The rush to judgment is irresistible when blockbuster trades are struck during the winter. Fans express instant euphoria or betrayal, rarely anything in between. Shades of grey are for others.
That initial excitement of a big-name import, however, often fades as performance doesn't match the expectation level. This becomes especially distressing if prospects surrendered in a multiplayer deal take flight in another locale as the proven star their club acquired loses some of his luster.
With time now to reflect, let's revisit the headline-stealing swaps from the winter following the 2009 season. A three-year sample size might not be conclusive, but it's is a fair passage of time for reasoned evaluation and perspective.
Dec. 8, 2009: In a three-team, seven-player megadeal, the Yankees acquires center fielder Curtis Granderson from the Tigers. Detroit lands center fielder Austin Jackson and reliever Phil Coke from New York, along with pitchers Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from Arizona. The D-backs lasso starters Ian Kennedy from the Yanks and Edwin Jackson from the Tigers.
"I think it sets us up for the future in tremendous fashion," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said at the time of the swap, proving to be something of a visionary.
The Yankees, coming off a World Series triumph, paid a hefty price for Granderson, who had a .272/.344/.484 batting line in Detroit as a much-admired fan favorite for 4 1/2 seasons. New York was remodeling its outfield, slipping Granderson between Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher while bidding farewell to Johnny Damon and 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui.
Granderson has racked up tremendous power numbers in the Bronx, finishing fourth in the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player Award race with 41 homers and 119 RBIs. But while Yankee Stadium has suited his power stroke, Granderson's overall production has been shy of dandy: .247/.337/.506 with the Yanks. It has not been his fault, but the Bombers have also fallen short of the Fall Classic in his three seasons.
A strong case can be made that Jackson, a bright but unproven prospect in 2009, has surpassed Granderson as a total player. Through his first three Major League seasons, Jackson carries a .280/.346/.416 line.
Jackson's improving plate discipline is reflected in a .377 on-base percentage (and 103 runs scored) as the Tigers' 2012 leadoff man. With Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder behind him, and Torii Hunter expected to slide into the No. 2 spot, Detroit has a top four as lethal as any in the game.
All the defensive metrics point to Jackson, among the game's five best center fielders, as measurably superior to Granderson. Their cumulative WAR (wins above replacement) ratings over the past three seasons: Jackson, 14.8; Granderson, 12.1. Jackson had a 5.2 WAR in 2012, Granderson 2.7.
But Jackson is only part of the Tigers' haul from this trade. Scherzer has harnessed his great stuff and emerged as a dominant No. 2 starter behind peerless Justin Verlander.
Things definitely went better for the Tigers with Coke than with wobbly Jose Valverde in the postseason. The Giants' World Series sweep notwithstanding, Coke had a brilliant October run: 15 appearances, 15 innings, five earned runs, three saves. Schlereth, coming off shoulder issues, signed with the Orioles in December as a free agent. The lefty was effective out of Detroit's bullpen in 2011, but he made only six appearances in 2012.
Despite surrendering the gifted Scherzer, the D-backs are more than content with their end of the deal. Kennedy, who never found a comfort zone in New York, broke through in a big way after gaining confidence in his 2010 debut season in the National League.
Going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting, Kennedy was a force in driving the 2011 D-backs to the NL West title. He was 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA for the .500 D-backs in 2012.
Struggling in Arizona, Jackson was 6-10 with a 5.16 ERA in 21 starts when he was dealt in July to the White Sox. Arizona accepted Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg in return and watched Hudson back Kennedy in 2011 with a strong season, going 16-12 with a 3.49 ERA for the division champs. Hudson, 26, is rebounding from elbow surgery after making only nine starts in 2012.
Holmberg, a big lefty with impressive stuff, was Arizona's No. 9 prospect in 2012, according to MLB.com's Prospect Watch. He had a 153-37 strikeouts-to-walks ratio at two Minor League stops last season, with a 3.32 ERA.
Winner: Tigers, by a landslide. The D-backs are satisfied with their end of the deal. As admirable as Granderson is on and off the field, the Yankees would have been better off holding onto Jackson, Coke and Kennedy.
Dec. 16, 2009: The Phillies acquire Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays in exchange for prospects Travis d'Arnaud, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor.
