The Long Goodbye From Motown

By Drew Sharp
Updated: December 9, 2009

DETROIT — Shipping off reigning All-Stars for question marks might not constitute a fire sale, but the probability of the Tigers trading Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson on Tuesday certainly resembles a team that already has surrendered the 2010 season.

It’s a damn shame.

But it’s the cost of running with the big dogs and getting trampled. A bloated payroll left president and general manager Dave Dombrowski with no alternative but maximizing the worth of his few affordable contracts, converting them into a bushel of prime but unproven talent.

Owner Mike Ilitch thought he could buy a title. It reflected the passion of a man who desperately wants to bring a baseball title to his hometown, but he unfortunately let his emotions cloud his business judgment.

Jackson likely was gone anyway, considering he’s two years from free agency, and getting a reasonably priced contract extension from his agent, Scott Boras, seemed unlikely.

But Granderson might still be a Tiger if Ilitch didn’t bow to sentiment last summer and insist the team not release the underachieving Magglio Ordoñez before the outfielder reached the plate appearances required to trigger a payroll paralyzing $18-million option for next season.

Nobody got blindsided when news hit Tuesday that the Tigers, Yankees and Diamondbacks stood inches from a three-team blockbuster that would send Granderson to the Yankees and Jackson to the desert, and the Tigers would receive top centerfield prospect Austin Jackson and reliever Phil Coke from the Yankees, and pitchers Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from Arizona.

The rumors swirled since last month. But the lack of surprise won’t alleviate the public rancor once the teams finalize the transaction.

The Tigers didn’t merely trade a player in Granderson. They traded an ideal. They traded the paradigm of the professional athlete appreciative of the opportunities earned but always mindful of projecting a positive public image. Granderson was the antithesis of the stereotypical pampered, egocentric modern star.

When the Tigers drafted him, he told them he wasn’t signing a professional contract until he earned his college degree. He promised his parents, both educators. Who does that today?

Granderson never feared thinking. He didn’t shy away from discussing complex political or business issues that went far beyond the casual sound bite. There wasn’t a night at Comerica Park that didn’t pass without the requisite marriage proposals from doe-eyed girls in the crowd.

Sometimes, even their mothers took a shot.

He just seemed like a genuinely decent guy. But public likability can’t blind a team from making the most prudent long-term business decision. Starving for role models can’t be the reason for keeping a player.

And as far as fans naively holding professional athletes to an unattainable standard of perfection, have they already forgotten the story about the golfer who had a thing for cocktail waitresses?

Never forget that pro athletes are, in the final analysis, nothing more than easily disposable parts.

The far-reaching magnitude of this probable deal means the Tigers are gambling again. They’re rolling the dice that Granderson has reached his peak offensively and that, in the 22-year-old Jackson, they’re getting a better leadoff hitter in the long term.

This is all about the future and spending money more wisely.

That won’t make it any easier saying good-bye to a truly good guy.