Who Is Yankees Centerfielder, Granderson or Gardner?

With the roster nearly set the only thing that’s left for Yankee fans to do until pitchers and catchers report, only 16 days left, is to debate who should or shouldn’t get certain jobs. Like, who should get the fifth starter job, what Randy Winn’s role should be, or who should be in centerfield? Curtis Granderson or Brett Gardner?

Since he became a full time regular in 2006, Granderson has played all but two games for the Tigers as their centerfielder. So when he was traded to New York everyone just assumed that’s where he would play with Melky Cabrera or Johnny Damon to play left field. Things have changed since then, the Yankees traded Melky away and never reached an agreement with Damon which leaves Granderson and Gardner to man left and centerfield.

So with the situation how it is, it isn’t so cut and dry that Granderson is the starting centerfielder. See, when Granderson came up he was a lights out defender, he had a 13.7 UZR in 2006, but since then he’s struggled with inconsistency defensively, a -8.9 UZR in 2008 and a 1.6 UZR in 2009. Meanwhile, Gardner flashed some serious range in the outfield last year. Granderson might be a good defender, but Gardner could be a great one and the Yankees feel the same way.

“We feel like we have two center fielders,” GM Brian Cashman said when discussing the situation on YES’s Hot Stove show. “Two starting center fielders in our outfield situation in terms of Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson. Curtis Granderson is an All-Star Centerfielder, Brett Gardner, obviously his biggest tool is his field and run ability and we think he’s one of the best defensive center fielders in the game.”

So the door was opened to the idea that Granderson might not be the starting center fielder after all. Also, with Granderson there is no giant ego to worry about as his agent assured Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger that this would be no problem saying, “he’s more than fine with it.”

Still there are some reservations. In an interview with NoMaas.org, Rob Neyer of ESPN brought up the idea that with Carl Crawford set to be a free agent in 2011 the Yankees might not want to move Granderson now. His reasoning was that if they move him now it might signal to the fan base that he’s not a good enough centerfielder only to have a backlash in 2011 when they try to move him back.

Of course the idea that the Yankees should run the team based on fan reaction is not a very good one which Moshe Mandel of TYU brought up on his blog. He did bring up another point though, that having Granderson play in left field in 2010 could somehow make him a worse centerfielder in 2011 should the Yankees want to move him back.

“Put simply,” Mandel wrote, “moving Granderson to another position for a full year can do nothing but erode his skills as a center fielder and make him uncomfortable with the position should they choose to move him back there at a later date.”

To me it seems that it’s not very likely that he will become a worse centerfielder by playing one season in left field. Obviously if he plays a full season in left in 2010 there will be some adjustment moving back to center in 2011, but Granderson is a veteran who a few years under his belt in center he’s not just going to suddenly forget how to play the position. A full spring training in 2011 should be enough to get him re-acclimated to the position. Besides, there is no evidence anywhere to show that outfielders have a tough time shifting from one position to the next.

The problem I have with this entire debate is that we are talking about strong defensive outfields anyway you draw it up. With Granderson and Gardner, no matter which position they are at, each is going to be able to cover a ton of ground. The same goes for a potential outfield of Granderson and Crawford. While I do think that Gardner should be the Yankees center fielder in 2010, if he’s not I’m not going to be upset. I’m also not worried about 2011 right now because I think the Yankees have to put the best team they can put out for 2010.

What do you think? Who takes what position? Should the Yankees be worried about next year when it comes to this debate?

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2 Responses to Who Is Yankees Centerfielder, Granderson or Gardner?

  1. Good summation of the views of Neyer and at TYU, Rob. I feel the same way and, in a way, this parallels the Joba-Hughes debate. There might be differences between who is in the rotation between Joba and Hughes, but their respective bullpen track records amount to parsing the difference between outstanding and tremendous so, whoever ends up setting up, the Yankees will be fine.

    Same with center and left. Granderson has already said he’s good with a move to LF should it occur. Also, if memory serves, former coach Andy Van Slyke mentioned around the time of the trade that Grandy would be a good LF, and may be better suited there. That his arm is better than Gardner’s might make moving Grandy to left prudent. But their combined speed is outstanding, really the most important part of the whole debate. To me, the key is just both of them playing, which means for Gardner hitting above .265.

  2. Eric @ THTGB says:

    Gardner should play center due to his defensive prowess, but won’t until he proves that he’s an everyday major leaguer. I’m as big a Gardner fan as the next guy, but I still think he’s got a lot to prove. If he shows he can definitely play 150+ games a year then he deserves to play center.

    I do agree, though, that it really makes no difference as to who plays center or left. As long as both Gardner and Granderson are out there, the outfield defense is going to be great. If Granderson does stay in center, he’ll be able to shade more towards right field and allow Gardner to cover some of the left center gap.