon Niese ($21 million over the next three seasons) and that's it. Sure, the Mets will have some increasing arbitration costs to deal with, but the slate is about as clean as it gets outside of Houston.
So, head-high in breathing room, Alderson is taking a slight risk with Granderson. The potential unpleasantness has less to do with his injury-ravaged 2013—he missed significant time due to a fractured forearm and finger, suffered on separate hit-by-pitches—and more to do with him turning 33 before the season starts.
For all the positives in Granderson's game—well-above-average power production, on-base skills, speed—he still represents a rare breed of player; one who combines old-player skills with young-player wheels. In addition to Granderson, five others spent the majority of their time since 2011 in center field while striking out at least a quarter of the time: B.J. Upton, Drew Stubbs, Michael Saunders, Jordan Schafer, and Rick Ankiel. Granderson is the best of the bunch, but there have to be concerns, on some level, about his ballooning strikeout rate in recent years.
Of course, there is value with Granderson beyond his bat. Assuming he slots into a corner, the Mets will have an impressive defensive unit that features three one-time center fielders. Last season, the Mets had the seventh-highest batting average against on fly balls. It's not fair to place all the blame at the feet of the outfielders, but the current group should help erase memories of Lucas Duda in left.
How Granderson ages will determine whether Alderson's first big deal in New York is a success for the long haul. But how Alderson proceeds in the next few months will tell us more about how the deal should be viewed in the short run. The Mets sacrificed their second-round pick to add Granderson, so you can understand if they're tentative about giving up their third-rounder to pluck Stephen Drew. Shy of upgrading at shortstop, Alderson figures to look for a few more arms—perhaps a Jason Hammel type for the rotation, and some help in the bullpen. Collectively, this isn't a roster that should compete in 2014. It should threaten the .500 mark, however, with the 2015 season looking like the year when Alderson's vision comes together.
Granderson’s 40-homer seasons streak was broken at two thanks some errant pitches he couldn’t dodge. A broken forearm and pinkie put him on the DL two separate times and relegated him to 61 games. His departure from Yankee Stadium puts a dent in his ability to start up a new streak. Citi Field is actually helpful to home run hitters on both sides of the plate, but certainly not to the level of Yankee Stadium where Granderson hit 63 of his 115 home runs over the last four years. This isn’t Dexter Fowler milking Coors for all it’s worth, but Granderson certainly enjoyed his home park.
The lineup switch is actually a wash from 2013 with one superstar and mostly flotsam otherwise. Granderson is still a quality power-heavy outfield option whose price is down after a shortened season. It could take another dip with the move across town, but that would only make him more desirable because the change in venues isn’t that dramatic.
Young, the NL leader in stolen bases in case you forgot, is the biggest loser here because he has nowhere to play and his .645 OPS isn’t exactly forcing its way into the lineup. If he had a favorable split, he could’ve made found himself platooning with Chris Young, the team’s other new outfielder, but alas he is equally bad regardless of the pitcher. Young is an NL-only bench player at best right now, though he could still be a sneaky cheap speed option if playing time opens up via a Daniel Murphy trade.
Granderson absorbing a full-time corner outfield position certainly cuts into Duda’s chances at being a full-timer himself, but he should be platooning anyway. Duda can play left against righties with Granderson moving to center and putting Young on the bench. I’m not sure they want to pay Young $7.25 million to be a platoon player, but that would be the best deployment of their assets. Regardless of the outcome, Duda’s outlook is worse for now unless they do decide to move Ike Davis and put Duda in a first-base platoon with Josh Satin. With 15 homers each of the last two years in just 121 and 100 games, respectively, he has some intrigue even in a platoon role because it would be the long side, but those drafting now or soon should temper expectations as he needs at least one other move to clear up his path to playing time.
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson