If you think wins are worth closer to seven million dollars a year, and that Curtis Granderson is a three-win player next year — reasonable assumptions, given the work of some, and the projections we have on our site — then giving him four years and $60 million is not a problem. It’s almost dead on. The problem comes when you realize that this is almost the exact same deal that the team gave Jason Bay. When he was two years younger. Mets’ fans might feel a chill go down their back right now, as I did when I heard the comparison.
Maybe the comparison won’t hold up to inspection, though.
If you zoom out past last year, things look good for Granderson. Since 2010, he’s 13th in the league in home runs, sixth in the league in isolated slugging percentage, and the 22nd-best outfielder by wRC+. Over that time frame, he put up 13.8 wins. If he did that again, he’d be worth the contract and then some.
Of course, he’s older now. Power peaks fairly early, as does defense, and he’s decidedly post-peak. But the projection systems take that into account, and OLIVER’s five-year projections have him worth over nine wins in the next four years. If you inflate the price of a win 10% every year over those four years, you get close to $60m in value even if you start with a $6m win this season. ZiPS is less optimistic (7.9 WAR over four years), but its owner would take the over based on the fact that the broken forearm came at the plate.
Will Granderson be the same in a new park? Our park factors have Yankee stadium inflating homers by lefties 14% (second-most in the league) while Citi plays just one percent above average. Granderson’s away isolated slugging percentages over the last four years are still comfortably above .200, though, and only one year in New York saw him put up a huge home/away split in terms of power. Most players play better at home, and he gets to keep his home city!
At 33, though, Granderson is also two years older than Bay when he signed his contract. And Bay, over the four years going into that signing, had been 14th in the league in home runs, 29th in isolated slugging, and had been the 15th-best outfielder by wRC+. There’s that chill again. Why should Mets fans believe that Granderson will age better than Bay? Especially since he’s coming off a much worse season than Bay was coming off of back in 2009.
The non-hitting part of the package, with Granderson, is better than the one Bay offered. As a plus on the basepaths and in the field, Granderson has ways to offer value even as his power wanes, ways that Bay could not. Jason Bay hadn’t played center field in five years when he inked with the Mets. Granderson won’t play center with Juan Lagares around, but he played center last year. Projections that have him a minus on defense are probably projecting him as a center fielder. As a scratch center fielder, he should be a positive in the corner outfield. And Granderson has been a positive on the basepaths every year since he became a regular — Bay was closer to scratch and never showed the same peak speed as Granderson.
It seems that speedy players age better than those without speed, and that’s probably because their athleticism helps them be a plus on the basepaths and in the field even as their bat wanes. And that’s how we can take this past a comparison between two players. Because it’s 2013, and in 2013 $60 million dollars is worth less than it was back then Bay signed, and wins cost more money on the open market.
You might take a look at Granderson’s strikeout rate, and the fact that he’s been swinging more at pitches outside the zone, and want to run the other way. Toby Hyde did. But that’s just the natural process of aging, and last year was the first time Granderson swung at more pitches outside the zone than the league. And none of the comps in Hyde’s piece played center field, even at a scratch level, going into the seasons he’s covered.
Curtis Granderson is an athletic former center fielder that has been mostly healthy other than a couple bad hit-by-pitches that cost him much of last year. He fills a desperate need for the Mets, who don’t have great short- or long-term options at his position. Given his tools, he should age fairly gracefully. This deal isn’t a glaring overpay (beyond the fact that free agency is a tough place to get value), it won’t handcuff the team, and he’s projected to be an above-average player for two or three years. Why don’t people like it more?
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.