The New York Yankees are ready to welcome Curtis Granderson back to their lineup just in time for Memorial Day weekend, which is great news for a team that needs the run production. The Yankees enter Friday's game in Cleveland having scored only 15 runs in their past six games. That might not be a Philadelphia Phillies-like swoon, but in New York, this is a big deal, and the Yankees' fans are concerned.
Granderson certainly is an improvement over whom the Yankees have been playing in the outfield -- Kevin Russo, Randy Winn, Marcus Thames -- but I get the feeling fantasy owners are expecting big things from the former Tiger. Granderson last played May 1, yet he's still owned in 97.9 percent of ESPN standard (10-team) mixed leagues, and in many cases, a player of his ilk would be heavily dropped, then added in time for him to come off the DL. Granderson was dropped in precious few leagues. Incidentally, Nick Swisher is owned in fewer leagues, and it took more than a month for Brett Gardner to get to 100 percent owned.
I'm not ready to alter my preseason predictions for the affable Granderson in a positive direction, after I wrote back in February that a 35-home run season was well within his reach, albeit at the expense of his other numbers. He doesn't have enough time to hit that many home runs now, but the skill set remains. That said, after watching Gardner's emergence and Swisher's impressive maturation, I think each of them is more valuable than Granderson. I'll say that again: I'd rather have Swisher and Gardner, in part because I know how much everyone seems to love Granderson. Expectations are higher, thus he would seem like the one to trade, before his .225 batting average adds another 100 at-bats to it.
Gardner is a serious base stealer capable of leading the majors in the category, and until the past few days, he was hitting better than .300. He takes walks, has held his own against left-handed pitching and is on pace for 121 runs scored. With Nick Johnson out for what could be a long time, Gardner is the obvious choice for the coveted No. 2 spot in the Yankees' batting order. Anyone who calls for Granderson to appear there, despite terrible plate discipline and even worse numbers against southpaws, is missing the point. Granderson has 80 at-bats this season, all of them hitting seventh, eighth and ninth. Manager Joe Girardi said recently he didn't expect Swisher to hit second, but that doesn't imply that Granderson will. I think it's Gardner.
Granderson's return does not threaten Gardner's status as a regular player or potential No. 2 hitter in any way, and Gardner's potential to hit .300 and steal 50 bases is worth more than Granderson hitting 30 home runs with a .250 batting average. That's the bottom line. But there again, the public perception would lean toward Granderson.
Swisher is a more interesting case because he has never hit for batting average, but all of a sudden, here he is boasting a .295 mark. The pessimist -- or is it realist? -- would point out Swisher is a career .247 hitter and that he can't possibly keep up his current pace, and I would tend to agree. Swisher hit .249 last season, and his career best is .262. However, I don't expect Granderson to do any better than that, so it comes down to value. If I expected Granderson to steal 20 bases this season, he'd be more valuable than Swisher, even if both guys hit their share of home runs and hurt your batting average. But Granderson was on the disabled list for the past month with a groin injury. He's not a lineup table-setter. I can't imagine the Yankees want him stealing bases.
Meanwhile, Swisher is on pace for a 30-homer, 93-RBI season, which isn't far from what Granderson was expected to do. After hitting .250 in April, Swisher enters Friday with a .342 batting average in May. He's more likely to revert to his April numbers, but the power, the plate discipline ... they aren't going anyway. The difference is it probably would cost a top-75 player to acquire Granderson; for Swisher, with most people knowing his limitation, the price would be far less.
Granderson is going to be a productive player for the Yankees, someone who has natural pull power and is in exactly the right home stadium to flaunt it. I just think his fantasy value is a bit out of whack. When it comes to current Yankees outfielders, he shouldn't be the top option.