Thursday, December 10, 2009

Now That The Dust Has Settled...

I've had people talking to me about this since Tuesday afternoon wanting my 2 cents on the deal.  I even had inside information from a friend on Tuesday afternoon whose brother's roommate was good buddies with Curtis Granderson's cousin (as ludicrous as that sounds, it's actually true).  But I didn't want to start blabbing away at what a great deal this was for the Yanks until I knew it was going through.  And now that the Granderson trade is officially official, I'll take the time to discuss it.

When I first heard about the rumors of the trade a few weeks ago I thought it was a great move, when the "agreement in principle" was made on Tuesday I thought it was a great move, and now that it's a done deal I still think it's a great move for the Yankees.  Any way you look at it, there was really no downside to this trade.

First, a quick look at what the Yankees gave up:

- Ian Kennedy: a young starting pitching prospect who bombed big time in his first Major League test and spent the better part of last season in the minors dealing with an aneurysm.  He had once been considered a blue-chip prospect in the same regard as Joba and Phil Hughes but his Major League experiences and performance to this point shows him to be a 4th or 5th-starter in the Majors at best.  Considering the bevy of talent that the Yanks still have in the minors at SP, no big loss.  Except that I lose my chance to do the
jokes next season.

- Phil Coke: another young pitcher who burst onto the scene and established himself as the Yankees' main lefty reliever last season after Damaso Marte was hurt for pretty much the entire regular season.  Showed flashes of brilliance and better than average stuff, but battled bouts of inconsistency and did have the tendency to give up the long ball more often than you'd like to see from a lefty specialist type.  With Marte's resurgence in the playoffs, the Yanks managing to keep Michael Dunn from being part of this trade, and the fact that teams change lefty relievers like people change socks, giving up Coke is another acceptable loss.

-Austin Jackson: the #1 positional prospect in the Yankees farm system, Jackson was being looked at as a potential replacement for Johnny Damon on next year's roster should he have decided to go elsewhere, but the belief in the organization was that A-Jax still needed a year in Triple-A to refine his skills.  While widely regarded as having All-Star potential, questions about Jackson's power, high strikeout rate, and outfield play still made him a bit of a question mark.  While it sucks to have to give him up, when there are as many questions as answers about what a prospect will become and the player you're getting back for him is an established star at the same position, it takes the sting out of the loss quite a bit.

When you really break it down, the Yankees actually gave away less with 3 guys than the D-Backs did with 2.  Arizona dumped a potential #1/#2-in-the-rotation starter and a reliever with big-time stuff that could have translated into a closer role down the road.  The Yanks gave up one major contributor from last year's World Series-winning club that is easily replaced and 2 guys who are still unknowns.  And in what the Yankees got back in return for what they gave up, you have to look at them as big winners in this deal.

In Curtis Granderson you have a guy with 30-30 potential (maybe 40-40 thanks to the short porch in right) because of his blazing speed and great lefty power who is a prototypical centerfielder with better range and a better arm than what the Yankees already had out there, and at 28 is entering the prime of his career.  By all accounts he is a great guy with a personality that should fit like a glove in the Big Apple, and he already has relationships with Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher which means he should fit seamlessly into the clubhouse.  Oh, and did I mention he has a more than reasonable contract for the next couple years?  You couldn't ask for a better piece to add to the fold.

Sure he strikes out a lot (141 last season), but so does Mark Teixeira, and he only finished 2nd in the AL MVP voting this past year.  Sure he doesn't hit lefties well (.183 last season in 180 at-bats), but the Yankees are chock full of guys who punish lefty pitching and can surely teach him a few things.  The Yankees already ruled out the possibility that his eyes are shit, so all the dude needs is a few sessions in the cage with Cano and Kevin Long and he'll be money.  The bottom line is, Curtis Granderson makes the Yankees just as explosive offensively as they were last season while making them much better defensively and even more dangerous on the basepaths than they were last season. 

Granderson's better range and arm than Melky makes him the obvious choice at center and allows Melky to move to left, where his range and arm is a great improvement over Johnny Damon.  Factor in that Swish is a more than capable outfielder in right and suddenly the Yankees become a much younger, faster, more dangerous outfield in terms of covering ground in the gaps to take away extra base hits and throwing guys out who try to stretch balls hit into the gaps.  Think A.J. Burnett won't like having Granderson out there next year when he makes a diving catch in left center that saves 2 runs in what could have turned into a classic A.J. Burnett Meltdown-inning?

On the basepaths he should be an big threat to pitchers and an even bigger asset to those hitting behind him as pitchers will be forced to pay more attention to him than they did to Damon last year, and Damon was no slouch himself.  Plop Grandy into Damon's spot in the 2-hole and guys are going to have to decide how they want to get beat; by focusing on Granderson and risking walking or serving up meatballs to Teix and the A-Horse or by focusing on the batters and letting Granderson run around the bases like a kid on Family Day at the park and constantly set up RISP situations for the big boppers.  Granderson scored 91 runs last year on a team that was 10th in the AL in runs scored and in the bottom half of almost every offensive category.  How many can he score with Teix, A-Hud, Jorge, Cano, and Swish hitting behind him?  120?  130?

