Ain't It Grand?
The big baseball news, for the Yankees at least, was yesterday's three-way trade with the Tigers and Diamondbacks, which is reportedly done, pending physicals. The Yanks gave up Austin Jackson and Phil Coke to the Detroit, and Ian Kennedy to Arizona. In return, they got center fielder Curtis Granderson, and his sweetheart contract (3 more years, at under $28MM).
It's a hard deal to not like. Granderson's spent the last two years coming down from his career season in 2007, but he still shows decent patience (72 BB in 710 PA) and good pop in his bat (.204 isolated power). Depending on whose metrics you believe, he's either a good or very good center fielder. Either way, by pushing the Melky/Brett Gardner duo to left, he'll improve an outfield that featured Johnny Damon's diminished range and noodle arm. He puts the Yankees in a position where they could sign either Damon or Hideki Matsui--but not both--for the DH slot, or they could go another way entirely. With Granderson, they also have the option of sitting out the Jason Bay and Matt Holliday free agent auctions, if they prefer. It's a real Brian Cashman move.
Meanwhile, the package they gave up for Granderson is extremely fair for a former elite player who's had some of the shine taken off him by declining production (he's a bit like Nick Swisher that way). As Boston.com's Pete Abraham (dang, does it feel weird to say that) pointed out, Austin Jackson may be a nice prospect, but his best case scenario is to someday give a team pretty much what Granderson will give you in the here and now. Phil Coke was a fringe prospect two years ago, prior to his meteoric rise (why do we say that? meteors don't rise, they fall) to the majors. Despite his ascension to top lefty on the best team in baseball, Coke was limited by his gopherball issues (12 homers in 62 2/3 IP, counting the postseason). He had value, but let's not get carried away. And Ian Kennedy? I'm still convinced he's a major league pitcher, and the NL West will be a good place for him. But he was never going to establish himself with the Yankees. He just didn't have the kind of upside that would justify the frustrations the Yankees had with him, even before he lost much of last season to injury. Good luck to him.
Moves and Maneuvers
The lower-case news of the Yankees' Winter Meeting are a maintenance of the status quo--Andy Pettitte getting a one-year deal, worth just under $12 million--and Brian Bruney being cast down among the sodomites on the Washington Nationals roster. Pettitte showed last season there's stuff left in the tank--heck, he was stronger in the second half than the first. It's a good idea to have him back, and if the price is not making him sweat a bunch of incentives, that's just "Thank you for another World Championship." The general rule is that there's no such thing as a bad one-year deal, particularly when you have the Yankees' resources.
As for Bruney, in Game One of the World Series he reminded everyone of the old adage, "don't put anyone on the World Series roster you wouldn't want to use in a World Series game" (the Jeff Weaver Rule, as I like to call it). When Bruney came to the Yanks, he was a rare example of the team trying to acquire and develop low-cost talent, and to some extent, it worked. The Yankees turned a player with no value into a guy who's worth the first pick in the Rule 5 draft, and at times during his Yankee tenure he was worth more than that. Sadly, it turned out the conditioning issues that soured the D'Backs on Bruney in the first place weren't his only problems--you never knew what was jogging in from the bullpen when Bruney pitched. Sometimes, he'd be a beast in a high-leverage situation, blowing fastballs past the heart of the Red Sox order. Other times, he'd nibble, lose the strike zone, and generally pour gasoline on the fire. Like Kennedy--who basically stole a save opportunity from Bruney in the season's final days--you just got the feeling that Bruney was more trouble to the Yanks than he was worth. He joins the Nationals, where his personality quirks will seem mild by comparison to his fellow inmates.
Gammo's Gone (from Bristol)
The other Winter Meetings news from yesterday was first surprising, then not. In short order, it was announced that Jack Curry had accepted a buyout from the New York Times, and then that Peter Gammons was leaving ESPN, as of the end of the meetings. The Gammons story was open-ended and sudden, so it wasn't certain if he was leaving the Worldwide Leader for another opportunity, or just leaving. A short time later, surprise turned into, "Oh, that makes sense," when the MLB Network announced that Gammons would be joining their team.
The ESPN story on this was titled "Gammons Ends Hall of Fame Run with ESPN." The title is technically correct, as Gammons got the coveted Spink Award in 2005, while a member of the ESPN family. But to me, it felt a little like saying, in 1996, that Wade Boggs had "finished his Hall of Fame run with the Yankees." Gammons was a Hall of Famer before he first joined the Bristol crew in 1989.
He changed the game with his Sunday columns for the Boston Globe, which was basically a weekly report on the state of the game, with a mild-to-heavy Red Sox tilt. I remember going to the newsstand with Joe Sheehan in high school, to pick up Baseball America, which ran the column in an abbreviated form, a couple of weeks after it ran in the Globe. We'd get together with friends to play Strat-o-Matic baseball and the issue of BA would slowly make its way around the room, everyone opening the paper to Gammons's column--sometimes it was the only thing in BA worth reading, almost always it was the only thing in BA we would talk about. When I went to college in Boston, it was a shock to open up the Sunday Globe and find a baseball column that was almost twice as long as what would later appear in BA. I actually tore that page out of the paper (the column took up an entire page!) and mailed it to Brother Joe in California.
This was a big deal in the pre-Internet days. You didn't have every sports section in America at your fingertips 24/7 back then, so a guy who once a week could tell you about what was happening everywhere in baseball was an invaluable resource--and Gammons was the first and best at it. If Gammons had quit baseball in 1988, he still would have been one of the best baseball writers of his generation. Still, he continued to blaze trails with ESPN, particularly when his writing went exclusive to ESPN.com. He was--I think--the first major sportswriter to abandon print to work exclusively online. Between him and Rob Neyer there was a stretch when ESPN's baseball page was the online destination that you had to check every day, multiple times a day.
For me my appetite for Gammons's writing slacked off a bit when he went behind ESPN's pay wall. The tremendous quantity and quality of sports writing available online in the middle of this decade made one writer--even a great one--falling by the wayside less stunning than it would have been in the late 80s or early 90s. Competitors, like Ken Rosenthal, started outhustling him on the phones, breaking more news, real or rumored. In general, people became less tolerant of the Gammons-style reporting of rumors, now that the Internet's full of them.
Even if he's lost a bit off his fastball, Gammons is like Andy Pettitte--he can still bring it well enough that he's welcome on my team. Here's wishing him the best of luck on the MLB Network (and, to a much lesser extent, on Red Sox-owned NESN).