Before Santanamania momentarily took hold of our Yankee-loving lives, we were in the middle of discussing the winter when Bernie Williams almost left New York. I argued that Bernie’s departure would have paved the way for the Red Sox to win in 1999. But not everyone took such a shortsighted view as I did.
In fact, one of our frequent commenters, Eric from Morrisania wrote an excellent counterfactual about what may have happened if Bernie had indeed been allowed to leave, and in Eric’s view, things turn out pretty well for the Yanks. Since it’s such a well-done comment, I thought it merits its own discussion. So here is Eric’s view — with some very minor edits by me — on what could have been if Bernie had left New York in November of 1998.
We gave Bernie a 7 year, $87.5M deal ($12.5M per). Belle signed with Baltimore later that offseason for 5 years, $65M ($13M per).
For the first 4 years of the 7 year deal we gave Bernie (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002), he was awesome, with OPS+ of 149, 140, 138, and 141. He was a key middle of the order bat on the WS teams of ‘99 and ‘00, and performed admirably in the heartbreaking ‘01 loss and ‘02 early exit. The last three years of the deal, when he was age 34, 35, and 36, his play fell off noticeably (OPS+ 107, 108, 85). And, Bernie was never an above average CF in the field, let’s be honest.
Belle, meanwhile, gave Baltimore a great season in 1999 (OPS+ of 142; .297/.400/.541 37HR 117RBI) followed by a so-so 2000 (OPS+ 109; .281/.342/.474 23HR 103RBI) where he spent time on the DL. They shut him down with a hip problem in September of ‘00, and 6 months later, he announced his retirement. Of the $39M still owed to him; insurance payed off 70%, so the Orioles were on the hook for $11.7M combined, which they could spread across 2001, 2002, and 2003.
If we had signed Belle instead of Bernie, we would have received essentially the exact same levels of production in 1999 and a slight decrease in 2000, which is significant since we made the playoffs by finishing only two games better than a pretty bad Boston team that presumably would have been much better with Bernie on it. BUT, we also would have been in the market for a new outfielder either in the winter before 2001 if we suspected that Belle’s hip condition was serious, as it was or in the winter before 2002 if we optimistically believed that we could count on Belle going forward. So, what could have happened?
Assuming we expected Belle to return and his retirement caught us unaware (as it did Baltimore), we probably would have tried to swing a trade for someone during Spring Training. Ron Gant, Michael Tucker, and Milton Bradley were all dealt during the 2001 season, so it’s reasonable to assume we might have been able to pluck one of them off without giving up too much. We could have pushed for Juan Gonzalez, who wore out his welcome in multiple locations. Then, after the season, we could have pursued Johnny Damon or Moises Alou as free agents in the 01-02 offseason, or went after the big fish, Gary Sheffield, who wanted out of LA. Or, we could spent more in prospects and dealt for Jermaine Dye, who was also on the block, as a more permanent CF solution.
Then, there’s the other scenario – where we’re concerned enough about Belle’s health after the 2000 season to pursue an OF upgrade right then and there, which would be a real possibility since O’Neill would be 37 at the time and LF is a revolving door of Ricky Ledee, Shane Spencer, Glenallen Hill, and Luis Polonia. So, what FA outfielders were available in the 2000-2001 offseason? Ichiro. Oh yeah, and Manny Ramirez.
Imagine the Red Sox-Yankees games of 2001-2007, only with Bernie on their team and Manny Ramirez on ours. Or, imagine our lineup with Ichiro and Jeter at the top, and bear in mind that if the Sox had signed Bernie, they probably wouldn’t have signed Manny Ramirez; he’d be somewhere else (Mets? Dodgers? Angels?).
So, my question is, would you have given away the 2000 subway series, and even traded a 2000 WS title for a 2000 Boston Red Sox title, in exchange for substituting Bernie Williams six seasons from 2001-2007 for six years of Manny Ramirez, Ichiro Suzuki, Gary Sheffield, Jermaine Dye, or Johnny Damon? Because, frankly, the numbers competition isn’t even close.
How about something a little lighthearted to combat the 208 Johan Santana-related comments covering four posts and 24 hours around here? Ok? Ok.
Last season during some of the YES Network telecasts, I tried to keep track of what aspect of the game is brought to you by which company. No longer do we get the Yankees starting lineup; rather, we get the Richo Yankees Starting Lineup. Calls to the bullpen — which are not on my list below — are sponsored by Verizon or AT&T or some phone company. (Get it? Because it’s a call to the bullpen.)
So here’s the list I concocted over a few games in the middle of summer. It’s far from complete and doesn’t cover the John Sterling/Suzyn Waldman “Whore Ourselves Out To The Highest Bidder” Radio Broadcasting from the Lowe’s broadcast booth. But it’s a start. Feel free to add. Or make you own. I’m sure someone could sponsor Kyle Farnsworth’s outings.