And not only will Granderson help the Yankees on the field next year, he's already helping them off the field this year.  Having him in the fold gives the Yankees leverage over both Damon and Matsui.  Now if they don't want to come back on the Yankees' terms then they can go their merry ways and the Yankees are no weaker for it.  If they decide they want to win more titles and come back for reasonably-priced, single-year contracts, the Yankees are suddenly stocked with bats and have all kinds of lineup flexibility for any situation, be it lefty starters, off-days, injuries, you name it.

So there you have it.  Curtis Granderson was a great pickup and the Yankees were able to do it without giving up what I believe are still their 3 best pieces of trade bait in Joba, Hughes, and Montero.  They also stuck to the trend they started last offseason by getting a younger guy heading into the prime of his career instead of the twilight.  Between this trade and the Pettitte signing, Cash looks like he style has his Midas Touch from last year and it's now officially 3 great moves in less than a week.

Next up on the list...bringing Damon back for $10 mil next year with a player option for 2011 to be the DH/4th outfielder.

UConn-Kentucky Thoughts and Afterthoughts

* Can someone explain to me why this game was tipping at 9:37PM EST? Especially when the previous game was the Bulls-Hawks debacle? I could understand relegating UK-UConn to 2nd-banana duty if the first game was UNC-Purdue, but to bump to top-15 teams to a late start at Madison Square Garden for the Chicago Bulls is ludicrous.

* The first 8 minutes of the game told you everything you need to know about the Huskies this season. First 4 had nothing but turnovers, missed shots, bad transition defense, no rebounding, and a 12-0 deficit; the next 4 had better defense and rebounding, transition baskets, slashing to the rim, crashing the offensive boards, and a 16-4 run to tie the game. There's no middle ground with this team this year, it's nothing or everything.

* He's laying it on a little too thick with this "we're actually 4-5"-routine, but John Calipari's assessment of his team is spot on. Their inability to run a half-court offense and consistently knock down shots helped nurse UConn back into the game by playing right into the transition game that the Huskies want to get into. If that's a more experience team on the floor, UConn goes into the half down 20.

* That being said, the Huskies' half-court offense, if that's what you want to call it, is exactly why they couldn't pull away and hold the lead they gained in the first half; there's no ball movement, even less player movement, and too much dribbling around the perimeter. If you aren't going to even attempt jump shots because you know you can't make them, you better damn well get some inside-outside passing and backdoor cutting going instead of having all 5 guys stand and look at each other.

* What the fuck ESPN? How do you lose the feed for the last couple minutes of the first half? You aren't broadcasting from some remote satellite feed on Mars, you're in fucking Madison Square Garden!! How does that happen? Having a play-by-play man in Dan Shulman who doesn't call the play-by-play doesn't translate well to a broadcast with no picture.

* Dick Vitale was all over UConn from about the halfway point of the first half on about not taking any jump shots, but the stats and shot charts showed that Kentucky wasn't making any either. When Dyson made his first 3 in the 2nd half, it was the first 3 for either team so the Wildcats weren't exactly putting on a shooting clinic either. But hey, whoever said Vitale was a good analyst?

* Outside of having no shooters, UConn's biggest issue this year is their interior game. Basically they have a lot of big bodies, but no "big men." Sticks was MIA last night save for a 150-second stretch in the 2nd half, Oriakhi plays like he's 5'8" instead of 6'8", and Charles Okwandu is Charles Okwandu. Even Gavin isn't immune to getting pushed around here and there on rebound attempts. The Huskies' rebounding strategy resembles that of a 3rd-grade rec league team: shot goes up and everybody runs directly under the basket instead of finding a body and boxing out, and lo and behold the rebound sails over their heads or just beyond the outstretched reach of their one-armed attempts. Ater Majok could not have become eligible at a better time. Get that guy on the court, stat!

* Before we get to the skewering of the frontcourt, though, we will pause to heap some praise on Gavin Edwards. I don't know where this guy has been the last 3 seasons, but Gavin Edwards version Senior.0 is a human truck stick. He plays tough interior D, is a smart shot blocker, rebounds aggressively (even if his form and positioning isn't great), runs the floor and fills the lane better than any college big man this side of Blake Griffin, and has developed some post moves that make him a threat in the half-court offense. Most importantly, he hustles every time up and down the floor; that block of a Kentucky fast break dunk attempt early in the first half was a thing of beauty. With the way the rest of these scrubs are playing, the Huskies are going to need Gavin to keep playing at this level.

