Let’s enter the Neighborhood of Make-Believe for a minute, and play a game.
You are a General Manager of a baseball club. It’s your job to field a competitive team within the limits of a budget set by the team’s owner. Using a combination of internally developed players and free agents, you have to build a team each year knowing that, as the seasons tick by, the players that came up through your system will be one step closer to free agency. If you run a mid-market team and happen to land a superstar player through an international signing or a draft pick, you know this player will cash with one of the major market teams when free agency arrives.
So as this player — whether it’s a Johan Santana, a Miguel Cabrera or an Albert Pujols type — gets closer to the end of his contract, you have three choices. You can let him play out the contract and gain a draft pick when this Type A free agent signs somewhere else. You can offer him a contract extension and hope he takes a reasonable offer to stay with his team like Albert Pujols has seemingly done. Or you can try to trade him for the appropriate package as free agency nears.
Now just about every Major League general manager would rather not trade a player that he would probably consider to be the face of a franchise. Why would the Twins want to trade Johan Santana when his mere presence gives the team and their fans hope for a good year and puts fans in the seats?
The answer to that question opens the door to discussions of trade proposals. A General Manager would opt to trade a player like Johan Santana if he can get back star young players who will be under contract to that team for the foreseeable future and will perform well above league average.
Over the last few days, as we’ve discussed Johan Santana and the trade possibilities, I’ve read a lot of proposals. They range from deals including star pitching prospects with decent Major League talent to deals where the Yanks or Red Sox would throw in a lot of spare parts and some younger players who may be good but haven’t been lately. As we move ahead this winter, the former proposals are realistic; the latter are simply wishful thinking on the part of fans looking for a steal of a deal that won’t happen.
If you’re a GM, imagine how you would justify trading Johan Santana for a slew of sub-par prospects. Four B-rated prospects don’t equal that sure-fire ace. While some Boston fans are offering up Coco Crisp and Julian Tavares, and Yankee fans are throwing in Shelley Duncan and Wilson Betemit as starting points, those are unrealistic propsoals.
To get a Johan Santana, an interested team would have to give up a lot. Trade proposals should start with names like Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buccholz, Jon Lester, Phil Hughes, and yes, Robinson Cano. The only way to get the Twins — the team in the real position of power because they hold Santana’s contract — to the table is by offering up something they want and need. Enthusiasm aside, no one really needs or wants Shelley Duncan in exchange for Johan Santana.
So as trade rumors heat up and cool down, think about Make-Believe. Put yourself in the shoes of the other team’s General Manager and ask yourself this: If you were in charge of Johan Santana, would you be able to justify to your team’s fans why you made the trade you’re proposing? We want a steal, but the 30 GMs won’t be taken for a ride all that often. That’s just not the way Major League wheelin’ and dealin’ works.