When it comes to baseball trades, hindsight normally elicits glee and regret in equal portions. A winner and loser emerge. One team fleeces, the other gets fleeced. In a rare three-team deal, the winner and loser are usually joined by a team that accumulates minor league prospects, delaying their gratification or disappointment by several years.
The Perfect Trade -- one that benefits everyone involved -- is a rare occurrence. Yet the description might just fit a three-team swap completed in December, 2009.
The Detroit Tigers sent center fielder Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees and starting pitcher Edwin Jackson to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Yankees sent center fielder Austin Jackson and reliever Phil Coke to the Detroit Tigers. The Yankees sent starter Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks. And the Diamondbacks sent starter Max Scherzer to the Tigers and reliever Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers.
No huge names. Several unproven players. Lots of moving parts. The term "blockbuster" was uttered when the news broke, but nobody predicted the deal would work out so well for everyone. Certainly no one predicted that principles from the deal would be central to the postseason fortunes of all three teams two years later.
Start with the National League West champion Diamondbacks, the surprise team in baseball. They netted two young high-end starting pitchers with bargain-basement salaries:
Kennedy is 21-4, a Cy Young candidate who led the NL in wins. Before the deal he was overhyped and injured, a Yankees disappointment of a first-round draft pick who was 0-4 with a 8.17 ERA in 2008 and out all of 2009 because of a blood clot in his throwing arm.
Edwin Jackson was dealt to the White Sox the following July for starter Daniel Hudson, who has emerged as the Diamondbacks' No. 2 starter. Kennedy and Hudson have yet to hit arbitration and will be underpaid for several more years.
Next, the Tigers, who won their first division title in 24 years by running away with the AL Central. They got younger and cut payroll at a time attendance dipped. And the players they acquired grew up fast:
Austin Jackson is a second-year center fielder and leadoff hitter with tremendous range, base-stealing speed and a decent bat. Scherzer is 14-9 and provides rotation stability behind ace Justin Verlander. Before the deal Jackson had yet to make his big league debut and Scherzer was a young strikeout artist who gave up too many home runs and was viewed as an injury risk. Both players have yet to reach arbitration and are tremendous values. Coke and Schlereth fill bullpen roles.
Finally, the Yankees, who won the AL East and are seeking World Series championship No. 28. They acquired an ideal fit for the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium and the media glare of the Big Apple:
Granderson is a most valuable player candidate who hit 41 home runs and led the AL with 119 RBIs and 135 runs scored. Before the deal he was a community pillar in Detroit but a leadoff hitter with an escalating long-term contract, a low on-base percentage and seemingly slowing wheels. He's a bargain at $8.25 million this year Ė especially for the free-spending Yankees.
"It's highly unusual for everybody to benefit like that," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "It was a deal that took a lot of work to get done, and it's a deal that everybody seems happy with. You just don't see that."
Players all over baseball marvel at the serendipity. Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Johnny Damon happens to know just about every player from the trade because he played for the Yankees and Tigers in the last three years. He can't help but marvel at his up-close-and-personal look at this diamond rarity.
"I was thinking about that trade just the other day when I saw Granderson," Damon said. "It helped all three sides. Amazing how that happened. You donít hear much about trades that succeed. Thatís why most GMs are afraid to make a blunder. You gotta be fearless and honest."
Shortly after the 2009 season Yankees GM Brian Cashman contacted Dombrowski about Granderson's availability. How shortly? Dombrowski received the call a few hours before Game 1 of the World Series, which the Yankees were playing in.
Cashman knew Damon would leave as a free agent and that center fielder Melky Cabrera wasn't long for the roster, either. He dangled Kennedy but the Tigers weren't high on him after an aneurism in his right arm cost him the 2009 season. The Diamondbacks were brought into the deal because their scouts had seen Kennedy pitch well in the Arizona Fall League and were convinced he'd recovered.
Maybe Kennedy just needed out of New York.
"Ian was compared to Greg Maddux," Damon said. "Some people canít handle that pressure Ė especially at 23. And he had the David Cone blood clot thing."
The Yankees believed Kennedy was expendable partly because they believed they'd have a great shot at signing Cliff Lee as a free agent in another year. It didnít work out that way and perhaps Cashman in a frank moment would rue dealing Kennedy. But Granderson's career year has eased the sting.
"Granderson has learned to hit left-handed pitchers," Damon said. "Heís learned to see everything out front of the plate instead of [getting jammed]. And that stadium is great for a pull hitter."
Damon admires the player who replaced Granderson in Detroit as much as he does the original article.
"Austin Jackson is one of the best go get 'em center fielders Iíve ever seen," he said. "His defense is spectacular."
Spectacular is an apt description of the trade's overall impact. All of the players Ė Kennedy and Hudson in Arizona, Jackson, Scherzer, Coke and Schlereth in Detroit, Granderson in New York Ė will continue their seasons into October.
Oh, and so will Edwin Jackson, the starter who went from the Tigers to the Diamondbacks, only to be traded for Hudson in 2010. He was subsequently dealt to the White Sox, and then to the Blue Jays, then to the Cardinals in July. He's 5-2 in 12 starts, providing a battered St. Louis rotation with enough stability to take the NL wild-card berth on the last day of the season.
Just another positive outcome from The Perfect Trade.