Archive for Johan Santana

Feb
02

Open Thread: Johan Santana

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(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

It’s been a long, long time since we campaigned to Save The Big Three. That was three offseasons ago, when the Yankees (and Red Sox) were talking to the Twins about acquiring two-time (shoulda been three-time) Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. The rumored package was Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, Mitch Hilligoss, and Jeff Marquez, though Minnesota was supposedly holding out for Ian Kennedy. Think the Cliff Lee or Andy Pettitte stuff is too much this winter? That was nothing compared to the non-stop Johan rumors, around the clock coverage of a trade we never wanted to happen. Three years ago today, it all came to a merciful end when the Mets officially acquired Santana for what amounted to a package of spare parts.

We were happy, many were not. The Yankees were in clear need of pitching help, moreso than they are right now, and there was Santana, an ace in his prime waiting to be had. Brian Cashman gambled that he could keep his prized young players (though four of those five guys are long gone) and simply buy CC Sabathia as a free agent the next offseason. It was a ballsy and absurdly risky move, but that’s exactly what happened. Less than two years after the Johan non-trade, Sabathia, Hughes, and the rest of the Yankees were parading down the Canyon of Heroes, world champs for the 27th time. They took their lumps along the way, missing the playoffs in 2008, but here they are today with both Sabathia and Hughes headlining their rotation while Johan recovers from major shoulder surgery across town. I don’t think Hollywood could have written a better script.

Here’s your open thread for the evening. The Isles, Nets, and Knicks are all playing, but talk about whatever you want. Go nuts.

Categories : Open Thread
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This is part 2 of my attempt to reevaluate Johan Santana and his desirability as a trade target for the Yankees this summer. Yesterday we looked at the nature of Santana’s injury, and saw some speculation on when he might be back to full strength. I also noted that his decline in performance from his Minnesota years may obscure the fact that he’s still a very valuable pitcher, provided that he’s healthy. Today we’re going to examine Santana’s contract and try to handicap what a trade might look like.

The dollar bills

When the Mets acquired Santana from Twins in February of 2008, they immediately inked him to a long-term extension which replaced the final year of his contract. His new contract is a 6 year deal worth $137.5 million with a club option of $25M for 2014 ($5M buyout).The contract is backloaded, a present from Omar to Sandy, meaning that the annual salaries increase as the deal progresses. It’s often said that Santana has 4 years and $80 million left on his contract. It’s not so simple.

In 2011, Santana will make $22.5M. In 2012 his salary escalates to $24M and then to $25.5M in the final year of the deal in 2013. As mentioned, the team has a $25M club option ($5M buyout) for 2014. It’s worth noting that this club option transforms into a player option if Santana reaches certain milestones, which you can read about here. To my best understanding, Santana would have to win the Cy Young in 2012 or 2013, or finish second or third in Cy Young voting in both 2012 and 2013, or be on the active roster for the final 30 days of the 2013 season while pitching 215 innings in 2013 or a combined 420 innings between 2012 and 2013. Got that? Suffice it to say, if Santana earns his player option for 2014 it will mean that his 2012 and 2013 seasons were productive and valuable for his club. We will operate on the assumption that he does not earn his option though, since this would represent the more cautious scenario for the acquiring team.

Assuming the option is declined, this means that Santana is due $77M between now and the end of the contract. However, it’s extremely unlikely that Santana is dealt any time soon, meaning that by the time he goes on the trade market in July or August of 2011, roughly half of his 2011 salary should be paid out. The Mets don’t provide a convenient contract amortization schedule for us, so we’ll ballpark it and say that Santana will be due $10M in 2011 by the time he hits the market. This reduces the total contractual obligation of the acquiring team to $67M.

