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Senior Baseball Columnist

Blockbuster trade in '09 paves road to success this October


Since joining the Yankees in 2010, Curtis Granderson has amassed 65 home runs and 183 RBI. (Getty Images)  
Since joining the Yankees in 2010, Curtis Granderson has amassed 65 home runs and 183 RBI. (Getty Images)  

The road to this October for nearly half of the expected participants?

Simple. It started during the 2009 World Series ... and led through a desert ... to a dog ... around the bottom tip of Lake Michigan ... through Thanksgiving ... bounced off several cell phone towers ... snuck up a secret back entrance to an Indianapolis hotel ... cut through a hotel suite ... and, finally, branched out in three different directions.

Talk about a Blockbuster deal with a capital B. The three-way trade dreamed up by the Yankees, Detroit and Arizona nearly two years ago traces both directly and dramatically to this postseason.

The Tigers, who obtained starter Max Scherzer, center fielder Austin Jackson and relievers Daniel Schlereth and Phil Coke, have clinched their first division title in 24 years.

The Yankees, who obtained center fielder and MVP candidate Curtis Granderson, have all but formally wrapped up the AL East.

The Diamondbacks, who obtained starters Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson, are a few wins and popped champagne corks from going from 97 losses a year ago to an NL West title.

One monster deal. Three overwhelmingly happy postseason customers.

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"It's not normal for everybody to attack their needs and weaknesses in one transaction," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says. "And two years later, all the organizations are in the playoffs.

"It's a risk people don't like to take, typically. There's an unwillingness in today's well-covered game to give up anything of value. People are afraid it's going to come back and haunt them."

"To have a deal in which all three teams achieve a win is shocking," says Josh Byrnes, then Arizona's general manager and now the Padres' vice-president for baseball operations. "We talked for weeks."

"It's very unusual where three clubs come away as satisfied as I think all three clubs are," Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski says. "Everybody gave up good players and got good players that fit for them and how their organizations are built. I think it's been great."

It started with a single phone call at a most unexpected time: Late afternoon of Game 1 of the World Series, on Wednesday, Oct. 28.

"I was surprised, because Brian called me during the World Series about Granderson," Dombrowski says. "He just wanted to lob in a phone call saying they would be interested if we did anything, and I remember I was surprised because it was during the World Series and, geez, I wasn't expecting to hear from Brian then."

Talk about not resting on your laurels: That's Exhibit A as to how and why the Yankees sustain their success.

"We had finished our advance scouting reports, and there was nothing left for me to do other than pray we could beat the Phillies," Cashman says. "Meanwhile, all the other teams who were not in the playoffs had a head start on the winter. Now was my time to begin closing the gap.

"I remember I called Dave around 4:30 or 5 on the afternoon of Game 1."

"What are you calling me for?" Cashman remembers Dombrowski telling him. "Don't you have a World Series game tonight?"

World Series rings and telephone rings

Dombrowski provided Cashman with a two-tiered list of players the Tigers might want to move. Cashman recalls Granderson as being on the "secondary list." Dombrowski says he was there only because when the economy crashed, it slammed Michigan especially hard.

"When the economy hit, we went from a club that could comfortably draw 3 million to a club that could not feel comfortable projecting 3 million," Dombrowski says. "So you're projecting 2 1/2 million, and 500,000 people is a significant drop. And, of course, the revenues attached to that."

But from the Tigers' perspective, if they moved Granderson, it wasn't going to be a salary dump so much as a re-trenching.

"We were good, but we didn't have a great club," Dombrowski says. "We were trying to get to the point where we were a great club. And I thought what we needed to do was to get some more young talent in the organization."

"And if we could accomplish all of that ... we still had some star players at that time, but all of a sudden you get Jackson, Scherzer, Schlereth and Coke, four guys who would be with you for an extended period. Edwin Jackson was going to be a free agent in another year after that. So for us, it was a way to get more talent and try to bring our payroll to where it worked for us."

The World Series ended with Cashman's prayers being granted. The Yankees won their 27th title, knocking off the Phillies in six games.

