By Joel Sherman
The replacement for Derek Jeter is playing horribly and the main guy traded for Didi Gregorius is performing like a Cy Young candidate, thus the Yankees’ most important move of the offseason — and arguably one of their most vital in years — is a Di-minus one week into the schedule.
The key words in the previous sentence were “one week,” and Shane Greene is unlikely to remain the best pitcher in his own rotation, much less the league.
But there is a little more than an early read to this. Historically, when Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Detroit counterpart Dave Dombrowski have traded with each other, the results have greatly favored Dombrowski.
Dombrowski, as the Marlins’ GM, stole Mike Lowell from the Yankees for three arms that became nothing.
In the first of three high-profile three-way trades that would involve the Yankees and Tigers, the Yanks ended up with Jeff Weaver while giving up Ted Lilly to the A’s with Jeremy Bonderman going to Detroit. Weaver bombed as a Yankee.
The Yankees salary/personality dumped Gary Sheffield on Detroit and got three more arms that they liked, but turned into nothing.
In the second of the big three-way deals, the Yanks did get Curtis Granderson, who was mostly productive for them, but the Tigers won the deal by getting Max Scherzer from the Diamondbacks and Austin Jackson from the Yankees.
The third big three-way deal involved the same teams as the second. Last December, the Yanks sent Greene to Detroit, which sent Robbie Ray and a prospect to Arizona, which sent Gregorius to New York.
After an encouraging spring – particularly on defense – Gregorius has not fielded as well in the regular season, his hitting has been atrocious, his baserunning worse and his overall baseball intellect has come into question.
“He hasn’t played well here in his first week,” Cashman acknowledged by phone. “Whether that is because he is putting pressure on himself or not, I don’t know. In spring, he was loose and played well on both sides of the ball. … We didn’t hide the fact that he would be a work in progress and a developing player. We just might be seeing someone getting used to a new environment and growing pains.”
Indeed, there is a significant leap from playing in Arizona to playing in New York – particularly as Jeter’s successor. That Greene displayed poise in games that mattered for the Yankees in the second half last season was a key selling point. If you can make it here …
And five weeks into spring, I got a call that he could make it anywhere. A scout who was covering the Tigers told me Greene was the best pitcher he had seen in March, and that did not change after seeing the righty in the regular season. Of the 81 pitchers who had started two games going into Wednesday, Greene was the only one to go at least eight innings in both and was at 16 shutout innings for the season.
“As far as stuff, he is the same kid as the Yankees had, but he is going east-west and north-south better, which says to me he is responding well to big league coaching and catching,” the scout said. “Remember, this is a late bloomer. But you saw the elements last year that made you feel he could be a guy who takes the next step – athletic so his delivery repeats, terrific pitcher’s frame, two plus pitches with his fastball and slider. You saw if he got bigger and stronger and had the aptitude to improve a third pitch (Greene is throwing his changeup considerably more) that there was untapped upside there.”
Again, it is early. Greene’s batting average on balls in play for two starts is absurdly low. But this is a place in which not having even a Wilmer Flores type to consider at shortstop hurt the Yanks. They had to find someone. Their scouts liked Gregorius and one of their newer scouts, Eric Chavez, actually played with Gregorius in Arizona and vouched for the player.
“We knew Shane Greene was a hell of an asset,” Cashman said. “We needed a shortstop for a full season.”
One week into that full season, it is once again advantage Dombrowski.