Again though, it’s not so simple. Santana’s contract defers $5M of the payout annually, a true Mets specialty (see: Bonilla, Bobby). Santana receives $5M of his annual salary seven years after the season in which the salary is earned at 1.25% compound interest. Say what you want about Omar Minaya, and you can say plenty, but getting a player to defer roughly a quarter of his annual salary for minimal interest is a nice touch. If we assume that the Mets defer $5M of the contract at the beginning of the year, this would reduce Santana’s 2011 salary to $17.5M, meaning that the total remaining obligation in 2011 by the time he’s dealt would be roughly $8M. In 2012 the total salary obligation would be $19M and $20.5M in 2013. Depending on how you slice it (and it’s unclear whether the team treats the deferred compensation as a future liability with no bearing on current cash flow or amortizes it over the course of the year in which the salary is earned, I’m guessing the former), the acquiring team would be on the hook for roughly $47.5M during the life of the contract and then $5M in both 2019 and 2020. The common refrain that  Santana is due $80M over 4 years is enough to make one blanch. However, when the club option and the deferred compensation are factored in, the total obligation is far more team-friendly.

The trade

It seems clear that the Mets won’t contend in 2011. The Braves and the Marlins have put together decent clubs, the Phillies are an evil four-headed monster, and the Nationals’ acquisition of Tom Gorzelanny essentially ensures them the divisional crown (I kid). The Mets’ focus ought to be on 2012 and beyond. They have a fair amount of money coming off the books after 2011 in Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez and Francisco Rodriguez, but one has to imagine they’ll at least attempt to keep Reyes long-term.

The Mets may be looking to cut payroll now not only in recognition that their contention window is at least 2012, but also because of the team’s rather precarious situation. Yesterday Joel Sherman reported that the Wilpons may be interested in selling a non-controlling stake in the team in order to raise money. As Sherman noted, the obvious implication is that the Madoff scandal has handicapped them in a far more significant manner than they’ve let on. Indeed, part of the reason for seeking a strategic partner is the lawsuit attempting to recover money from the Madoff scheme. There was speculation yesterday that the trustee for the Madoff victims could be seeking as much as one billion dollars from Fred Wilpon. Wilpon’s statement admitted that the team desired to raise cash in response to this:

“To address the air of uncertainty created by this lawsuit, and to provide additional assurance that the New York Mets will continue to have the necessary resources to fully compete and win, we are looking at a number of potential options including the addition of one or more strategic partners”.

As Craig Calcaterra noted, though, it may not be possible for the Wilpons to keep a controlling stake in the team:

Even if these numbers are not accurate, however, the key point is clear: the Wilpons’ current financial situation is going to be directly impacted by how much the government is seeking in its clawback lawsuit. If it’s anything close to figure Hubbuch is reporting, they will have to sell way more than a minority share in the Mets.  Indeed, they’ll likely have to sell the whole team.

Bringing it back to Santana, it may be the case that the Mets could seek to unload his expensive contract in 2011, both as a way of shoring up their annual cash flow and for preparation for 2012 and 2013. If so, the trade of Roy Oswalt from the Astros to the Phillies last summer may serve as a model. Last July the the Phillies sent J.A. Happ and two prospects to the Astros in exchange for Oswalt. Oswalt had $23M left on his contract and the Astros agreed to pick up nearly half of it, $11M. Oswalt did not demand that the Phillies pick up his 2012 option for $16M; instead, if either Oswalt or the Phillies decline his 2012 option, he will receive $2M.

The Mets could consider something similar, picking up some of Santana’s salary and receiving prospects from the acquiring team in return. If the Mets were unable or unwilling to pay Santana’s salary then the cost in prospects would certainly be less. Obviously there are a lot of moving parts, but the primary concern is Santana’s health. If he doesn’t return to full strength then this is all moot. If he does, though, then it wouldn’t be completely surprising to see them try to unload his contract late this summer. Should the Yankees kick the tires and consider Santana again? Would the Mets be willing to do an Oswalt-like deal for him? Just when you thought you were out, just when you thought the Yankees’ saga with Santana was finally over..they pull you back in.

