I thought that once Johan was dished to the Mets, we’d kinda stop talking about him. We had some intense discussion about him yesterday, but I figured the mob would calm down and realize that this is far from the worst thing that could happen. In fact, as you know we’re going to argue, it’s a good thing.
If you’ve ever played chess, you know that a fatal downfall of any player is to constantly react to his opponent’s moves. If you don’t have a plan of your own and are constantly on the defensive, you’re eventually going to be crushed. Even if your opponent makes a blunder or two, if she’s got a plan and you don’t, you’re going to lose 95 times out of 100.
The Yankees very clearly have a plan. They’ve allocated more funds to the draft and international free agents, allowing them to build a team from the ground up. No, not every one of these prospects is going to work out. But if you start trading them away, you lessen the pool of potential players, thereby reducing the chances that you hang onto someone who’s going to stick.
Anyway, the Yankees have been playing the game according to this strategy, and finally we’re starting to see some success from it. They had a chance to break with the strategy back in July, but passed on sending IPK or Melky — or both — to the Rangers for Eric Gagne. Despite the need for another bullpen arm, the Yankees knew that they couldn’t break from their strategy.
In November, Bill Smith set us up with some bait in the form of Johan Santana. Once again, chess players know that sometimes you’re presented with an opportunity that warrants breaking with your strategy. The move is just too obvious. So you break from the strategy that has dictated your moves to this point in order to make what appears to be a no-brainer.
Sometimes it works out and you trump your opponent. Other times, your opponent was just baiting you, and instead of making a no-brainer move that should put you in a position to win, you end up falling for their trap. You find yourself in a compromised position. Worst of all, your original strategy has to go on hold while you figure out how to get yourself out of the hole you fell into.
What complicates this situation more is that this isn’t a one-on-one chess game. All 30 teams are in on it. Any one of them can make a move to bait you. So when the Twins moved their queen into a prone position, the games began. They were baiting anyone interested, so the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets moved pieces into position for the capture.
(This is where the analogy gets a bit conflated, so bear with me.)
In order to capture the coveted queen, the Yanks would have had to give up a number of pieces. So the question is, do you sacrifice these piece to capture the queen, or do you stay the course?
Clearly, staying the course isn’t always the best option. But in this case, consider what you’d be sacrificing while changing strategies:
1) Young players. Even if they are pawns at this point, they still stand a chance to make it to the other end of the board and become something greater. The more pawns you have moving towards that end, the more of them that are going to become knights, bishops, rooks…even queens.
2) Maneuverability. Yes, adding another queen makes the team stronger in the short run, but what about down the line? You can say all you want about the Yankees “unlimited” money, but remember: a) you haven’t seen the Yankees books, so nothing you say on that point is objectively valid, and b) having a $20, $23 million a year pitcher on the staff is going to affect your ability to sign other players. I don’t care how much money you have. That’s a hefty and long-term commitment that clearly could backfire. And then you’re stuck.
(Example: Trading for Randy Johnson, and then having Steinbrenner reject acquiring Carlos Beltran, even at a discount.)
So in the end, the Yankees didn’t take the bait. You can argue that they should have, and you won’t necessarily be wrong. I welcome the thought that the Yanks should have jumped on this and strayed from their strategy. There are times that this works. You can then reevaluate where you stand and develop a new strategy.
What I can’t stand hearing is that this is somehow Cashman’s fault that the Twins accepted a package that the Yanks could ostensibly have topped without including Hughes. The Twins have their own M.O. They know what they want for their team, and they’ve clearly went through the rigors of evaluating the players they desire from the Yanks, Sox, and Mets farm systems.
It’s ludicrous to think that Cashman could “sell” a package to the Twins. A salesman baits his prospect with emotion. You sell them on the benefits of owning X product or Y service. You make him envision what it would feel like to have that product or service. And hopefully you can deflect his rational objections with more emotional appeals. Even then, you have to close the sale before the prospect’s sense of reason tells him that he doesn’t need your product or service.
This is not how it works in baseball. GMs don’t make trades based on emotion. “Not unless you’re a moron,” says Keith Law. So Cashman could have put on his best blue pinstriped suit and power red tie, and made the pitch of the century to Bill Smith. But he wasn’t going to buy it. The Twins as an organization worked too hard to get to this point to let Santana go because some other GM made an emotional appeal.
One has to remember, too, that we don’t necessarily know what the Twins think of our prospects. It doesn’t matter how we view our prospects, or even how the Yankees organizations views them. It only matters what the Twins think of them. And apparently, they think rather highly of Carlos Gomez:
“The Twins LOVE Gomez,” says Law. “You can even quote me on that.” He goes on to say that Gomez has quite the ceiling: a potential .320/.400/.470 guy in center with plus plus speed and good overall defensive skills. No, that’s not a guarantee in any sense. But the Twins clearly liked what they saw there.
So before you go levying blame on Cashman for this, realize that he only made one decision: To stay the course. To stick with the strategy that they’ve been going with for about two years now. To not abandon a plan just because someone dangled a shiny object in front of him.
I’ve been there on the chess board. I’ve seen a prone queen, and my first instinct is always to capture it. But sometimes you have to step back and realize that making that move messes up what you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Why not stick with what you’re doing? You’re more in control that way. You have flexibility and maneuverability.
Yeah, sometimes capturing the queen will change the tide of the game. But oftentimes it only cripples you, because you’re no longer on your turf. You’ve changed. And that means forming a new strategy.
Personally, I’m more than comfortable with the one we’re currently operating under.
Image credit: Metsblog