12:06 pm Apr. 20, 2012
Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, Curtis Granderson joined the ranks of team greats like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and yes, also Cliff Johnson, by hitting three home runs in a game. Granderson also had a pair of singles, giving him five hits in total, the most by any Yankee who homered three times.
It was, by that measure, the most complete offensive game in Yankee history. And it served as a reminder of just how good Granderson has been for the Yankees since they acquired him prior to the 2010 season in a three-team deal, giving up Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers and Ian Kennedy to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
When New York traded for Granderson, he was about to turn 29. He played a good center field, and hit extremely well against right-handed pitching. But he'd struggled against lefties—really struggled, as in a .484 OPS against them in 2009—and the smart money on a player who hasn't learned to hit lefties by age 29 is that he isn't going to learn, period. One of the very few counterexamples of the past 30 years, as it happens, was another Yankee acquisition, Paul O'Neill. But such mid-career conversions are rare.
Granderson improved sufficiently against lefties in his first New York season—a .647 OPS—to compel the team to play him full-time. And in 2011, he took a leap forward. His .902 OPS against righties was right in line with his career norms. His .944 OPS against lefties actually exceeded it.
Granderson essentially went from being brilliant in spots to being a full-time M.V.P. candidate. He was worth 5.2 wins above replacement level last year.
His acquisition, it may now be positively confirmed, was brilliant, notwithstanding the fact that Kennedy has excelled in his new home: After a useful 2010, pitching to a 3.80 E.R.A. over 194 innings, he became dominant in 2011, pitching to a 2.88 E.R.A. over 222 innings, and sporting a gaudy 21-4 record. He was worth 5.5 Wins Above Replacement in 2011.
The only problem the Granderson trade presents the Yankees with is that they now have to figure out whether they want to extend him, with a massive investment in years and annual value, when his contract ends after 2013.
This problem is precisely what they signed up for.