Categories : Pitching
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AP Photo/Kathy Willens

By now it is nearly impossible to discuss the Yankees’ search for starting pitching without saying something like, “It’s no secret that the Yankees need starting pitching help”. It’s all been said. Even if Andy Pettitte postpones his date with retirement another year and returns for the 2011 campaign it’s likely that the team could still be looking for help on the trade market this summer. Ivan Nova is a fine fifth starter option, but it would really be nice if he was the sixth starter, an option in case of injury or a terrible outbreak of Bad A.J. The problem is that the trade market is a bit weak. There’s no Cliff Lee on the market this summer. Wandy Rodriguez looked like a decent target, but the Astros just extended him for three years. Gavin Floyd and Chris Carpenter could be very good options, but a lot needs to happen for these teams to put the players on the market. Plan B might be patience, but there’s a fair amount of contingency contained therein.

One trade option is Johan Santana. Mike addressed the possibility of acquiring Santana in this mailbag piece several weeks ago, outlining all the reasons why the Yankees shouldn’t attempt to acquire Santana: he’s coming off major shoulder surgery, his performance is in decline, and he’s expensive. All of these things are true, and yet I’m going to attempt a possibly quixotic reexamination of his desirability. This will be a two part piece. Today we will examine the nature of his injury and his perceived decline over the past 3 years and tomorrow we’ll look at his contract status and try to evaluate whether he makes sense for the Yankees as a trade target.  It sounds crazy, and it’s going to take a decent amount of time to make the case. All good things take time though, unless we’re talking about a Chipotle burrito, so try to stick it out with me. It’s not like there’s anything better to do on a freezing weekend in January. What, you gonna watch curling?

Injury

When Johan Santana was injured late last summer it was initially reported that he had a strained pectoral. This was slightly deceiving, in that the location of the injury is not where one would expect. When you hear “strained pec”, you think about how sore you feel if you do too many bench press sets. As Will Carroll noted, the strain happened right where the muscle inserts into the humerus, just below the shoulder. You can see the picture here. Despite initial good news out the Mets camp, which cruelly raised the hopes of Mets fans, it turned out that Santana’s injury was far more serious. Santana had torn the anterior capsule in his left shoulder and required surgery to repair it. The injury is more rare than a Tommy John surgery, and Carroll went to sources to get more information about the actual nature of the injury:

The anterior capsule is the front lining of the shoulder joint which then attaches to the labrum and then to the bone. The capsule is torn with the labrum often with an acute traumatic shoulder dislocation. However, in baseball with repetitive throwing the anterior capsule can just gradually stretch out and eventually give a thrower pain and a feeling of weakness and a velocity loss. This repetitive microscopic tearing and stretching injury ultimately is what the thrower may describe as a “dead arm” The type of surgery performed is very similar to the open surgery pioneered by Dr. Frank Jobe that was performed on Orel Hersheiser in the ’80s, but now with advances the same surgery can be done arthroscopically. However, the healing concepts are the same and therefore the rehabilitation can be very long to get back to high level throwing. Certainly 6-9 months is not unreasonable.

In order to repair this injury, the surgeon usually attempts to repair the ligaments arthoscopically. This was Dr. David Altchek’s goal with Santana, but he found that the tear was difficult to reach with an arthoscope and had to make an incision in the shoulder in order to repair it. This is obviously a less desirable method because it causes scar tissue, which can affect range of motion and lengthen the time of rehabilitation. As such, Santana may not return to the majors until the All-Star Break in 2011.  The final word from Carroll:

Santana will immediately begin rehab which is normally tagged at 20-28 weeks with an overlap of a throwing program towards the end. There’s no new info on whether there was anything found during the procedure that would change the outlook or prognosis. The first real sign we’ll get is likely to be when pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie in February.

There is some speculation that Santana would not be fully recovered until well after he actually returns to the majors. Dr. Craig Levitz speculated that it would actually take 3 months, or 70-80 innings, after Santana’s return for him to regain his top form. He also noted that pitchers with this type of injury often return stronger than before, and that there is little risk of recurrence. As Levitz said, “Over all there is not a lot of damage to the shoulder with this injury…Once they close the hole in the soft tissue, it should never be a problem again.”