New York Lottery Pitching Matchup
Ricoh Yankees Starting Lineup
Land Rover Scouting Report (Away)
Land Rover Scouting Report (Home)
Coors Light Scoreboard in between innings
AFLAC Trivia Question
Bacardi Scouting Reports
Hertz Out of Town Scoreboard
Chevy Player of the Game
Hummer In-Game Box Score
LoJack Caught Stealing — This one is the best. It’s a themed sponsorship that makes perfect sense.
Nissan Post Game Show
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.
Another reason why we’ll never be totally sure what happened with Santana and why we can’t always put 100 percent stock into the reports from anonymous sources emerged today. Adam Rubin and Bill Madden in the Daily News say that the Twins wanted Ian Kennedy and Chien-Ming Wang. Bob Klapisch reports that the Twins asked for Melky Cabrera, Ian Kennedy and others. Either way, it seems that the Yanks’ desire to complete the deal under the terms set forth by Minnesota had waned a long time ago. Maybe. · (21) ·
Alright. Let’s put this baby to bed. Barring a complete collapse of the contract negotiations between the Twins and Mets, this is it for RAB and Johan Santana. It’s been some ride, eh?
Anyway, with the Yankees’ missing out on landing Santana, disappointment has enveloped many Yankee bloggers. But we’re immune; the Yankees have Saved the Big 3! They’ve also saved $150 million. But we’ll get there. What is everyone else saying?
Mike Plugh at Canyon of Heroes thinks Bill Smith should be fired. Yankees Chick tends to agree, and Travis G. at New York Yankees Etc. feels that Smith overplayed his hand. Moshe Mandel at The Bronx Block believes that Smith got fleeced. These bloggers are upset because the Twins seemingly turned down or dallied to the point of no return with better offers on the table.
Meanwhile, in the comments to our Santana trade post, not at 106 and climbing, a lot of fans are upset because they feel that the Yankees could have outbid the Twins for Santana without giving up Phil Hughes, the Holy Grail of the trade demands. I don’t think so. Let’s look, one last time, at what happened since November. It’s not as clear cut as we all think.
1. The Twins wanted to trade Johan Santana, but…
We all know that the Twins wanted to trade Johan Santana. With one year left on his contract and no extension forthcoming — despite payouts to Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer — the Twins had to capitalize on Santana by getting back something. For some reason, they felt the need to trade him now before Spring Training or the trade deadline when teams would be more desperate and more willing to give up blue chip pieces to get Santana. Why the Twins acted so soon, we won’t know.
2a. The Red Sox weren’t all that interested
2b. The Yankees weren’t all that interested
David and Aziz at Pride of the Yankees speculate that the Yankees and Red Sox were just using each other to drive up the price. Neither of the AL East superpowers were too keen to give up their hard-earned farm-system spoils for Johan Santana, they speculate. I’ve heard from a few sources that this was more likely the truth than we all initially thought.
First, Boston. According to what I’ve heard, the Red Sox were never serious about trading Jon Lester, Clay Bucholz or Jacoby Ellsbury in a package for Santana. In fact, the offers on the table from the Sox were far below what the media were reporting each day. But unlike the Yankees and Hank Steinbrenner, the Red Sox kept a tight lip on the procedures.
Meanwhile, the Yankees laid their cards on the table but did so in a way to call the Twins’ bluff. The Good Doctor, writing on my post, explains this position:
Has it occured to anybody that neither the Yankees or the Red Sox really wanted Santana? I mean, at least at the price they would have to pay to get him. Did it occur that these two VERY savvy franchises ended up playing the Twins like a fiddle? Let’s face it, clearly the Red Sox and the Yankees both had the players to make the deal happen if they wanted to make it happen. Either team could have beaten the Mets offer without breaking a sweat if they really wanted to, but they didn’t.
The offers that they each reportedly made were disingenuous. First, Hank makes a tremendous offer (Hughes, Melky, etc.), but gives a ridiculous deadline by which the Twins have to accept it. He knew they wouldn’t/couldn’t accept the deadline. Meanwhile, it keeps the BoSox in the hunt, so they talk about Lester and Ellsbury, but that offer too is disingenuous. And in the end, they were reported to have taken the best parts of their reported offers off the table.
The Yankees only wanted to keep Santana out of Boston and the Red Sox wanted to make sure he didn’t go to the Bronx and the only way either one was actually going to pull the trigger on the deal was if the other was really, truly, honestly about to make a real deal for Santana. Neither team wanted him at the price they’d have to pay.
