The three-way trade involving the Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks – you know, the one in which Curtis Granderson came to the Yankees Dec. 8, 2009 – is often rated as one of the best multi-player deals ever.
Why, because each of the three teams received a player, or players, that have been keys to their success. Just like another Dec. 8 blockbuster 32 years prior, which will be talked about later.
Look what Granderson has done for the Yankees, playing excellent center field and contributing 86 home runs and 226 RBIs with an OPS of .916 last season and .872 so far in 2012. Ian Kennedy put together a 21-4, 2.88 season for Arizona in 2011. His road is a bit tougher this season – he’s 5-7, 4.13 in 14 starts, but has arrived as a solid big-league starter.
And what about the haul Detroit received, including versatile southpaw Phil Coke, who is emerging as a closer candidate for the Tigers, and Max Scherzer, a young starter who emerged with a 15-9 mark in 2011 and the other centerpiece of this swap, outfielder Austin Jackson, who has established himself as an outstanding leadoff hitter, top defensive player and offensive catalyst.
Detroit hasn’t received a lot from lefty Dan Schlereth, and Edwin Jackson has bounced around since going 6-10, 5.16 for part of 2010 with the D-Backs before stops with the White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals before landing as a free-agent in the Washington Nationals rotation.
One might wonder just how the 2009 blockbuster was formulated. The genesis of the trade came about Sept. 13, 2008, in Mercer Coiunty aterfront Park in Trenton, N.J.
That night, in Game 3 of the Eastern League Championship Series, the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees’ Double-A farm team, scored a 4-1 win over the Akron Aeros, their Cleveland counterparts, to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five ELCS they would wrap up the next night.
The star that evening was Austin Jackson, who showed flashes of what was to come by robbing Akron’s Wes Hodges and Matt Whitney of home runs by leaping a foot over an 8-foot fence to keep the ball in the ballpark, denying the Aeros five runs in the process.
Oh, Jackson also hit the game-winning home run that night. The fans took all this in, Thunder manager Tony Franklin and other Yankees brass did, as well as two-dozen scouts, with the Tigers well-represented.
“You saw a major-league outfielder out there that night with Austin,’’ said Franklin that night. “To play center field in the big leagues, you have to go 50 yards one way, then 50 the other way, to play in the majors. Austin can do it.’’
Franklin remembers the game well.
“That still is one of the best performances I have ever seen, at any level,’’ said Franklin recently.
The Tigers loved Jackson, and also had their eye on the intense Coke, who was 9-4 as starter and reliever with the 2008 Thunder and after a short stay at Triple-A Scranton, debuted with the Yankees Sept. 1, 2008, by striking out Detroit’s Granderson and Miguel Cabrera.
“I hate giving up hits, and I hate allowing runs even more,’’ Coke told reporters after his debut.
Detroit decided to target both Jackson and Coke in trade talks and rebuild its pitching staff. The Tigers were not happy with Granderson’s inability to hit left-handers. The Yankees had reached a plateau with Kennedy, a top 2006 draft pick, for numerous reasons.
On the other hand, the Yankees were looking for a veteran center fielder, thought Granderson’s swing for Yankee Stadium – old and new – was right on and his shortcomings vs. lefties were correctable. After thought, were willing to part with Jackson and Coke, to get Granderson.
Arizona, meanwhile, was looking to obtain two starters. They were moving toward sending prospects Scherzer and Schlereth to Detroit for Edwin Jackson, but still coveted another young starter. They guessed right with Kennedy and how he’d likely be more effective with his sinker in the NL West and the AL East.
• The Yankees got their veteran center fielder, who now powers the ball to right against lefties for two excellent prospects – Austin Jackson and Coke –who has prospered in Detroit.
• The Tigers received an excellent young outfielder whose offense is improving, plus pitching prospects Scherzer, who is on his way, and Schlereth, who still has potential.
• The D-Backs picked up Edwin Jackson, who filled a starting spot, and Kennedy, who has become a stalwart.
“This was one of the few trades like this that worked out well for all three teams,’’ said a scout from a National League team. “Many times these things are hit-and-miss.
Like the Dec. 8, 1977 trade, a four-team affair involving the Mets, Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates.
In that 1977 trade, Bert Blyleven, who went from Texas to Pittsburgh and Tom Grieve, who went from o Texas to the Mets, had the most effect on baseball.
Curiously, both Blyleven and Grieve are still active – in the broadcast booth, Bert with the Minnesota Twins on FOX Sports North and Tom with the Rangers on FOX Sports Southwest.
Blyleven, of course, was a stalwart for the Pirates from 1978-80, going 34-28 with 23 complete games, helping the Bucs to the 1979 World Championship en route to a 287-250 mark over a 22-year career that earned election to the Baseball Hall of fame.
Grieve served as the Texas general manager from 1984-94, making the famous 1988 trade in which he acquired Jamie Moyer and Rafael Palmiero for Mitch Williams.
Grieve and a player to be named later, who was Ken Henderson, were sent from Texas to the Mets, who also received Willie Montanez from the Braves. Texas sent Adrian Devine, Tommy Boggs and Eddie Miller to Atlanta and Blyleven to the Pirates. The Pirates sent Al Oliver and Nelson Norman to the Rangers, who also got Jon Matlack from the Mets. Finally, the Mets sent John Milner to the Pirates.
Montanez had a 96-RBI season for the Mets in 1978, while Devine, Boggs and Miller had non-descript careers. Oliver continued his clutch hitting in Texas, driving in 117 runs in 1980 and with Montreal, where his .331 effort earned him a batting title in 1982. Oliver played 18 seasons and clouted 219 homers.
Norman played six seasons in the majors as a light-hitting reserve infielder. He is known for not hitting a home run in his career. Matlack finished his career in Texas, pitching six seasons, of which 1978’s 15-13 was the best.
Milner, who passed away from lung cancer in 2000 at age 51, was a valuable reserve for the Pirates and a superb pinch-hitter. “The Hitman’’ was also one of the most popular players in the “We Are Family’’ 1979 Championship clubhouse.
Henderson played just seven games with the Mets in 1978.
Big trades still happen in December. Who knows who will be moved this offseason.