Tigers' bad decisions led to Granderson trade

BY foxsports • December 14, 2009

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."


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.

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