Performance

Things have been different for Johan Santana since he left the American League for the National League Mets. From 2002 to 2007 he had an ERA of 2.92, striking out almost 10 batters per nine innings and walking 2.2 per nine innings. His strikeout to walk ratio was a Lee-esque 4.38. Due to a very low hit rate, Santana’s WHIP hovered around 1.00. For good reason he was considered one of the preeminent pitchers in all of baseball. Contrary to expectations, Santana’s strikeout rate has dipped about two batters per nine innings since joining the Mets, and his walk rate has increased ever-so-slightly to close to 2.5. As such, he’s posted FIPs in the mid 3.50s since coming to New York, certainly respectable but not exactly the commensurate with the highest expectations fans might have had for the well-paid ace. This chart shows his performance as a Met compared to his career numbers:

santana

Peripherals-wise, 2010 was Santana’s worst year. This is to be expected, given that he was coming off minor elbow surgery from the offseason prior and had his season cut short by the shoulder injury in September. One thing we don’t know is to what extent Santana pitched through discomfort or pain in 2010 before acknowledging his injury. We also don’t know if the gradual destruction of his shoulder ligaments was responsible for the decline in performance. The quote from Carroll’s source above seems to confirm that the pitcher will likely experience discomfort, weakness and a loss of velocity before actually needing surgery to repair the injury. It would be logical to expect a bounceback in velocity and strikeout stuff, but within any injury there is a large amount of risk and variance. It all hinges on how well Santana heals.

Despite the decline in performance, Santana was still a very valuable pitcher for the Mets in 2010. As a quick and easy comparison, his 3.5 fWAR in 199 innings in 2010 ranks similar to Shaun Marcum and Wandy Rodriguez’s performance. Over the past three years, despite an injury-shortened 2009, he’s accumulated 11.0 fWAR. This is more than Andy Pettitte, James Shields, John Lackey or Ted Lilly. If he had thrown 200 innings in 2009 it’s likely that he would register more fWAR in the past 3 years than Matt Cain, Roy Oswalt or Javier Vazquez. Of course, he didn’t throw 200 innings in 2009, so the point is moot. Regardless, Santana is still a valuable pitcher. Compare his performance data above with this data for CC Sabathia:

Sabathia and Santana both have fairly similar FIPs and ERAs, but Santana seems consistently able to outperform his FIP. They also have similar strikeout rates. Sabathia’s walk rates are slightly worse than Santana but CC generates far more groundballs than Santana, a clear boon in Yankee Stadium. Santana’s flyball tendencies play well in Citi Field but would likely be less advantageous in another venue. Sabathia’s numbers are also more impressive in the AL East. All things considered, Sabathia is a more desirable starter, but simply because Santana isn’t replicating his same level of dominance from years past doesn’t mean that he’s no longer valuable. Mid-3 FIP pitchers with good control and strikeout stuff don’t grow on trees.

Johan Santana isn’t what he once was, and he’s coming off a major injury with a long rehabilitation timeframe. There are good reasons for optimism though, reasons that don’t solely consist of fluff and happy thoughts. If Santana can pitch again like he has as a Met, he’ll have good value for his team. Of course, there’s the whole question of the contract, a question which I’ll address tomorrow morning before trying to ascertain how the trade market could firm up. See you then.

Categories : Pitching
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Jan
24

Mailbag: Johan Santana

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(AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr)

Darl asks: Any chance Johan Santana goes on the trading block? 31 year old with some injury trouble making $20MM. Mets likely will get blasted in NL East. New management will want to rebuild. He is under contact through 2014.

I think you answered your own question. A 31-year-old with injury trouble making $20M a year is ALWAYS on the trade block. The problem is that no one is going to bite. Remember, Santana is currently rehabbing from major shoulder surgery and isn’t expected to be ready until midseason. And it’s not just the shoulder either. His 2009 season came to an end in August because he had elbow surgery, so that’s two arm operations in as many years. In fact, Johan has not finished even one of his three seasons with the Mets healthy. In ’08 it was his knee.

