It was a win-now move and an eye-toward-the-future move, all at once, for all three clubs involved. And it has worked out absolutely beautifully. It appears that all three teams are headed for October, thanks in large part to contributions from the seven players who changed addresses -- or, in one case, another player acquired in a subsequent deal.
Whereas many trades already look inconsequential within a couple of years, the biggest deal of the '09 Winter Meetings is still having an impact. Here's a look at how things worked out at the time and how the deal continues to affect the races:
New York Yankees:
Outgoing: Phil Coke, Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy
Incoming: Curtis Granderson
So, yeah, this one is pretty obvious -- and, in fact, time has shown the deal to have been even better for the Yanks than one might have expected. That's not just because of Granderson, who has been magnificent, but for another somewhat subtler reason, as well.
In short, the Yankees sold high on Kennedy. In retrospect, they ought to have done the same with his fellow former top pitching prospects, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. Chamberlain is now injured and never quite developed as the Yanks hoped, while Hughes has taken a significant step backward. That doesn't necessarily mean that Kennedy wouldn't have come through in New York, but it at least adds a wrinkle.
And as for Granderson, well, there's not a lot to say that hasn't already been said. He has been everything that Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi could have hoped -- and he's going to get some serious American League Most Valuable Player Award consideration at the end of the season.
Beyond his performance, though, Granderson instantly became one of the Yankees' youngest regulars. They're still not anyone's idea of an up-and-coming club, but Granderson represented the kind of upgrade that seems to be getting harder and harder to make on the open market. He's not only an elite player, but he's still (for a little while) on the right side of 30 and he plays a premium defensive position.
The cost was high, but it would be hard to find a Yankees player, front-office type or fan who doesn't think it was worth it.
"When people compare him to other players, you can't forget he's a center fielder and he's playing a high-quality defense out there," teammate Alex Rodriguez said recently. "He's scoring a bunch of runs and [getting] RBIs. ... In my eyes, he's the MVP."
Outgoing: Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth
Incoming: Edwin Jackson, Ian Kennedy
Subsequently: Traded Jackson for Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg
The D-backs' path to contention, at least as far as the big deal is concerned, came in two steps. First, they got in on the Granderson deal (as it was thought of at the time). Then, they flipped one of the pieces they got in that deal for another younger, cheaper and possibly better piece. In the sequence, Arizona added two starters who now front its rotation.
Almost from the day Scherzer was drafted, there were concerns about his durability, though he's stayed healthy and effective for Detroit. Still, the end result is that the D-backs dealt a solid starter and a useful, if sometimes erratic, reliever for two quality starters. That's a win every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Kennedy in particular has been a revelation. The Snakes wanted him, and the Yankees weren't too upset about parting with him. As noted above, it's entirely possible that he wouldn't have worked out in New York. In Arizona, though, he's become a star.
"Everybody speculated when I named him Opening Day starter, and he's lived up to it," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He's been huge."
Outgoing: Edwin Jackson, Curtis Granderson
Incoming: Phil Coke, Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth
Here, we find the subtlest move of the three clubs involved. The Tigers loved Austin Jackson, and figured if they had to part with Granderson, at least they might be getting a Granderson starter kit. But this deal, in large part, was about the dollars for Detroit. By moving Granderson and Edwin Jackson, the Tigers freed up some money -- money that went to re-sign AL Cy Young Award favorite Justin Verlander.
Besides, Jackson was on his way to free agency at the end of the year. Even if Scherzer is not a major upgrade over what Jackson offered, he is under team control for another three seasons. That has some very real value. Scherzer is a quality pitcher who still has some upside, and he doesn't start getting even a little bit expensive until next season.
And then there's Jackson the younger -- not a bad player in his own right. He's taken a step back at the plate this year, but he's still young. And he's an excellent defensive center fielder, something that has quite a bit of value in a ballpark like Comerica Park.
Besides, it's not as though Schlereth and Coke are nothing. In a deal like this, they're relatively small pieces. But in a close division race, even small pieces can make a difference.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. Bryan Hoch, Steve Gilbert and Jason Beck contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.