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Why (And How) The Cubs Should Trade For Curtis Granderson

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I'm not sure I really have to convince anyone here of the premise of the headline of this article; numerous people have already posted here about how useful Curtis Granderson would be in the Cubs' outfield, and several traditional media articles in both Chicago and Detroit have discussed this possibility (and those are just three examples of dozens of such articles). Granderson himself is busy this winter pitching a reality TV series:
The Detroit Tigers player has agreed to host a TV and online series titled "Stadium Secrets" where he takes sports fans on an exploration of stadiums.

The concept is similar to Authentic’s "Cities of the Underworld" on History channel.

"Authentic will be providing an exclusive, VIP experience for fans everywhere – a behind-the-scenes journey that will be exciting for all of us. I am eager to begin working on this project and look forward to a successful partnership," Granderson said.

Sounds interesting. I'm hoping Granderson gets to explore Wrigley Field in detail starting next summer. In the meantime, after the jump I'm going to examine Granderson's numbers in detail, explain why he's a perfect fit for Chicago and the Cubs, and look at who the Cubs might have to give the Tigers in exchange.

We have to first start this discussion with a couple of assumptions. First, we assume that Milton Bradley has been, or will be, traded before any Granderson deal, thus opening up center field for the Cubs (with Kosuke Fukudome moving back to right field, a position he plays better; this would solidify Cubs defense in two positions). It is, of course, possible that Bradley could be part of a deal for Granderson, but I am going to operate here under the assumption that he's not, that Bradley will be dealt to some other team (the Rays?) and that any Granderson trade would be a separate transaction.

Second, I think you have to assume that Granderson has to be, at this stage of his career -- he will be 29 on March 16, not old, but getting toward the end of his "best" year capability -- platooned, at least to some extent. His career splits:

vs. RHP: .292/.367/.528, .894 OPS vs. LHP: .210/.270/.344, .614 OPS

Last year it was even more extreme:

vs. RHP: .275/.358/.539, .897 OPS vs. LHP: .183/.245/.239, .484 OPS

Against RHP, Granderson hits almost as well as Aramis Ramirez -- All-Star level. Against LHP... well, he's basically Aaron Miles. So you'd probably want to re-sign Reed Johnson to give Granderson a break against LHP. Johnson doesn't hit righthanders, but against LHP his career line is .313/.378/.463, an OPS of .841, nearly as good as Granderson vs. RHP. These two together would produce outstanding offensive numbers from the CF position and good defense. The Tigers started Granderson in 155 games in 2009 because, well, they really didn't have any other choice. The other eight (remember, the Tigers played 163 games in 2009) games were started by Josh Anderson (1), Clete Thomas (2) and Ryan Raburn (5), and of those guys, only Raburn can hit (he hits LHP pretty well -- the Tigers could have gotten more offense out of CF if they had played Raburn there a bit more often vs. LHP).

So a modified platoon of Granderson and Reed Johnson would be, in my opinion, the ticket to success for the Cubs outfield. I say "modified" because Johnson would also have to spell Fukudome in RF from time to time; on those days, Granderson would have to start in CF vs. LHP. Sam Fuld would stick with the team as the fifth outfielder, someone who could take over in the late innings for Alfonso Soriano. The Cubs' outfield would be very good defensively and close to outstanding offensively.

Granderson's contract, though it has three full years to run (and a 2013 option) is not onerous. Like many Jim Hendry contracts in recent years, it's backloaded. In 2010, Granderson is due to make a somewhat-reasonable $5.5 million; that increases to $8.25 million in 2011 and $10 million in 2012, with a $2 million buyout in 2013 (all figures, as always, from the excellent Cot's Baseball Contracts), that would increase to $13 million (with some escalators to that based on performance) if the option is exercised. That would make the total financial commitment $25.25 million (presuming the buyout is done), spread over four years from 2010-2013. That's not unreasonable for a player of Granderson's ability.

Now -- how do you get him? The Tigers seem to be in partial-sell mode; that is, they'd like to shed some of their big-dollar contracts, but not get into full rebuilding mode. Thus, you'd need to get them at least a couple of players who could step in right now and contribute at the major league level. I can't find the link right now, but in a recent Baseball America online chat, a question was asked to BA's Jim Callis about this type of deal:

Q: Would Josh Vitters, Jake Fox, and Jay Jackson be enough for the Cubs to land Curtis Granderson if he really is available? Would you do that deal if you were the Cubs?