* For a guy who had moved into their lottery for next year's draft, Stanley Robinson got absolutely torched by Patrick Patterson yesterday. Patterson stepped up and played tough under the spotlight, showcasing a well-rounded inside and outside game that now features a respectable 3-pointer while Sticks just showed that he's a lanky guy with a great vertical leap who can't shoot himself out of a paper bag, AKA the same guy he was when he came onto campus 4 years ago.

* Jerome Dyson is the basketball equivalent to the new Droid cell phone; he does everything. My only question is when will the Droid's major glaring weakness start to show itself, because early in this season Dyson's already has (free throw shooting).

* And after Dyson's missed dunk attempt in the 2nd half that would have brought the Huskies back within one and possibly shifted momentum and energy back towards them, nobody will ever be confusing him for Dominique Wilkins. Dyson took off from way too far away and front rimmed the dunk so bad that it's a miracle he didn't end up hurting himself.

* And now for the "Ragging on Charles Okwandu" portion of the show:

God that guy fucking sucks. An absolute waste of a 7-foot body. I've never seen anybody get pushed around in the post so easily; he's like the black Shawn Bradley. He very well might be the worst post defender in basketball history; he lets the offensive player establish position immediately and doesn't even fight him for it, he lets his man catch the entry pass and immediately push him back 2-3 feet, he never establishes a wide base or pushes back on his man, and he always jumps into his guy on shot attempts to pick up cheap fouls. And that's not even adding in the fact that if the shot is missed, he's been pushed so far under the hoop that the only rebound he's getting is catching the ball as the second attempt goes through the basket. Just an absolute waste of space and an insult to the game of basketball. What the fuck has he been doing for the last 2 years on campus? I just dumped my cup of coffee over my head.

* Just an awful foul by Oriakhi on Wall on the 3-point play that gave Kentucky the lead for good. You can't let Wall get that shot off to even give him a chance at a 3-point play; if you have to grab a camera from somebody under the basket and hit Wall with it WWE-style, you can't let him get that shot off. You have to hammer Wall, put him on his back, and make him earn his 2 points at the line. Oriakhi was slow getting to the spot and instead of jumping full-on into Wall and crushing him, he tried to half-jump into him and stretch his arms out instead of coming down with them hard across Wall's arms. I know the kid is a freshman, but come on, he's a BFD and he's gotta start throwing his weight around at some point. If you can't do it against a skinny little PG, how are you going to bang with the big boys in the Big East for 20 games?

* In the end it was the same story for UConn that it always is in their losses: too many turnovers and too many missed free throws. As bad as their offense was, they still only lost the game by 3 points. If you subtract half of John Wall's steals that were gift wrapped for him by shitty passes and make half the foul shots you missed, you win the game by 10. It's that simple. I know it's no excuse, but you have to wonder if Kemba and Dyson being tired at the end of games has anything to do with their struggles at the stripe. Calhoun has shown no willingness to get Trice and Smith in the game and he's wearing his 2 horses out already.

* He's still got a lot to learn, but John Wall is gooooooooooooooooood. I've never seen a guard with such a quick first step and he can kick that extra gear in from a stand still, a jog, or a sprint, like he did on his game-winning drive. His passes are crisp, his range is already light years ahead of Derrick Rose's and Chris Paul's during their freshman years, and he plays with the balls-out attitude you want in your PG. As this season goes on he'll learn to be more situational with his aggression and run the offense better, but there's no doubt this kid is going to be a monster at the next level and should be the Number 1 pick in June.

* What the fuck was up with the last 26 seconds of the game??? No inbounds play coming out of a timeout that forces them to burn another timeout, no set play once you get the ball inbounds, no cutters or ball movement by Kemba, and then a 10-second clusterfuck of a last possession after getting a rebound that results in Gavin Edwards lobbing up a 3 that had than a snowball's chance of going in.

If I can go into Mad Dog mode again, "What is Jim Calhoun doing out there?? What is he doing out there? You got freshmen and sophomores running all over the floor, set up a PLAY. SET UP A PLAY!!! Bad job in a big spot by Jimmy there, Mike. Bad job by Calhoun in a big spot."

I really don't know what UConn does in practice and I'm not going to pretend I do, but when you go into a game against a young team and have no set plan on offensive to exploit anything other than dribbling around the perimeter and just hoping your guards can penetrate, and never have your big men in the right spots on either side of the floor, and have 2 seniors who don't lead the team, and just have an overall lack of composure in close games, that all falls on the coaching staff to fix those problems.

I said before the season that Calhoun was going to have to coach this team up this year; he doesn't have a team of high basketball-IQ guys who know how to handle situations and he was going to have to develop that sense in his guys through coaching. So far this season he doesn't seem to be doing that and it becomes more and more obvious that this team doesn't have it within itself to make those adjustments in-game when they come up against a good opponent. If this season is going to amount to anything, Jimbo's going to need to stop yanking guys every 30 seconds, grab a clipboard, and draw up some fucking plays. Otherwise the Huskies will just be what they are right now, a middle-of-the-pack team who can't hang with the big boys.