By: Brian Mangan
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The Mets have reportedly signed Curtis Granderson to a four year, $60 million contract. The reaction around the Mets blogosphere is just depressing, with many fans/bloggers sounding like they’re just shrugging their shoulders sadly, glad that anyone would sign with the team. Here are some actual quotes:
“Granderson isn’t a perfect player, but this was a move that had to be made.”
No it wasn’t.
“Oh, and he’s capable of hitting at least 30 home runs a year and he plays a very good outfield, which is something the Mets desperately need.”
It would be cool if it was true, but it isn’t.
“However, this is a deal the Mets had to make; it helps change the narrative and brings a legit, big-league player to a position the Mets really needed to fill.”
No they didn’t.
For $15 million per season, the Mets did not break the bank with Granderson. It’s a signing that has a little upside – especially compared to the other free agents presently on the market, and it can’t be a wild overpay, because the money and years are not outrageous. However, it’s unlikely that Granderson will be either a league average fielder or batter, and we at the Read Zone doubt he will perform well enough to justify the contract.
Granderson’s Ultimate Zone Rating in center field has decreased over the last seven years: 13.0, 14.8, -11.8, -1.4, 9.0, -5.3, -18.5. He posted a positive rating last year, but in less than 200 fielding innings. This trend is not going in the right direction.
If you trust eyes over numbers, Fangraphs fans have given him the following “overall” defensive ratings over the last four years: 64, 62, 59, 44.
What else would you expect from a guy who is now 32 years old? He’s certainly not getting any younger. His defense is no longer an asset, and will continue to deteriorate. The best-case scenario is that he’s a scratch (or average) centerfielder and a good right fielder in the first year of the deal; but more likely, he’s already a far below average fielder in centerfielder, and a below average leftfielder. [Ed. We know he's going to be asked to play a corner, probably LF. As we said, he'll probably be average to below-average there, which is not an asset].
Let’s be real here — the Mets are in need of offense (hence my colleague’s tweet that the Mets “had to do” this, ugh). However Granderson is not a good bet going forward even on the offensive side of the plate. Even if you were willing to give Granderson a pass on his terrible .229/.317/.407 slash-line from last season (good for a 97 OPS+), his last healthy season he batted only .232/.319/.492 for an OPS+ of 115.
Although a 115 OPS+ or 43 home runs would be welcome on any team (even if the on-base percentage is a low .319), the odds of Granderson replicating that kind of season is slim-to-none.
FN In case you think I’m not giving Granderson full credit offensively, he did post a .262/.364/.552 line in 2012, for a 142 OPS+ and 41 home runs. He was great. But that season is a definite outlier, as we’ll discuss.
Over the last five years, Granderson has batted .249, .247, .262, .232, and .229. Although that had come with significant power, you’re not very far from .230 to out of baseball, unless you’re Adam Dunn offensively or Peter Bourjos defensively. Over the last two years, Granderson has struck out 28.5% and 28.2% of the time. He’s a low average whiff-machine that needs to generate power to generate anything positive on offense. These are not the trends of a player you want.
I’m less concerned than most about Granderson’s transition from Yankee Stadium to Citifield, as it appears that, although Granderson is a little pull-happy, he is a hard-hitter and won’t be harmed too much by Citifield’s spacious dimensions. Nonetheless, Fangraphs projections have Granderson posting a line around .235/.326/.435 … and this is just in the first year of this contract.
Nonetheless, Comparisons to Jason Bay Aren’t Fair
One of my favorite Mets writers out there, Eno Sarris, does a valiant job over at Fangraphs saying that the Granderson signing is better than the Bay signing (it is) and asking “Why people don’t people like it more?”
First of all, we should throw any comparison to Bay right out the window. Granderson over his career has been speedy, athletic, a positive on defense, and has contributed with the bat in various ways. Bay, although he came to the Mets with a better offensive pedigree than Granderson, was slower and much less athletic. That is why we, at the time Bay signed with the Mets, were one of the only sites to completely lambast the deal, calling it a “colossal mistake” and compared him to Danny Tartabull and Ryan Klesko, players who contributed nothing in their mid-30’s and were out of baseball.
