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In the Winter of 2009, the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, and Arizona Diamondbacks executed one of the most memorable 3-way trades in recent history. New York received big name outfielder Curtis Granderson.
It’s amazing how even the trade has appeared to be across the board after a couple of seasons. Granderson has grown into one of the elite players in the game, being one of the biggest parts of the Yankees offense in 2011 despite his struggles in 2010.
Austin Jackson hasn’t quite lived up to his potential after an off 2011 season, however he nearly batted .300 in his rookie season with Detroit. Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth are solid relief pitchers at the Major League level, and Max Scherzer has established himself as a part of the Detroit rotation.
At first the Diamondbacks were seen as the big losers in the trade, until Ian Kennedy nearly won the Cy Young award in 2011. He finished 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA leading Arizona to a division title. Edwin Jackson has since left for free agency, but also left an impact with an incredible 149-pitch no hitter in 2010, which included 8 walks.
Before that three-way deal took place however, it was the Red Sox who were having serious discussions with Detroit about moving Granderson. Reportedly, the Tigers initially wanted both Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury in exchange for their star outfielder, but when Theo Epstein and the Sox front office effectively laughed at the offer, the two sides discussed a deal involving just the outfielders straight up.
The fun part about trading in baseball is the endless hypotheticals involving how things would have turned out. Of course, you can’t simply transition numbers from one player to a different team had he played for them considering how much of a difference pitchers and ballpark play into them over the course of a season. If we were to slightly account for these variables, here’s a look at each season and the major differences we would have seen from the Boston perspective:
There’s no question that the Red Sox would have benefited from trading Jacoby Ellsbury when you look back at the 2010 season. Ellsbury was plagued by injuries, being limited to only 18 games for the season, and not being an effective even when he did play. In the years prior, Ellsbury was seen as a superstar in the making, especially after leading the American League in steals in 2008 and 2009.
The Red Sox finished 89-73 in 2010, which meant third place in the East and no October baseball. Injuries were the theme of the season, as players including Ellsbury were dropping left and right to the point where it was amazing they performed as well as they did. Although Granderson did not perform exceptionally well in 2010, he was a regular in the Yankees lineup and would have been the difference in Boston missing out on the playoffs.
Both Ellsbury and Granderson surprisingly emerged as MVP candidates in 2011, with Ellsbury finishing second behind Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander. The Sox outfielder batted .321, scoring 119 runs in 158 games, a major difference from his previous season. Even more stunning was his newfound power. Ellsbury went from being a speedy leadoff hitter to a slugger, mashing 32 home runs and gathering 105 RBI. Though the Sox were eliminated on the final day of the regular season, he was the best all around offensive force on the team.
Granderson was similarly the story for New York in 2011, taking advantage of the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium with 41 home runs. He also accumulated 119 RBI with the power stroke, but remained a great baserunner, amazingly scoring 136 runs in 156 games. The question for both players is identifying how each of their careers will play out after being on top of baseball in 2011.
Ellsbury had always been seen as a future star, and was putting up numbers with the Red Sox early on that projected him upwards. His power surge was unexpected, and was likely a fluke for a player like him. I expect that he consistently bats around .300 for the next several years and approaches the 20-25 home run range at most, still lots of power for a leadoff hitter,
Granderson on the other hand does not bat for high average as Ellsbury does, and can sometimes be a true power pull hitter. The highest he ever batted in the major leagues was .302 with Detroit in 2007, a number which I think is the most he could bat in the near future. I think it’s more realistic to project Granderson batting around .270 with 30-35 home runs.
Given everything, the potential trade between the Red Sox and Tigers would have been a mistake for Boston. As an offensive force, Granderson is much better suited for Yankee stadium than Fenway Park. At Fenway his home run totals over the last couple of seasons would have notably dropped, while his batting average would have hovered around the .260. He would not have been as perfect a fit as Ellsbury with the Red Sox now, which is why we can look back on the potential trade and not feel as if the Sox missed out on a great opportunity.