And why didn’t either of those teams want Santana? Because, as we’ve said and The Good Doctor put it, “Both would have given up big time MLB ready, INEXPENSIVE, young players to land Santana, then turn around and pay him $20 – 25 mil a year.” These two teams are not about to add another $25 million a year for seven years. It didn’t work with Kevin Brown or Mike Hampton, and it’s not working out for Barry Zito. Seven-year contracts for pitchers are not sound investments, and there’s no way that Santana’s performance over the course of the contract would have justified the lost pieces and money.
Meanwhile, it seems as though blustery Hank really did know what he was doing after all. Funny how that happens.
3. Bill Smith did not overplay his hand
Smith, an inexperienced GM but a veteran baseball guy with a strong background in talent evaluation, knew what he could get and when. If he ever really thought he could do better than what he got, he would have pulled the trigger sooner. The breaking point came today when Johan Santana basically asked for a resolution. I’m sure the Red Sox and Yankees both said to Smith that their offers would not improve in March or in July.
4. The Twins were not too keen on moving Santana to another AL team
As Casper points out in the comments to this post, it’s quite likely that the Twins did not want to see Santana in the AL. The Twins have a good a shot as any to rebuild into a playoff team before the end of Santana’s eventual contract extension. Why handicap your team by setting up another with your erstwhile ace? Whether or not this consideration led to a sound baseball move is open for debate.
5. Evaluating this non-move won’t happen overnight
For the Yankees to tell whether or not they “lost” out on this non-trade, we’ll have to wait, oh, about six or seven years. Right now, Johan Santana is probably the de facto front runner from NL Cy Young. He’s switching leagues and landing in another pitcher’s park. He’ll get to face the Nationals and Marlins more than a few times as well as the Number 9 slot in the NL batting orders. He’s got it made, and the Mets probably just punched their ticket to at least the NLCS.
Meanwhile, Johan Santana in 2008 will be better than Phil Hughes, barring injury or some sort of miracle. But that’s just year one. When Santana’s making $20 million at the age of 34, and Hughes is outpitching him for less money, we’ll see who’s come out ahead.
Yankee fans are fickle, and the temptation now is to say that the Yanks lost out big. But for once, we’ll have to do what the Yankees did and remain patient with the young kids. They’ll deliver.
Sixteen days until pitchers and catchers…
Update 4:17 p.m.: The Mets have acquired Johan Santana, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
Based on reports from sources close the teams, the Twins have accepted the Mets’ offer of Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, Deolis Guerra, and Phil Humber in exchange for the All Star lefty. The deal will be complete pending both a physical and a six- or seven-year contract for Santana. The Mets have a two- or three-day window during which they can negotiate.
At this point, I don’t really see this deal falling apart, and if Johan couldn’t land in the Bronx for the right price, seeing him in Queens instead of Boston is a huge positive.
Two well-connected baseball writers – Buster Olney and Jon Heyman – are reporting the same news on the Johan Santana front: The Twins have their final offers in hand, and the Yankees are not one of the suitors.
In keeping with a request from pitcher Johan Santana, the Twins have fielded offers from all interested parties by a mid-day Tuesday deadline, and Minnesota is expected to make a decision soon on whether to keep the left-hander or trade him, perhaps to the Mets — who appear to be strong front-runners — or the Red Sox, sources say.
The Yankees do not appear to be engaged in the Santana talks.
Santana, who completely controls his fate because of the full no-trade clause that he possesses, asked the Twins to make a decision, which is why Minnesota imposed the deadline for offers from the interested team.
Heyman notes that the Yanks informed the Twins that Minnesota could not have Phil Hughes, and the Twins don’t appear interested in other packages that the Yanks could potentially put together.
Meanwhile, despite the Santana-enforced deadline, a trade is not a forgone conclusion. If the Twins don’t like the Mets’ or Red Sox’s final offers, they could sit on Santana until the middle of Spring Training. Olney notes that myriad circumstances from injury to steroid distraction could present themselves to the contending teams that might make them up their offers. Either way, this story should peak this week.
For now, it looks like the Yanks are out of it. While we’re opposed to trading young pitchers away for Johan Santana, a lot of fans are on the fence about the deal. Only time will tell, of course, if the Yanks, showing rare restraint, made the right move here.
Whitey Ford – winner of the “He’s still alive?” Award – is getting ready to auction the farm. Over two days in July during the All Star Game festivities, Ford’s personal collection of baseball memorabilia will be auctioned off at the Javits Center. So if you want Whitey Ford’s Hall of Fame Induction Plaque, you know where to find it. Said Ford of his collection, “When your house starts getting full and your kids don’t have a place to sleep, it’s time to get rid of stuff.” · (8) ·
Just wanted to mention that I took part in a prospect roundtable over at my old stomping grounds, Pending Pinstripes. I find it pretty funny that I bashed on George Kontos in the roundtable, only to have him pop up as the lead story on Baseball America’s site. You planned this EJ, I know you did.