When the Mets signed Bay, Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman compared the signing to the Mets 1981-1982 acquisition of George Foster. I said at the time that the comparison to Bay was inaccurate — the team was at a different point of the success cycle, and a player of Bay’s archetype wouldn’t fail because of the spacious dimensions of Citifield, but because he had old-man skills and would not age gracefully.
However, the comparison between Foster and Granderson is striking. George Foster was 32 going on 33 at the time; Foster was a former MVP (Granderson almost was); and Foster, although he had turned in a good 1981, he had seen his power numbers decline each year from 1977 to 1981, from 52 to 40 to 30 to 25 to 22.
Here is what Pearlman wrote about the Foster acquisition, including a quote from then-Mets GM Frank Cashen:
In the winter of 1981-82, the New York Mets were Big Apple nobodies — a star-less, charisma-less franchise coming off of a miserable 41-62 strike-shortened season.
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Did Cashen think the former National League MVP was the missing piece that New York needed to turn itself into a winner? Hardly . . . “But signing George was a message to baseball and to our fans that we were in it to win,” Cashen said. “From here on out, we would do whatever it takes.”
This could be, verbatim, what most Mets fans have said about Granderson so far. A bad team who makes a signing of a charismatic former star in the hopes of putting butts in the seats and because they really “needed” to fill a spot on the roster.
It’s Not a Good Signing
Projections posted on Fangraphs predict Granderson will be worth between 2.2 wins above replacement (WAR) and 3.0 WAR next season. I have seen around the internets that many analysts have concluded that a “win above replacement,” a value which takes into account offense, defense, and baserunning, is going for about $6.5MM or $7MM per win this offseason. Regardless of whether you think that is too much (it is), Granderson is only barely worth the contract even if you take the most optimistic estimate and give him a graceful decline for age with no injury:
2014: 3.0 WAR = $21M
2015: 2.5 WAR = $17.5M
2016: 2.0 WAR = $14M
2017: 1.5 WAR = $10.5M Total = $63 million in value.
If you were to use ZiPS projections, those numbers are 2.4, 2.2, 2.0, 1.3, which would make the deal a failure.
Baseball isn’t played on a spreadsheet, but looking at this provides context when it comes to dollar figures and years. Will the Mets ultimately be hamstrung by the Granderson deal? Only a little. Will it go down as an all-time bust? Probably not. But despite what most of the mainstream appears to be saying, it’s not a signing that the Mets needed to make right now as they attempt to emerge from a half-decade of failure.
I really like Granderson. He’ll be better than Eric Young Jr. I like that the deal prevented us from going after Nelson Cruz or making another, more expensive mistake this offseason. He may even be a valuable contributor to the team in 2015 when Harvey returns and we may have a chance to compete. But it’s too many years and too many dollars for me — not to mention the loss of a draft pick. When the Mets signed Bay, I asked the world this question:
On the field, the Mets are going to be better with Jason Bay than without him. That is not the question. The question is whether they will be more well-positioned to be successful with Bay and his contract than without him, both this year and in the future. I believe that the answer to that question is no.
I believe with regard to Granderson, the answer is also no. I hope, unlike with Bay, that this time I’m wrong.
Official Prediction: I think he’ll be liked as a Met, even if he struggles. First year: .240/.330/.440, 22 HR, 180K, 2.5 WAR (-15 UZR in centerfield, 0 UZR in right field). Fourth year: .230/.315/.385, 5 HR, part time player, happily accepting his World Series ring.
Edit (6:32 p.m.): The incomparable John Sickels over at http://www.minorleagueball.com did with Curtis Granderson what I did with Jason Bay, namely, compared him with his 10 most comparable players according to Bill James’ Sim Scores. I will present the list and his analysis with only two comments: (1) this list is not good and (2) Jason Bay is, of course, on it:
“Through age 32, Granderson’s Bill James Sim Scores bring up the following comparisons:
If the historical parallels mean anything, of the ten most comparable players through age 32, only one, Roy Sievers, was a productive, consistent, and durable player for the next four years of his career. Four, Cruz, Post, Barfield and Bay, were completely washed up by 33. The others weren’t totally washed up at his stage and had at least one additional productive season, but were erratic and/or injury prone.”
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Brian Mangan is an attorney living in New York City. He understands the desire to do something to get better but …. ugh. At least this move makes the Chris Young acquisition make a little more sense.
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Thank you to Matt Cerrone over at Metsblog for the link, as always!