We were adamantly against trading for Johan three years ago, and that’s when he was healthy and on the top of the game. Now that he’s on the wrong side of 30 and has been dealing with some serious injury issues, we’re even more against it, regardless of his availability and the cost. The injury concerns are very real, and are even more troubling since the last two involve his prized left arm.

Not only would the Yankees have to worry about injury-related decline, but at age 31 (32 in March), age-related decline becomes an issue as well. A case could be made that a healthy Johan Santana won’t be worth his contract for the next four years, especially since his peripheral stats have been declining since before he won his second Cy Young Award…

The injuries are just the most obvious of the red flags. Johan’s fastball velocity has been declining while his changeup velo remains unchanged, so it’s not much of a surprise that the latter’s effectiveness has slipped in recent years. There’s not the same kind of separation on the pitch anymore. His swinging strike rate has been falling for about four years now, and he’s gone from a guy that gets 40%+ ground balls to the mid-30′s. Naturally, his homerun rate has shot up despite the move to the easier league.

Don’t get me wrong, the Yankees definitely need pitching and there’s nothing wrong with taking fliers on injury rehab starters, but there’s a limit. It’s okay to go after those guys on cheap one-year deals when they’re free agents, but absorbing four years and $80-something million of a contract and giving up talent for that kind of guy is a backwards move, regardless of how talented the pitcher is. Johan is drawing ever closer to the cliff, and no one should want the Yankees to be on the hook for his contract whenever he decides to tumble off.

Anyway, it’s not going to happen, but I figured it was worth addressing since quite a few people ask each week. Santana was a devastating pitcher at his peak, a high-strikeout lefty that walked next to no one, but he’s no fewer than two seasons removed from that peak. He’s more name than production and reliability now, and that’s exactly the opposite of what the Yankees need.

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In the winter of 2007-2008, when River Ave. Blues was still in its blog infancy, the hot topic of the Hot Stove League was Johan Santana. The Twins were gearing up to trade their lefty ace, and the Yankees were deeply involved in the negotiations.

As the winter dragged on, we staked out a position deemed extreme by many — but not Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman. “Save the Big Three,” we proclaimed, as it became clear that any Johan Santana deal would probably include some combination of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy along with other top prospects or Major League contributors. The money, we argued, would be better spent on CC Sabathia a year later when the big man hit free agency. Plus, we reasoned, the Yanks wouldn’t have to pay twice for CC, first in prospects and then in dollars, as they would for Santana.

When all was said and done that winter, our position held the day, but it was not without controversy. Throughout 2008 and even into 2009, a debate raged among Yankee fans over that non-trade, and when the Yanks missed the playoffs in 2008 for the first time since 1994, Cashman and the anti-trade faction received its fair share of criticism.

Yet, last winter, the pieces fell into place. The Yanks landed CC Sabathia, and this year, that signing has paid off in a big way. CC took home MVP honors after the ALCS, and after posting tremendous numbers this season, Sabathia has powered his way through three playoff starts. It’s been wine and roses for the Yanks and CC this year.

With the Yanks gearing up to face the Phillies in the World Series, let’s take a look at how those pieces from the Santana trade are doing. I’m going to assume that the most popular iteration of the trade — Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Melky Cabrera for Johan Santana — would have gotten the deal done. The Yanks probably would have thrown in a fourth lesser prospect as well.

Phil Hughes
Still just 23 years old, Hughes has been one of the most heralded young arms in recent Yankee history. He made his debut in 2007 and threw admirably as one of the youngest starters in the league. His 2008, however, was a complete wash. He started the season 0-4 with an ERA of 9.00 and then missed May, June, July and August with a variety of injuries. By the end of 2008, Yankee fans were wondering about the hype, and many rued not trading Hughes when his stock was high.

This year, though, has been an utter revelation for Yankee fans and Phil Hughes. He made a few spot starts in place of Chien-Ming Wang and flashed some decent stuff, but the youngster really came into his own upon moving into the bullpen. As the 8th inning bridge to Mariano, Hughes went 5-1 with a 1.44 ERA in 44 games. In 51.1 innings, he walked just 13 and struck out 65. He put up a 22.7 RAR and a 2.2 WAR out of the bullpen, and without Hughes in the 8th, the Yanks’ season would have played out much differently.