Thanks to gang over there for asking me to take part. · (7) ·
Well, he’s a media-hating, 35-year-old, mediocre middle reliever, says Emma Span at Eephus Pitch. While the virtual free agent trade involving Luis Vizcaino and LaTroy Hawkins netted the Yanks a draft pick, I’m not too optimistic about Hawkins. Maybe that new delivery really will work. · (21) ·
October 12, 1999 — For the first time since Bucky Dent carved himself a place in playoff lore, the Yankees and Red Sox are gearing up to meet in the postseason. Boston is all abuzz as the AL East Champions are playing host to the Wild Card team and defending World Champions from New York. While the Yankees finished with 98 wins this season, the Red Sox’s 104 victories were tops in the Majors, and the Yanks will have to hope that their superior pitching can overcome a power-packed Boston lineup.
Ironic in this meeting is one center fielder for the Red Sox, the former Yankee Bernie Williams. Williams, after becoming a Yankee mainstay, left the Bronx after the Yankees’ 125-win season last year. While the Yankees were prepared to offer Williams a five-year, $60-million contract, the star and his agent Scott Boras rejected that deal. They knew they could get more elsewhere and were tired of playing games with George Steinbrenner.
So now Williams will face off against his old team in Fenway. The Yanks — with their tempestuous twosome of Paul O’Neill and Albert Belle — look strong, but can they overcome the Red Sox?
* * *
We know that didn’t happen. Bernie Williams wasn’t on the Red Sox in 1999, and the Yankees were the AL East champs again.
But it was close. For a while in 1998, it looked like Bernie was Boston-bound, and if he had landed in Fenway, it’s not hard to imagine the Sox taking the division. Williams was the top offensive center fielder in the AL in 1999. His VORP that year — a measure of how much better he was than the next best available option — was 79.9. Darren Lewis, the Red Sox’s starting center fielder, pulled down a -24.8 VORP. That swing of 100 would have theoretically netted the Sox 10 more wins and a spot atop the AL East. It’s funny how history turns out.
“Bernie on the Red Sox?” you might say with a chuckle. “That never would have happened, right?” While it can be tough to see through Scott Boras’ hyperbole and fake seven-year offers, by all accounts in November of 1998, Bernie Williams nearly ended up in Fenway.
Bernie’s tale begins in 1997 when the Yankees were trying to extend their center fielder. They offered him a five-year deal worth just south of $40 million. As you could guess, they were laughed out of the room, and for a while, it seemed as though their offer and past contract snubs were insulting enough to convince Williams to cease negotiations entirely. Money and loyalty are powerful motivators.
Throughout November, Scott Boras and the Yankees engaged in their usual dance as reports of other deals surfaced. At various times, the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rockies and Red Sox all expressed interest in Williams. But by the end, it became a battle between rivals. The Yankees and the Red Sox squared off with a big x-factor waiting in the wings.
To the dismay of Yankee fans, that x-factor was none other than hotheaded slugger Albert Belle. As the Yankees and Bernie looked to finalize their looming divorce, a new marriage between the Yankees and Belle was on the horizon. While the Yanks were initially interested in Jim Edmonds, those talks fizzled, and at 32 years old, Belle was one of the most sought-after free agents of 1998. The hip condition that would end his career two seasons later was nowhere to be found, and his numbers and temper were fearsome.
When Williams rejected that five-year, $60-million deal, the Yankees turned their attention to Belle. When I left my apartment on Wednesday night, November 25, 1998, to attend a friend’s Thanksgiving Eve party, I believed that Bernie Williams’ tenure in the Bronx was over. The Yanks and Bernie, as Buster Olney had reported that morning, were nearing a final separation, and Bernie was about to land in Boston.
The Yankees however had an out: Scott Boras offered them one last chance to match the Red Sox’s supposed seven-year, $90-million deal. Bernie, it seemed, wasn’t as keen to get out of New York as earlier reports indicated. When I got home late that night, my dad had left me a note on the door: Bernie Williams signs with the Yanks for seven years and $87.5 million, it said. I was ecstatic. Somehow, the Yankees and Bernie were able to overcome their differences, and Bernie would remain a Yankee.
In the end, it was always tough to tell if Bernie was actually going to leave. Three columnists in The Times — Jack Curry, Harvey Araton and Buster Olney — all speculated that Boras used vague, half-serious offers to get the Yanks to ante up. By keeping the archrival Red Sox involved, Boras knew the Yanks would pay, and he won.
When the real 1999 ALCS dawned, the Yanks, led by Bernie, beat the Red Sox with their sad excuse for a center fielder. As we know, Bernie’s Yanks would go on to great success. While Bernie’s contract became something of an albatross by the end of it and Williams still seems to have a poor relationship with the Yankees, keeping Bernie out of Boston was a sage move.