Toronto would take a dramatically different approach three winters later, loading up on high-priced talent. But the 2009 Blue Jays concluded that Halladay -- widely hailed as the game's best pitcher -- was a luxury they no longer could afford and accepted a package of prime prospects in return.
Looking to book a third consecutive trip to the World Series, having split the previous two, the Phils got everything they could have imagined from the durable Halladay. His 2010 season enhanced his Hall of Fame profile: 21-10, 2.44 ERA, no-hitter (one fifth-inning walk away from perfection) against the Reds in his first career postseason start.
Halladay's Cy Young Award was his second, and he would finish second in 2011 with a season just as good: 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA. But the toll of six straight seasons of 220-plus innings would be felt in '12. At 35, Halladay was limited to 25 starts (11-8, 4.49 ERA). His return from shoulder issues will be a major factor in the Phillies' bid to regain control of the NL East.
The Blue Jays haven't had much to show for the deal on the field. d'Arnaud, rated the sixth-best overall prospect and No. 1 catcher by MLB.com, figures to make his MLB debut this season for the Mets. He was the centerpiece of the deal that brought 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto.
Drabek has fought his control (110 strikeouts, 107 walks) in parts of three seasons for Toronto, going 8-15 with a 5.34 ERA in 34 appearances. Taylor was rerouted to Oakland for Brett Wallace, who in turn was dispatched to Houston for Anthony Gose. Swift and versatile, Gose provides outfield depth for the rebuilt Blue Jays.
Winner: Philadelphia. The jury is out from Toronto's end. It hinges largely on Dickey's impact and Drabek's ability to find his command. For the Phillies, it's been a slam-dunk success even if they haven't replicated their 2008 World Series title run -- through no fault of Halladay.
Dec. 16, 2009: The Mariners acquire Cliff Lee from the Phillies in exchange for J.C. Ramirez, Tyson Gillies and Phillippe Aumont.
This was Part 2, an extension of the blockbuster. As thrilled as Phillies fans were to greet the great Halladay, the exit of Lee -- a man who'd just gone 4-0 in five postseason starts after his midseason arrival in a swap with the Indians -- was perplexing. He'd given the Phils both of their World Series wins against the champion Yankees.
"We could have kept both of them," Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said as Halladay was introduced in a news conference. "But it was a baseball decision for me and our organization. We could not leave the cupboard bare. If we had just acquired Roy and not moved Lee, we would have been in a position to have lost seven of our 10 best prospects in our organization. That is not the way to do business in baseball.
"This move, coupled with Lee's, allowed us to replenish our system for the foreseeable future. There are a variety of reasons to make this move, but more than anything, this is a baseball decision."
If Lee, an original Montreal Expo who was dealt to the Tribe in 2002, was stung by the third trade of his career, he didn't show it. The lefty said he welcomed the opportunity to pitch alongside Felix Hernandez.
"Who's to say that I won't love it in Seattle?" Lee said. "I'm looking forward to helping the Mariners win."
On July 9, 2010, after going 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 starts for the 34-52 Mariners, Lee was shipped off again -- this time to Texas, where he would fuel the Rangers' drive to the World Series.
Six weeks after Texas was dispatched by the champion Giants, Lee was back in Philly as a free agent, linking arms with Halladay and Cole Hamels in a dominant rotation.
Aumont, a 6-foot-7 right-hander, made 18 appearances out of the Phillies' bullpen in 2012. Gillies, an outfielder with speed, has not played above Double-A. Ramirez has not reached the big leagues. He was designated for assignment by the Phils last week.
From Texas in the July 2010 swap that sent reliever Mark Lowe with Lee to the Rangers, the Mariners acquired a four-player package featuring first baseman Justin Smoak. Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson were also acquired.
Smoak, a disappointment so far, hopes to benefit from the more hitter-friendly Safeco Field dimensions and fulfill his potential in 2013. A 6-foot-7 Texan, Beavan was 12-12 with a 4.43 ERA in 26 starts for the Mariners in 2012.
Winner: Nobody. Philadelphia should have retained Lee or found a better deal, but the Rangers are glad he didn't. They have a franchise-first World Series appearance to show for his half-season in Texas. The Mariners' hands were tied, but they could have identified a better package for a man of Lee's impact.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.