Even after missing 101 games in 2013, Curtis Granderson still might be the best power-hitter on the free agent market this off-season. However, he is still likely to fall behind Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Beltran on most team's wish lists, leaving him in a tough middle-tier of the market.
Granderson is almost certain to receive a qualifying offer from the Yankees and he is unlikely to accept that offer according to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York. That is surprising because at 32-years old and coming off a injury-riddled season, Granderson is in a poor position entering free agency. He homered just once every 35 plate appearance in his 61 games in 2013, well down from the once every 15 plate appearance rate he posted in 2011 and 2012 when he was hitting 40 bombs a year. With his defense declining to the point that he is no longer much of a viable option in center and with his total lack of contact ability, teams are going to be extremely hesitant to offer him a long-term deal this winter. The qualifying offer would give Granderson the perfect opportunity to prove he is still the masher he was a year ago and earn himself a more lucrative deal in 2015 when the crop of available corner outfielders will be much thinner.
Even if there is not the market Granderson might have envisioned prior to his injury, there is certainly going to be a number of teams interested in adding his pop and his speed. Home runs have been trending down slightly over the past five seasons and the potential to pick up 30-40 more dingers is going to be very enticing. Yankee stadium has played a role in Granderson's production, providing the most extreme boost in lefty homers in the game, but apart from a move to the polar extreme of a Petco-like environment, Granderson should remain a major threat to go yard. Teams are generally savvy enough to accurately account for simple things like park factors and their understanding how a player like Granderson will hit in their own home park is easily incorporated in their valuation. Defensive metrics might be extremely down on his glove these days, but that doesn't mean there aren't teams that will see him as a center fielder and be willing to pay a premium for him to play there.
New York won't be upset at all to have Granderson returning at $14 million and change but it hard to imagine anyone risking anywhere near that much money on yearly basis for several years at this point in his career. If Granderson does reject the offer, New York still has the best gauge of his value and the money to top another bidder. His value in off-the-field areas like marketing and merchandizing is certainly higher for the Yankees than anyone else as well.
That said, New York is probably not going to target him if he rejects their qaulfiying offer. They could make a huge splash by courting Ellsbury or add more offensive value with Choo. Carlos Beltran would require a less length commitment for potentially better short-term value without extend risk. The Yankees will be happy to overpay for a year of the Grandy-man if that is all it is, but they are going to be very ruthless in their valuation if it comes to a lengthier contract.
Marchand says Granderson loves playing in New York and the Mets happen to play in New York. They need outfield help and power lefty hitting desperately and they would be thrilled to steal the back pages from the Yankees for a few days this winter. They also have money to spend and fans to win back. With a protected first-round pick, the qualifying offer is less expensive for the Mets this season than it was last year when they pined for Michael Bourn but balked at losing their top pick.
Age is likely an issue here, however. At 33-years-old next season Granderson is a temporary solution to a long-term problem for the Mets. The team has some exciting young talent on the mound and behind the plate, but they have nothing coming through the system to help an outfield that hit 7 percent below league average in 2013. Granderson is less than an ideal option for a team that may not be ready to compete until 2015.
The White Sox
The White Sox don't seem ready to compete with the Indians, Tigers and Royals next season and they probably should focus on ways to infuse more young talent into their organization, but GM Rick Hahn appears ready to press the issue after landing international free agent Jose Dariel Abreu. With a protected first round pick, the White Sox don't have to make the same sacrifice to land Granderson that some teams would.
Further, Granderson seems to fit the White Sox idea of a desirable player perfectly. Hahn and his predecessor Kenny Williams (who is now the team's executive vice president) typically love athletic players with power and speed and Granderson is certainly that. After adding strikeout machine Adam Dunn in 2010 and parlaying their top trade chip, Jake Peavy, into strikeout-prone prospect Avisail Garcia it is hard to imagine Granderson's low contact rates will bother this team. The White Sox will have money to spend on free agents lower down the food chain and Granderson seems like just the guy for them. It doesn't hurt that they play in one of the game's most home-run friendly parks either.
Potential Dark Horse Candidates
Kansas City played meaningful baseball in September for the first time since people stopped using America Online and they are probably going to chase that feeling this winter. One area they need to upgrade is their power-hitting, especially if they actually do move Billy Butler. The Royals finished last in the American League in home runs and they got just 39 dingers from their outfielders, the second lowest total in the game. Granderson would provide an instant upgrade. Money is obviously an issue for the Royals but with the window to win finally creeping open, adding power with a mid-market signing makes sense for them.
Seattle should look elsewhere first, making Jacoby Ellsbury their primary target but Granderson is likely to be on their list as well. Safeco is one of the tougher parks for left-handed power hitters and that could be deal-breaker for either side, but Granderson's power and speed could help a Mariners offense that once again found themselves in the bottom five in runs scored in the AL with the sixth-worst park-adjusted offense in the league. Seattle has enough money to land a top free agent and still make a winning bid on player like Granderson. For Seattle, the need is obvious but it difficult to tell who they will value more given their home environment and players like Beltran, Granderson, Cruz and Choo could all be options after Ellsbury.
Texas has Alex Rios on board for 2014 and they may prefer to bring back the right-handed hitting Nelson Cruz and extend him a qualifying offer but Granderson is an interesting fit for Texas. He would effectively replace the home-run power the team lost when Josh Hamilton signed with the Angels and even with Rios around, the Rangers could use that added left-handed power. Arlington is a great environment for Granderson's skills and his speed and patience would fit in well at the top of the Texas line up. If the Rangers are successful in their bid to add Brian McCann this off-season, bringing in a lefty power hitter may make more sense than re-upping with Cruz.
What will he get paid?
While some of the other free agent outfielders will feel the sting of the qualifying offer, Granderson could be devastated by its effects. He is too old for teams to feel comfortable giving him the four or five year deal he probably will be seeking, but he isn't so old that he will have to settle for a short-term contract like Carlos Beltran or Hiroki Kuroda. While his 2013 injuries aren't likely to have negative long term effects, the loss of playing time adds considerable risk to an already worrisome profile. Granderson hasn't posted a batting average on balls in play over .300 for a full season since 2008 and his strikeout rate rose in every season he was in New York topping out at almost 29 percent in 2012. Even if his home run ability and speed bring a premium on market, the lack of bat-to-ball ability will scare plenty of potential bidders away from any long-term deal.
The battle for Granderson could very well come down to who is willing to go four-years to land him. At three-years and $39-$42 million Granderson's risk and reward balance out reasonably well. Granderson will be looking for more and his home run numbers could easily seduce teams into the range of four years and $56 million. Another 40 home run season would make the early results of such a deal look amazing, but the long-term projections a player who struggles to hit .250 can't be good. If there were fewer options on the market, Granderson might do better, but in this class of free agents, the combination of his skills, age and the qualifying offer will make that his ceiling.