The next week, the annual GM meetings were held in Chicago, and Cashman's pursuit of Granderson continued.

"Austin Jackson, we thought his ceiling would never be as high as Granderson's," Cashman says. "Plus, he's a right-handed hitter and Granderson is left-handed. We're a power-oriented, left-handed club. Granderson had more plate discipline and more power.

"With his left-handed power, we thought we could sacrifice batting average. He was a here-and-now player, and he could solve a lot of our needs. We were trying to win now, and Dave was trying to shed payroll."

In Chicago, meanwhile, Byrnes was on the prowl for rotation help. Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb was coming off of major surgery. Byrnes estimates he spoke with "half-a-dozen" or so GMs at the meetings when someone mentioned that Detroit may deal Jackson.

"As much as we liked Scherzer and Schlereth, if we could turn those two into two starting pitchers, we thought it would be something to think about," Byrnes says.

So he phoned Dombrowski about Jackson ... and then had another idea.

"I think I called Cashman the same day I called Dave," Byrnes says. "And I asked, 'If we did a three-team deal that worked out this way, would you consider it?'"

The pitch he made to Cashman was for Kennedy. The Diamondbacks were extremely high on the young right-hander. In fact, they liked him more than many other clubs, who were skeptical because Kennedy had undergone surgery for an aneurysm in his right arm earlier in May of '09.

The Tigers were one of those skeptical clubs. They were not interested in Kennedy.

"Josh and I both thought that, based on Ian's repertoire, he was more of an NL guy than an AL guy," Cashman says.

Plus. ...

"We scouted him hard in the Arizona Fall League, and we were convinced he had recovered from his aneurysm," Byrnes says.

Gobble, gobble, woof, woof

So while Cashman and Dombrowski talked Granderson, as November deepened, the two GMs began having parallel conversations with Byrnes.

"Really, where it kind of picked up is when Arizona jumped in right before Thanksgiving," Dombrowski recalls. "Josh called me at that point and had already talked to Brian and was wondering whether a three-way made any sense. They had some interest in Kennedy, he knew the Yankees had interest in Granderson, and was there any way we could make this a three-way deal. I said, yeah, we were open-minded to doing that if it made sense."

Now hot on the trail himself, Byrnes viewed a potential deal this way: The upside to Scherzer was that the Diamondbacks controlled him for five more years from that point. But if they could pull off what Byrnes envisioned ... they would control Kennedy for six years, and Jackson for two.

"And we figured with Edwin, if it didn't work out, he'd have trade value," Byrnes says.

The winter meetings now closing in, Byrnes continued to engage both Cashman and Dombrowski in dialog that continued over the Thanksgiving weekend.

"We had a lot of conversations about it from that time to the winter meetings," Dombrowski recalls. "We had other conversations going on with Jackson, we had other conversations going on with Granderson. The Yankees were very consistent with their pursuit of Granderson.

"But with Arizona, it looked like we were making some progress and then I remember Josh saying, 'Something has come up and we might be going in a different direction.' Then he called back and said it didn't work out."

Byrnes checked in by cell phone as Dombrowski was driving with his family from Detroit to Chicago to visit his parents over the holiday weekend.

At the time, Byrnes, you might say, was juggling multiple deals of his own: A close friend of his fosters dogs in Denver, Byrnes was looking for a young Lab mix and the two had agreed to meet halfway between Denver and Phoenix to complete the dog transaction.

The meeting day: Saturday, two days before the start of the winter meetings in Indianapolis. Byrnes estimates he spent at least an hour of his nearly six-hour drive back from Albuquerque -- the halfway meeting point -- on the cell phone with Cashman, trying to push the trade toward a conclusion.

Cashman laughs when he hears this. The Yankees' GM does not recall a barking dog in the background of any particular chat with Byrnes, but Cashman does say, "Working through it was very complicated. I appreciate the integrity, intelligence, tenacity and trust of both Dave and Josh."

Dombrowski, too, smiles at Byrnes' dog run.

"It's amazing how it all comes together," the Tigers' GM says. "I remember going up to Brian's suite at the winter meetings. We were in Indianapolis at two different hotels that year. There were only four or five of us at the one hotel. Brian was at the Marriott."

