By Sweeny Murti
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Joe Girardi announced on Wednesday a move that has been hinted at all winter. Are the Yankees better off with Curtis Granderson in left field and Brett Gardner in center? We’re about to find out. Starting with outfield drills Wednesday morning, and starting in earnest during exhibition games this weekend, the switch has been made.
Granderson has primarily been a center fielder his entire career (of his 1,113 career games only 22 have been in left field), while Gardner has played 304 games in left and 183 in center. Gardner also played 335 out of 377 games in center during his minor league career.
Gardner is an excellent center fielder, but as a younger player who wasn’t always a regular, he had given way to very good center fielders. Defensive metrics haven’t made Granderson look good the last two years, and he doesn’t pass the eye test with flying colors anymore either. He’s not bad out there, but the Yankees have better, and that is Gardner.
Now Joe Girardi has to determine if what is true in a vacuum (Gardner is a better center fielder than Granderson) is also true in real life, meaning do they play together out there in a way that makes the team better and not worse? Girardi said he will try it this new way for a couple weeks here in spring training and see what happens. But I think we all know what will happen.
Even though he is publicly keeping an open mind and trying to make sure he doesn’t damage any egos, it’s hard to imagine Girardi will see anything that makes him change his mind and go back. We know Gardner can play center, the question becomes can Granderson play left? Granderson would have to trip over himself all day and night in left field to make Girardi go back. You don’t make a move like this without having a reasonably sure idea that it’s going to have the desired result.
Listen here as Joe Girardi explains the move and his thought process:
Listen here as Brett Gardner reacts:
Listen here as Curtis Granderson reacts:
It’s not hard to tell which player is happier. Granderson says the right things, but also makes sure to let us know that he prefers not to move in the first place. Meanwhile, Gardner lets us know that he’s always felt like a center fielder who happens to play left.
If you take away the team element for a moment, it is actually in Granderson’s best interest to show how well he can play left field. Sure, as a free agent after this season he probably has greater value as a power-hitting center fielder, rather than joining a more crowded crop of corner outfielders. But Granderson turns 32 next month. If he seeks a multi-year deal that will pay him as an elite player into his mid-to-late 30s, then showing that he can easily transition to a corner is the best way to maximize his value.
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The Yankees could probably care less about Granderson’s earning potential. Considering that they are very likely to score significantly fewer runs than they did a year ago, they need to make the 2013 Yankees more efficient defensively. The easiest way to do that is to allow Brett Gardner to chase down more fly balls in center field.
Now all Gardner has to do to take advantage of this opportunity is stay healthy.
Follow Sweeny Murti on Twitter @YankeesWFAN.
Yankees fans — do you like Grandy in left and Gardner in center? Sound off in the comments…