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Yankees make their move: Granderson

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / December 9, 2009

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INDIANAPOLIS - The Red Sox weren’t about to give up Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury to make a Curtis Granderson deal work, no matter how much they coveted the Tigers outfielder.

So Granderson is on the verge (pending a physical) of going to the Yankees, who will give up prized center field prospect Austin Jackson, righthanded starter Ian Kennedy, and lefty reliever Phil Coke in a three-way deal that includes the Diamondbacks. Arizona gets righthander Edwin Jackson from Detroit and Kennedy, while the Tigers get Austin Jackson and Coke from New York, plus Arizona righty Max Scherzer and lefty Daniel Schlereth.

The Yankees now have an All-Star center fielder to take Melky Cabrera’s place. They now have a terrific fielder, a guy who could hit 30-35 homers at Yankee Stadium. You can argue that the best team just got better.

Sox general manager Theo Epstein said yesterday that the Yankees’ move does not influence Boston’s plans one iota and that the team is sticking to its plan of “bridging’’ to 2012, though he’s fully aware that the fan base is going to be a little antsy until the team counters with a big move of its own. Question is, will the Sox be able to counter such a significant acquisition as Granderson?

“Are we going to acquire three big-name veterans to fill three spots? Probably not,’’ Epstein said.

But Adrian Gonzalez is still in play. And major league sources say the Tigers are still all ears on Miguel Cabrera, who would be a devastating hitter at Fenway Park. Is that type of deal still possible? Of course. Is the signing of a premiere pitcher like John Lackey still possible? Absolutely.

While Epstein shouldn’t react to what the Yankees do, he does have to make the Sox viable contenders to the Yankees in 2010. Fans in Boston don’t care about bridges, especially the ones that need repair. If players like Casey Kelly and Ryan Westmoreland are ready in 2011 or 2012, terrific. But a Gonzalez or a Cabrera would give the lineup thump right away.

The Sox love the fact that they have five years of cost control with Buchholz, who could emerge as a front-line starter. The fan base seems to want them to hold on to Buchholz, but doing that means you’re not going to come up with a Gonzalez or a Cabrera in a trade.

In some respects, as Epstein pointed out yesterday, it’s almost better to sign good free agents who can fill gaps rather than give up prospects for superstars. But the Red Sox are in a division of All-Star teams. There’s no rebuilding in Boston. When you have a chance to get franchise players like Gonzalez and Cabrera in deals and they’re only 27 and 26 years old, respectively, don’t you have to consider it?

So for the next couple of days, the Sox and Epstein likely will take a hit while the Yankees bask in the glory of pulling off a big deal. Granderson has the personality and the ability to be a superstar in New York. He’s a walking sound bite. He’ll make a ton in endorsements deals and be the talk of the town, likely taking the spotlight away from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in spring training.

Yet Granderson is coming off one of his worst seasons in terms of numbers. While he had 30 homers, 71 RBIs, and 20 steals, his average slipped to .249. In each of the last three seasons, in fact, his average has slipped - from .302 in 2007 to .280 in 2008 to .249.

The Tigers were also going to be paying Granderson more and more each year. His salary is rising from $5.5 million to $8.25 million to $10 million and finally to a 2013 option for $13 million.

With Granderson in the fold, the Yankees have tremendous leverage with both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, two postseason heroes with tremendous intangibles. The Yankees can bring them back but don’t have to if it’s not at their price.

The Yankees are giving up a terrific center field prospect in Jackson, who is 22 years old and has upside that is off the charts. There was a time when the Yankees considered him untouchable. Last season, Jackson hit .300 at Triple A with 23 doubles, 4 homers, 65 RBIs, and 24 steals. His lack of power is one concern, and the Yankees feel they are better off with a young veteran like Granderson who has some pop.

This is one of those deals that, on paper, looks great for the Yankees and bad for the Red Sox. The Sox’ strike came last week when they solved their shortstop situation by signing Marco Scutaro. Now their main rival lands a player they had some interest in.

We all ask, now what? At minimum, the Sox need to sign Jason Bay or Matt Holliday. They either have to make their starting rotation lights-out or add another significant hitter to match the Yankee lineup.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, a story on the New York Yankees trade in yesterday's Sports section incorrectly reported the first names of several players and whether they throw right- or left-handed. Ian Kennedy is right-handed; Edwin Jackson is right-handed; Max Scherzer is right-handed; and Daniel Schlereth is left-handed.

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