Curtis Granderson to Play Major Role With New-Look Yankees


March 2, 2010

Curtis Granderson to Play Major Role With New-Look Yankees The New York Yankees, fresh off their 27th World Series title, haven't sat back and enjoyed the spoils. General manager Brian Cashman has been hard at work this offseason bringing in new faces to replace the old and departed ones.

Goodbye, Melky Cabrera. Sayonara, Hideki Matsui. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Johnny Damon.

So who exactly will the Red Sox have to get acquainted with on Opening Day, April 4? Let's find out.

New York's prime acquisition was center fielder Curtis Granderson, brought in from the Detroit Tigers in a three-team swap that also involved the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Yankees shipped out starting pitcher Ian Kennedy, top outfield prospect Austin Jackson and reliever Phil Coke.

The 29-year-old Granderson hit a career-high 30 home runs in 2009, but the scary thing is it was his worst season since 2006. In 2007, Granderson banged out a ridiculous 23 triples while batting .302. Since then, he's scuffled to make solid contact, and hit a scant .249 in 2009.

He has one major wart to his game: his inability to hit left-handed pitching. While his .183 batting average against lefties in 2009 was likely his nadir, he'll likely never be able to hit lefties with any consistency. Granderson is an extreme pull-happy hitter, and, especially as a left-handed batter, he should find the new Yankee Stadium to his liking. He has a shot to hit 40 home runs in that bandbox of a park.

The Yankees signed Chan Ho Park late in the offseason for a bargain-basement price of $1.2 million. Park is most famous for swindling Texas out of $65 million in 2002 after six excellent years as a starting pitcher with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The five-year contract, which saw him land in San Diego for the final season and a half, netted his teams a 5.56 ERA in 563 innings, the bulk of those innings coming with the Padres.

Park enjoyed a resurgent season in Dodger blue in 2008, excelling out of the bullpen. He then joined the Phillies and stunk up the joint (7.29 ERA in seven starts) before moving back to the bullpen and posting a 2.52 ERA the rest of the way, doing battle against New York in the World Series.

The 37-year-old's desire to start caused him to turn down a one-year, $3 million deal from the Phillies to seek a starting job. No team would bite, and New York ended up the beneficiary on Feb. 23. Park will pitch out of the bullpen and should do so effectively. (Cool factoid: For two years running, Park has joined the team that bounced his team from the playoffs the year before.)

After the 2003 season, the Yankees sent their then up-and-coming first baseman Nick Johnson to the Montreal Expos for Javier Vazquez. While that trade ended poorly in New York, Johnson established his pedigree as an injury-prone player who, while on the field, could take a walk like it was his job (actually, it was) and hit the occasional dinger.

The 31-year-old Johnson moved to Washington along with the team in 2005 and remained there until the 2009 trade deadline, when he was sent to the Florida Marlins. The injury bug struck again, however, and he found himself leaving town. The call to return home was strong, so he will serve as New York's designated hitter in 2010.

Johnson's power has all but evaporated, but the left-hander joins Granderson in the friendly confines of the new Yankee Stadium, so he has a chance to reach double digits in home runs. That's not why he was signed, however. Johnson has simply stupendous late discipline, putting J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis to shame at how well he can work a walk. If you were hoping Red Sox-Yankees games would go more quickly in 2010, Johnson represents very bad news on that end.

Speaking of Vazquez, the disgraced Yankee who coughed up a grand slam to Damon on his first pitch in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS comes back to the Bronx after a sensational year in Atlanta.

The Yankees had banished Vazquez to Arizona in return for The Big Unit, Randy Johnson. After 2005, Vazquez exercised his right to request a trade so he could play closer to his native Puerto Rico. In three years with the Chicago White Sox, he earned a reputation for shirking the bright lights which hastened his exit from town. He joined Atlanta for the 2009 season and pitched well enough to finish fourth in the Cy Young balloting.

Last year, Vazquez threw up a 15-10 record and a sterling 2.87 ERA over 219 1/3 innings. Since Atlanta had money woes and depth in its rotation, they swapped him to the Yankees for Cabrera and additional pieces. As well as Vazquez pitched in 2009, there is cause for concern. Vazquez is leaving the National League and moving to a park that exposes his weakness — home runs to left-handers.

The last player of significance to join the Yankees is outfielder Randy Winn, who replaces the dearly departed Damon. Winn is an athletic outfielder who plays excellent defense and has a chance to swipe 20 bags. His power took a nose dive as did his batting average last year (he hit over .300 in 2007 and 2008 before tumbling to .262 last season), but he still brings value to the Yankees.

Other notable acquisitions include Jamie Hoffmann, Boone Logan and Marcus Thames. Hoffmann is a Rule 5 pick from the Dodgers, acquired via the Nationals. It's unlikely the slap-hitting, speedy outfielder sticks, as Thames should win the fifth outfielder's job.

The former Tiger — who signed a minor league contract to rejoin the Yanks, his original organization — has light tower power, but he can only hit against left-handers. With Winn and Granderson's history of struggles against lefties, Thames would slide in nicely as a platoon partner.

Logan came over with Vazquez from Atlanta and will compete for a spot in the bullpen. He is already in his third organization despite being just 25. He has tantalized many scouts with his potential, and this might be the year he puts it all together.

Are the Yankees better than they were in 2009? That will be answered on the field. But they certainly got younger and more athletic. That would seem to suggest they're going to be a handful yet again for Boston, and for the rest of baseball.

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