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There have been a lot of hitting headlines lately since the Yankees finally got their lineup upgraded to a competitive level. Alfonso Soriano has hit 11 HR since being traded back to New York, Alex Rodriguez is a topic of discussion nearly every night and mainly because of his bat (.371 wOBA since coming off the DL), and Robbie Cano continues to shift the debate on what his contract should or should not be nightly with exploits at the dish. Flying somewhat under the radar in that media storm is Curtis Granderson, whose been quietly productive and incredibly versatile since coming off the DL for the second time this season.
After last night's game, C-Grand is hitting .291/.412/.456 (.381 wOBA) in 97 August PA. In 24 games back, Curtis has 23 hits, 17 walks, 3 home runs, 12 R scored, and 6 stolen bases. He's started games in all 3 outfield positions and as the DH, has entered as a pinch hitter, and has hit 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th in the batting order. He said all the right things before the season about doing whatever it took to help the team win when his center field spot no longer became his, and he's more than backed that up on the field since getting back. In theory he should be doing everything to strengthen his value as one of the top free agent position players available after this season. In actuality, it might not be that simple.
As much as he has working for him (power-hitting lefty outfielder, defensive flexibility, still in prime, good teammate), Curtis has a lot working against him in this new age of free agency. He's still technically in his prime at age 32, but he'll be 33 before the start of next season. That's pretty much the end of the prime line and the beginning of natural regression, which could severely limit the number of years a team is willing to offer him. That C-Grand is already a high strikeout guy (K rate over 24.0% in each of the last 3 seasons), that regression can be expected to negatively impact his power and overall value as he moves into his mid-30s. And just the fact that he's coming off a "down" year caused by injuries takes away a lot of his leverage when looking for a multi-year deal.
This is where the qualifying offer scenario comes in to make things more complicated. It's been suggested that Granderson could accept a 1-year qualifying offer if he received one after this season and use next year as a 1-year audition to build his market value back up. If teams are nervous about him starting to break down or lose his power stroke, what better way to ease those concerns than by hitting another 40 homers and re-entering what could be a very light OF free agent market in the 2014-2015 offseason? If Curtis is just looking to cover his bases and make sure he's got at least 1 good offer next year, that's the way to do it.
To further muddy these waters, take into consideration the Yankees' side of the qualifying offer scenario. If they make the offer to Granderson and another team signs him, they got another one of those precious compensatory draft picks. But if they make the offer and he accepts, suddenly that's $14 million that just got tacked onto the payroll. Not knowing how things are going to shake out with the A-Rod suspension, the Yankees need to be very careful about what else they add to next year's payroll. $14 mil for Curtis could be the difference between upgrading other parts of the roster this offseason and/or staying below the $189 million threshold.
Not to mention the negative effect qualifying offers had on free agents in their 30s this past offseason. A lot of teams were unwilling to give up that draft pick to commit money to a player in his 30s, and that's a category that Curtis already falls into. If the Yankees want to let Curtis walk and have an easier time getting below $189 mil - something that seems like part of the inspiration for taking on Ichiro, Wells, and Soriano for 2014 - they're almost better off not making the qualifying offer. If Curtis finishes this season strong and thinks he can get a good deal on the open market, he's almost got to be rooting for the Yankees to not make him the qualifying offer. And around and around we go. The whole things is this strange mash-up of hypotheticals that never works out completely clean for either side.
Curtis certainly hasn't shown any signs of rust or physical decline as a result of the early injuries, which should work to his advantage on the market this offseason. Unfortunately for him, he suffered this bad injury luck in a contract year in which he falls into a category of players most negatively impacted by the new FA rules. Also unfortunately for him, and for the Yankees, he's hitting the market in a year where they are trying to seriously pinch pennies. It makes all the baseball sense in the world for New York to want to bring Curtis back after this season and it makes all the baseball sense in the world for him to want to return. If his baseball performance continues to be this good though, the business part of the equation might result in him going elsewhere.