Curtis Granderson knows it. The New York Yankees know it. By the time the 2014 season starts, the chances of Granderson manning center field for the Bronx Bombers are pretty slim. In fact, he might not even be doing it by the time Opening Day comes around in 2013.
Grandy will still be with the team, of course. His position on the field, though, may be swapped with that of Brett Gardner, the team’s current left fielder and a player who is still under arbitration through 2014.
Now, there are good baseball reasons for this, as Gardner’s speed and range likely makes him a better choice to get to fly balls at center, even though he and Granderson aren’t exactly known for having rocket arms. Swapping the two could just be an innocent baseball decision that maximizes Granderson’s offensive potential without the defensive liability weighing it down and you’d probably be right if you were to say that it has little or nothing to do with Granderson’s impending departure.
But the timing fits the narrative of the team passing the torch so well, doesn’t it?
Making a cool $15 million before heading into free agency at the end of 2013, the Yankees will likely not be able to afford to retain Granderson, whose back-to-back 40-homer seasons likely have him due for a significant raise at the age of 32.
Moving Gardner to center this season, where he’s never played a full year, gives the team an extended look this year at someone who will likely be the team’s center fielder through 2014 and sets them up to go after options in the corner outfield in the 2013-14 free agent class that will require less of a financial commitment.
Which options? How about Carlos Beltran, who will be 37 after this season and likely won’t command a five-year deal that Granderson might? There’s also Nelson Cruz, who will be 33 and doesn’t have a track record of health or consistent performance, even though his talents are immense.
The Yankees may want to save their long-term dealings to an exclusive list of players whose names are Robinson Cano, but that doesn’t mean this team won’t commit money to free agents on a year-to-year basis.
Moving Granderson to left field is a smart baseball move for 2013, sure. But it could also be a table-setting move that potentially serves to better the Yankees in the long run.