Tigers’ bad decisions led to Granderson trade

Some may suggest that the Tigers agreed to trade Curtis Granderson

and Edwin Jackson on Tuesday because the Michigan economy is not

doing well.

That is false.

This deal happened for 92.1 million reasons — the

number of dollars owed to Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos

Guillen, Brandon Inge, Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy

Bonderman in 2010.

It’s sad, really. The Tigers were doomed by their own

generosity. They won a pennant in 2006, traded for Cabrera and

Willis in 2007, and made a habit of rewarding players based on past

accomplishments or the expectation of same.

Baseball teams do not win championships because of

benevolence. They must make cold, calculating decisions about when

to hold onto veteran players and when to let them go.

Time after time, the Tigers made the wrong choice. And now

they have determined that the best way to atone for those errors is

to trade away a pair of All-Stars <i>before</i> they

make big money.

On one level, it’s hard to fault the Tigers too much. When

team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski handed out those

hefty contract extensions, one after the other, some people (myself

included) applauded the team’s commitment to maintaining a core of

veterans. Many small-market teams are unable to do that.

But now it’s obvious that Dombrowski made a number of

mistakes that have cost the organization dearly.

The loss of Granderson will sting people in Michigan

especially hard. He was one of the most popular figures in Detroit

&#151; athlete or otherwise &#151; a charismatic star who

slugged 30 home runs and ran a foundation to benefit

underprivileged kids.

I don’t believe this was a good trade for the Tigers. I also

don’t believe it was a terrible one. But they shouldn’t have needed

to make it. When Granderson signed a five-year contract extension

two winters ago, no one could have predicted that he would be

shipped to the Yankees this soon.

One wonders how much the Tigers’ late-season collapse

&#151; which could have been averted by one more victory over

the first 162 games, or three more outs in No. 163 &#151;

factored into this decision. I can’t help but think back to

something Dave Dombrowski told me at the general managers’ meetings

last month.

I asked why the team was listening to trade offers on a

larger-than-expected number of players, and he said, “I think we’re

open-minded, based on the fact that we didn’t win a championship.”

Apparently.

Did owner Mike Ilitch order a fire sale? No, the Tigers have

said. Granderson and Jackson will earn about $10 million between

them next year. (Note: Willis will earn $10 million next year all

by himself.) That’s not a huge percentage, when considering the

team maintained a payroll of more than $130 million this year.

The timing, though, is very odd. Yes, the team suffered an

attendance drop this year, but it only fell to fourth in the

American League at 2.6 million. The money due to Ordonez,

Robertson, Willis, Bonderman and Inge will come off the books after

2010.

So, why the rush? Why not wait one more year? In what way

would trading two All-Stars help a team that is (we are told)

trying to make the playoffs in 2010?

The four players the Tigers acquired, pending physicals

&#151; center fielder Austin Jackson and left-hander Phil Coke

from the Yankees; right-hander Max Scherzer and left-hander Daniel

Schlereth from the Diamondbacks &#151; will undoubtedly help

their future. But I can’t help but wonder if that future is now

less likely to include Justin Verlander.

Verlander, 26, is only two years away from free agency, where

a nine-figure contract may await. He is from Virginia. He has lived

in Florida. Do you think Verlander, a competitor on the order of

Roy Halladay, will want to stay in Detroit if players of

Granderson’s caliber are being traded away? The Tigers’ performance

over the next two seasons will need to convince him.

From Detroit’s perspective, Austin Jackson is the key to the

trade. Scherzer has as much of a chance to pitch well in 2010 as

does Edwin Jackson. That portion of the trade, I believe, favors

the Tigers because Scherzer is younger and cheaper.

But Austin Jackson, 22, has never played in the big leagues.

And you can rest assured that the Tigers traded for him with the

idea that he will contribute for them in 2010. He will be asked to

replace an immensely popular player; that is a difficult task for

any veteran, let alone someone who spent 2009 in Moosic, Pa.

With Granderson gone, the laser focus on Cabrera will

probably intensify. He was drunk during an early-morning

confrontation with his wife prior to the Tigers’ 161st game of the

season &#151; a loss in which Cabrera went 0-for-4 and stranded

six runners.

Cabrera would be very difficult to trade, because of his huge

contract and off-the-field indiscretions. So if the Tigers wanted

to trim a little salary, they had little choice but to trade

Granderson and keep Cabrera. I would say Cabrera’s task of

rebuilding goodwill with the fan base just got tougher &#151;

and more vital.

But sentiment only goes so far, right? The Tigers know that

now. That’s how they got into this mess in the first place.

For years, they kept players they should have traded. On

Tuesday, they traded one they were always supposed to keep.