Grand Cards: Justifying Justin, Curtis and Other Off-Season Musings

Friday, February 5, 2010

Justifying Justin, Curtis and Other Off-Season Musings

Yesterday, the Tigers signed Justin Verlander to a 5-year, $80 million contract that buys out two years of Arbitration and three years of Free Agency. Some people were happy with the move. In fact, the signing was almost universally greeted by cheers from Tigers fans. Yet some people are confused by the deal. They think that the signing sends mixed messages and makes the Granderson trade even more puzzling. Lynn Henning is the one making this point. Now, this blog has been very critical of Henning over the last year, so let's hear him out.
What the fans being wooed to buy Comerica Park tickets for 2010 can't yet figure out is why Curtis Granderson had to be traded. It remains for them the most confounding and disturbing event of the offseason.

The perception has always been that dealing Granderson was a payroll issue. Then why trade the most popular player on Ilitch's team, and on some days its most important performer, when he was only being paid $5.5 million for 2010?

It doesn't make sense in light of the other expenditures. It will make less sense if the Tigers sign Johnny Damon for $7 million or more. That's what they will pay Damon for 2010, if they ever agree on a contract that is hung up on money and length (Damon and Scott Boras want a second year).
Indeed, this was the perception when Granderson was traded--how can you ship of Granderson, who is only making $5.5 Million this year and then pay Jose Valverde $7M for each of the next two years when a closer is arguably one of the things that the Tigers needed the least? Henning makes the point that those of us in the know knew all along:
So, once and for all, let's get the story straight on Granderson:

It wasn't about money.
Ok. I've made this argument before. It wasn't about the money because the money argument just didn't make sense. I won't jump back into it. But it's the remainder of this article that I take umbrage with. It is "the real story" according to Lynn Henning. Some choice bits:
But more and more it becomes clear the Tigers preferred to go forward minus Granderson after he let them down in 2009.
Just whom did he let down?

Well, objectively speaking, his team.
Finances became a beneficiary as the Tigers crafted their big December trade, but had Granderson played last year with the skill and game-changing ways he displayed in 2006 and 2007, and even into 2008, he never for a moment would have been included in any offseason deals by the Tigers.

No chance.
But in the final analysis, after last season likely convinced the Tigers that Granderson's soul was stirred by too many things other than baseball, Detroit made its move.
Wow. Just can't get enough of throwing Granderson under the bus, can we Lynn? Let's take these point by point, before jumping to the real "real reason."

1. To argue that Granderson let his team down is the most disingenuous--nay, malicious--thing that anybody could really write. Here's a guy who goes out and gives it his all, and has a year that isn't as good as the two that preceded it, but was still enough for him to be the second most valuable offensive player on the team, and somehow he "let the team down." He didn't quit on them. He produced. He played defense. "Gee, sorry I wasn't Willie Mays this year guys, I know I let you down." Give it a rest. Nobody on this team was singularly responsible for their success or failure. The fact of the matter was the team, as a whole, just wasn't that good.

2. No team is so myopic as to ignore a player's body of work and anticipate future production based on one season alone. To do so would be egregious team mismanagement. To think that the thought of trading Granderson came up only because he struggled--relatively speaking--in 2009, is absurd. The thought of trading him came up because he has value that substantially exceeds his contract and the Tigers thought that they could leverage that to be more competitive down the road. I HIGHLY doubted that at the time the trade was made--simply because I thought that the return on the trade wasn't particularly impressive, but with the signing of Verlander the pieces start to fall into place.

3. I'm not even going to justify this with a response. If one more person criticizes Granderson's off-the field contributions, I'm going to punch them in the throat. Curtis has said it himself: he did more off-field stuff in 2007 than any other season. How'd that turn out again?

Ok, so that what's the deal with the Tigers? Can we justify the Granderson trade? The Verlander signing? Johnny Damon rumors?

Here's what I think. The Granderson signing was about finances--just not finances this year. Yes, he was signed to a reasonable contract for the next four years, but I get the sense that the Tigers felt that they couldn't afford Granderson's contract, plus Cabrera's $20M per year, plus a big contract to Verlander. At the same time Edwin Jackson was getting more expensive in arbitration as was soon to be a Free Agent. By trading Granderson, the following things happened:

1. They got a cheaper, younger outfielder who they hope can develop into a Curtis Granderson-type player. That's the ceiling. The reality may be more of a everyday Center Fielder, but shy of being a perennial All-Star.

2. They got a cheaper, younger, higher-ceiling pitcher in Max Scherzer.

3. They got two cheap, young bullpen arms--one for depth (Coke) and one for the future (Schlereth)

4. They cleared Granderson's contract off the books in 2011-2013, when it started to get big. This allows them to lock up Verlander long-term. Essentially, the Tigers traded Granderson and Jackson for the four players they got plus three free-agent years of Justin Verlander. The deal looks much better already.

5. They locked in a starting rotation of Verlander/Porcello/Scherzer through 2014. Miguel Cabrera is the superstar hitter. All of these players are under 30 for the duration of that time period.

That is the window. 2010 is not a loss, but given the bad contracts the team has this year they were hamstrung in their options. They will probably compete, but only because the rest of the AL Central is weak and their pitching portends to be pretty good. However, with a metric ton of cash coming off the books next year, the Tigers now have a SOLID pitching corps, a superstar hitter and the cash to fill in the holes that aren't replaced internally starting in 2011.

So where does that leave things? I now feel as though the Tigers have a plan. The plan is to win a World Series in the 4 year window between 2011 and 2014. This is the Verlander/Cabrera era and the Tigers have a ton of major-league level talent that is young and cheap backing up those two studs. What's more, the abundance of young players and shedding of bad contracts after 2010 allows the Tigers to be active players in the free agent market to fill those remaining holes that they can't fill internally. That is an opportunity that they wouldn't have necessarily had with the contracts of Granderson, Verlander and Cabrera all in place. The addition of a player like Johnny Damon this year would be a stop-gap. He provides a lefty bat and lead-off hitter credentials and could be very valuable for a team that could challenge for the playoffs simply by virtue of playing in a weak division. He could also be valuable trade bait if the Tigers are tanking. It's not a bad idea. At the same time, his purpose would be to fill a hole while young players develop, all while keeping the Tigers flexible for 2011-2014.

Nobody (Henning excepted, apparently) wanted to see Curtis Granderson go. Not me, not the rest of the fanbase, not even the Tigers. But they saw an opportunity that, taken in isolation made no sense whatsover. But, looking at the Grand Scheme of things--and isn't that what this site does best?--in two to five years this team is lean, young and primed for multiple playoff runs with just a few adjustments.

And now, for the first time, I'm excited for baseball to come back. And I finally feel a sense of closure surrounding the trade that just didn't sit right. This signing was the why, and the why matters. For those of you still searching for a fan favorite or the face of the franchise, I'll leave you with this:

I think that I share something with these fans and the people of Detroit," Verlander said. "This is a blue-collar town with hardworking people. I feel like we're kindred spirits. I understand how difficult it is for a lot of people here right now, and that just makes me more determined to work even harder and push myself even harder to help get them a winner."

Welcome home.