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Yankees, Tigers and D-Backs should all benefit in latest 3-way deal

The last time the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks hooked up on a three-team trade, each side benefited nicely. Five years later, these three clubs are hoping for similar results from an all-new transaction.

In December 2009, the Yankees received Curtis Granderson, who had two 40-homer seasons among his four in the Bronx. The D-Backs added Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy to their starting rotation. Yet Detroit may have gotten the best end of the deal. Max Scherzer developed into the Tigers’ best starting pitcher and an AL Cy Young Award winner in 2013. Austin Jackson was a starting center fielder for five years and became a piece of the trade that acquired David Price. And while Phil Coke was inconsistent, he was a starting pitcher and closer for the Tigers during his five seasons with the team.

Getting their shortstop of the present and future was an offseason priority for the Yankees. Previously, it looked like they might have to take a chance on a problematic free agent like Stephen Drew or Everth Cabrera. But now, the Yanks have their man in Didi Gregorius.

Gregorius will turn 25 during spring training and has one more year before he’s eligible for arbitration. That puts him under club control for five seasons, something extremely valuable to the Yankees (or any other MLB team, for that matter). Rather than having to spend money on a shortstop, the Yankees have the makings of a solid infield with Martin Prado at third, Gregorius at shortstop and possibly 23-year-old Robert Refsnyder at second base. General manager Brian Cashman can now devote financial resources to bolstering his starting rotation and bullpen.

The main question with Gregorius is whether or not he can hit in the major leagues. In 191 games, he’s batted .243 with a .680 OPS over 724 plate appearances. As a result, Gregorius spent half of last season in the minors. However, he hit .310 with an .836 OPS with Triple-A Reno, demonstrating that he’s probably too good for that level now.

Advanced metrics haven’t looked too kindly on Gregorius’ defense either, but the sample is really too small to draw definitive conclusions. Last season, Fangraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating says he cost the D-Backs three runs more than an average defensive shortstop would have. He was also credited with zero Defensive Runs Saved, the definition of average. The consensus seems to be that Gregorius provides a good glove at the position, however. To damn him with faint praise, he has to be an improvement over Derek Jeter, right?

Gregorius going to the Yankees certainly makes more sense than if he had gone with the Tigers, which was a rumor floated out late Thursday night. AZ Snakepit reported rumblings that Gregorius had been dealt to Detroit, which was a head-scratcher. But the Tigers have Jose Iglesias coming back next season at shortstop, along with prospects Eugenio Suarez and Hernan Perez. Second base is spoken for with Ian Kinsler, so where would Gregorius have played? Well, that question has been answered. If the Tigers sort of had Gregorius for a moment there, it stands to reason that GM Dave Dombrowski would flip him for some pitching. Detroit needed a starter at the back end of its rotation and Shane Greene fills that role nicely. Last season with the Yankees, the right-hander compiled a 3.78 ERA in 15 appearances (14 starts) with 81 strikeouts in 78.2 innings. That’s a more reliable performance than the Tigers may have received from Robbie Ray, who was disappointing in both the minors and majors. In nine appearances (six starts) for Detroit, the 22-year-old lefty notched an 8.16 ERA with 43 hits allowed and 19 strikeouts in 28.2 innings. Ray is best known for being the centerpiece of the package the Tigers received in exchange for Doug Fister last winter. To some, this makes that trade look even worse. http://gty.im/454510486 But while Dombrowski won’t often admit a mistake in words, his actions say otherwise. Other general managers may have stubbornly sat on Ray, hoping he would eventually justify the deal made to get him. Yet the Tigers saw the chance to move on and get a pitcher who can help them more right away. And while Greene is four years older than Ray, he’s under club control for six more years. He’s not eligible for arbitration until 2018 and can’t become a free agent until 2021. Does this mean the Tigers will trade Rick Porcello (or even David Price)? Maybe, but not because of getting Greene. Detroit needed a fifth starter anyway. And if Dombrowski is looking to deal one of his two starters set to become free agents after the 2015 season, it probably won’t be until the current pitching market shakes out (i.e., Jon Lester signs with a team or Cole Hamels is traded). So what about the third corner of this trade triangle? The D-Backs get a still-promising pitching prospect in Ray. He’s not ready to join Arizona’s 2015 rotation, but the team doesn’t need him to right now.While his 2014 performance in the Tigers’ organization was disappointing, he’s still only 22 years old with the kind of upside that made Detroit believe he was the key piece in the return for Fister. Reportedly, the Nationals regarded Ray highly enough that they would not have traded him had the Tigers offered Porcello instead last winter.

More important for Arizona could be the second player received from the Tigers in shortstop prospect Domingo Leyba. Just 19 years old, the Dominican infielder batted .323 with a .783 OPS between short season Class A Connecticut and low-A West Michigan last season. Baseball America rated him as Detroit’s No. 5 prospect going into next year.

Obviously, it’s far too early to determine what sort of player Leyba will be, but he was highly regarded in the Tigers’ organization, much like Willy Adames — who went to Tampa Bay in the David Price deal — had been. Trading young shortstops could eventually catch up with Detroit years from now, but with Iglesias, Suarez and Perez in the fold, the Tigers have several infielders. Besides, we all know that this team is more about the present than the future.

With the D-Backs, Leyba automatically becomes the team’s top shortstop prospect. With Chris Owings already in place on the major league roster — and Nick Ahmed as an emergency option in the minors — there’s no need to rush Leyba beyond what was likely at least a two- to three-year development process anyway. (For what it’s worth, Tigers Double-A manager Lance Parrish believes Leyba’s future is at second base.)

Much like the deal these same three teams made five years ago, this has a chance to be a win for everyone involved. This level of talent being exchanged isn’t as high, so the trade won’t be viewed as a blockbuster. There likely won’t be a player who makes the impact Granderson or Scherzer made. But if anyone develops into the solid major leaguer that Jackson and Kennedy became, the Yankees, Tigers and D-Backs will each be happy with their side of the transaction.

Ian Casselberry

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is an editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has covered baseball for Yahoo! Sports, MLive.com, Bleacher Report and SB Nation, and provides analysis for several sports talk radio shows each week. He currently lives in Asheville, NC.