Jim Callis: I would think so. The Tigers have to dump salary, so I might try to hold onto Vitters and see if Detroit would take Ryan Flaherty, or hold onto Jackson and offer a lesser pitcher. But the Cubs are in win-now mode, and I think they'd bite.

I'd do this deal. Starlin Castro may be the flavor-of-the-month after his .376/.396/.491 performance in the Arizona Fall League, but I think he has higher upside than Vitters, who also hit well in the AFL (.353/.380/.455), and I would not trade Castro. It's entirely possible that Vitters will become a good major league player -- but you're getting a good major league player in return. Jake Fox is miscast in the National League; though he worked hard at playing 3B, C, LF and RF, his best position is DH. Throw in the fact that he played college ball at the University of Michigan, and he's a natural for Detroit. Jay Jackson has been up and down in the Cubs organization and while he has talent, I'm not quite sure what role the Cubs have in mind for him. He was exclusively a starter in 2009 after starting and relieving in 2008.

Callis thinks this would get a deal done and I'd do it -- but I suspect the Tigers might ask for Andrew Cashner instead of Jackson. That's a high price to pay -- Cashner has a shot at the major league bullpen for the Cubs in 2010 and he could even be viewed as a closer candidate by the Tigers, who are likely to let Fernando Rodney walk. (Rodney had a decent year in his first full season as closer, but will be 33 in March.)

I'd still do Vitters, Cashner and Fox for Granderson. For those of you who say, "No way! Keep those prospects! We can't give up both Vitters and Cashner!", I say that one of the things you can do with your prospects is turn them into productive major league players. The Cubs did this in acquiring Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez; when D-Lee was acquired he was just about the same age Granderson is now.

I might even do Vitters, Fox, Cashner AND Jackson for Granderson. To illustrate why, let me tell you a little story I just read about from Cubs history. Take it for what it's worth, because it came from the new edition of Leo Durocher's (ghostwritten by Ed Linn) autobiography, "Nice Guys Finish Last" (mini-book-review: recommended, for its interesting take on Durocher's era in baseball history). In it, he describes having discussions along with GM John Holland, with the Baltimore Orioles in the winter of 1971 about trading for Frank Robinson. According to the book, the Orioles asked for five young players -- pitchers Earl Stephenson, Jim Colborn, Bill Bonham, Joe Decker and outfielder Brock Davis. Durocher's book says they hedged, asking to make it four-for-one, not wanting to give up both Decker and Bonham.

You know what? They should have offered Baltimore GM Frank Cashen a handshake and done the deal right then and there. The next day, Robinson was traded to the Dodgers -- for four minor leaguers, only one of whom (Doyle Alexander) had a significant major league career.

The day after that, the Cubs traded Stephenson, Colborn and Davis to the Brewers for Jose Cardenal. Stephenson and Davis never had any significant impact in the major leagues. Colborn did have a few decent major league seasons, winning 20 games for the Brewers in 1973. Bill Bonham never became the big winner the Cubs thought he would; eventually he was traded to the Reds for Woodie Fryman and Bill Caudill. Joe Decker was traded to the Twins (with Bill Hands) a year later for Dave LaRoche.

None of those deals would have had the impact that getting Frank Robinson to play right field for the 1972 Cubs would have had. At 35, Robinson was past his best years, but would have been a far better hitter in Wrigley Field than he was in Dodger Stadium that year. (Robinson also got hurt in 1972 and missed almost 60 games; whether that would have happened to him as a Cub is unknown, obviously.)

The 1972 Cubs finished fourth in the league in runs scored and would have been a better offensive team with Frank Robinson than they were with Jose Cardenal; neither Bonham nor Decker had any significant impact on the '72 team.

The point is, that sometimes you have to take team "prospects" -- who may never pan out to what you hope they will -- to win now. Trading Vitters and Jay Jackson -- or even Vitters, Jackson and Cashner -- may provide dividends to the Detroit Tigers two or three years down the road. But acquiring Curtis Granderson, who, in addition to his talent on the field, is also, from all reports, a good clubhouse guy who spends a lot of time giving back to the community (and is a native Chicagoan), would go a long way to helping the 2010 Cubs return to the playoffs and give them a chance to win it all.

And isn't that what we all want?

As we often say here... GETITDON EJIM.