Given the logistics, Cashman told Dombrowski and Byrnes that he really didn't want to leave his suite. Because if he did, then the New York media would spot and immediately begin grilling him.

"So I ended up in a position where I kind of went the back way and up the back stairs and went up to his room and met Josh up there," Dombrowski says, still amused at the memory. "The three of us sat down, probably for about an hour, and conversed about this."

Quips Cashman: "I remember telling Dave, 'You've kicked my ass in two past trades. I'm afraid to deal with you.'"

The one that stings Cashman most: Sending third baseman Mike Lowell to Florida for three players -- right-handers Todd Noel and Mark Johnson and lefty Ed Yarnall -- when Dombrowski was the Marlins' GM in 1999. Yikes.

"I said, 'I like Granderson, and I'm willing to take the dive, but you'll probably kill me. You always do,'" Cashman says. "But the deal doesn't happen without Josh's creativity."

"This is all I'm going to give"

From Detroit's perspective, the most difficult part was coming up with the third and fourth pieces behind Scherzer and Jackson. Eventually, the Tigers settled on Coke from the Yankees and then Schlereth from Arizona.

So finally, after a month of conversations, with both the Tigers and Diamondbacks pushing for a little more and Cashman drawing a final line ("Both Arizona and Detroit had to hear me loud and clear: This is all I'm going to give," he says), the deal was pretty much done.

Except. ...

"When we finally said OK, we've got a deal, that was the day the trainers and doctors were leaving the winter meetings," Dombrowski says. "So they couldn't exchange the medical information because they were flying. Normally you'd exchange that within an hour and, boom, you're done. But they were flying and had to get files, and that delayed it."

Which also caused more complications.

"The deal leaked 48 hours before it became official," Cashman says. "So we all had to deal with judgment on the trade in our own cities, good or bad."

In Detroit, Tigers fans were livid when they learned the most popular Tiger was headed for New York.

"Anticipated, and understandable," Dombrowski says. "Because Curtis not only is a fine player, which he was, but an outstanding person. And you just don't find people like that to represent you."

By the time the deal was finally announced on Dec. 9. Dombrowski estimates that he probably had "at least 50" conversations with Cashman and Byrnes.

"I'd trust Dave's memory more than my own on that, despite his elder statesman status," Cashman quips.

Two years later, the deal stands out like few others in recent memory: Granderson is a leading AL MVP candidate. Kennedy is in the NL Cy Young discussions. Jackson has emerged as a legitimate Gold Glove contender in Detroit, where all four players the Tigers received have played important roles in this year's division title.

"Everybody wound up with something spectacular," Cashman says. "Curtis has played even better than expected. I never told our ownership that I was trading for an MVP candidate. I told them he was a left-hander with power."

"Somebody asked me, 'Would you love to have Granderson back?'" Dombrowski says. "I'd love to have Granderson, too. But, unfortunately, you don't get players like that back if you don't trade somebody. It was something we needed to do during that time period. I'd love to have Curtis Granderson with the Tigers, but we're very happy with the guys we got. And I think everybody is."

Seven months after the deal, on July 2, 2010, Byrnes was fired as Diamondbacks GM with Arizona in the midst of what would be a 97-loss season. But his fingerprints remain heavy on this year's team because not only did he acquire Kennedy, but less than a month after he was fired, the Diamondbacks flipped Jackson -- who had thrown a no-hitter that June -- to the White Sox for Daniel Hudson.

Without Kennedy and Hudson, the Diamondbacks this year aren't on the verge of winning the NL West title.

At least while Arizona's former GM watches his old team move toward October, Quinn, the Lab mix, is living happily ever after with the Byrnes family.

"It's funny," Byrnes says. "Certain things, you remember where you were, the conversation ... we were driving through the middle of nowhere."

Sometimes, that's where the road leads en route to your destination.

"Now all I can tell you is, I don't want to play Arizona and I don't want to play Detroit," Cashman says, looking ahead to October. "So the participants of this deal don't have a chance to out-play what I got."


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