Melky Cabrera
For Melky, 2008 was a setback. He was the subject of many trade rumors and didn’t play well at all. He hit .249/.301/.341 and lost his starting job to Brett Gardner by early August. This year, though, with increased competition from Gardner, Melky responded in turn. Although he faded a bit down the stretch, Melky hit .274/.336/.416 with a career-best in home runs (13), doubles (28) and OPS+ (97). In the ALCS, he went 9 for 23 with four RBI and three walks. At 25, Melky has 2148 Major League plate appearances under his belt and could yet turn into an adequate offensive outfielder.

Ian Kennedy
Similar to Hughes, Kennedy had a terrible 2008. He also went 0-4 with a gaudy 8.17 ERA and found himself demoted after not pitching poorly. To make matters worse, he flashed an attitude unappreciated by many in New York. This year, he had a strong start at AAA but came down with an aneurysm in his arm. He made a triumphant return to the Majors and threw an inning against Anaheim in mid-September. He is currently throwing in the Arizona Fall League where he has allowed five earned runs in 11.1 innings but has a 13:1 K:BB ratio. He will probably factor into the Yanks’ 2010 plans.

Johan Santana
The centerpiece of the deal landed in New York after all but in Queens and not the Bronx. He has been a bright spot amidst a dismal Mets team. With the Mets, he has gone 29-16 in 59 starts. He has a 2.79 ERA in the NL and has struck 352 while walking 109 in 401 innings. His K/9 IP in the NL is 1.6 strike outs lower than it was in the AL. This season, his velocity started trending downward, and he missed the final six weeks of the season after undergoing surgery to remove bone chips in his arm. The Mets still owe him at least $98.5 million over the next four seasons or $118 million over five.

Late last week, Cashman spoke with John Harper of the Daily News about this very topic. “When we added David Cone from Toronto,” Cashman said “we were a piece away at the time. But when Santana became available, in my opinion we weren’t a piece away yet. So I told ownership, ‘Listen, six months really isn’t a long time to wait – though it turned out to be a long time for me, to be honest – and if we can have the patience and discipline, I can’t guarantee you we’ll be able to get Sabathia, but think about what our organization will look like if we can add him and keep these other assets.’”

And so today, those assets are still in place. The Yankees are playing the World Series with CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera primed to contribute. Although Ian Kennedy hasn’t yet been what we expected and Melky has hit some development roadblocks over the last few years, the Yankees are right where they expected to be when Cashman turned down the Santana offer. I certainly think it’s worked out nicely for them. Do you?

Categories : Analysis
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Mar
31

Once last Johan Santana gasp

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What fun would Opening Day be without the New York tabloids questioning the Yankees’ off-season? Today’s (hopefully) last gasp of Johan Santana doubting comes to us from John Harper in a column where the headline and reality don’t seem to line up.

“Scouts say Yankees should have traded for Johan Santana,” the headline on Harper’s latest screams. The article says otherwise:

Over the last week I posed that question to six major league scouts and executives who saw the Yankees multiple times this spring, and for what it’s worth, here is the consensus opinion:

The Yankees could well win multiple championships over the next 10 or so years, thanks largely to a pitching staff built around young guns Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. But this year? Forget it. It’s more likely their streak of 13 straight playoff seasons will come to a crashing halt…

“I love their future,” was the way one scout put it. “But if you think those young guys aren’t going to take their lumps at times this season against American League lineups, you’re dreaming.”

The point Harper is trying to make — that the Yanks should have traded for Johan Santana to win now — is not the one he succeeds in making. Rather, by noting that the Yanks “could win multiple championships over the next 10 years or so,” Harper just proves all of us who were questioning the Santana trade right in the eyes of scouts.

The Yanks didn’t trade for Johan Santana because they too felt they could win for years after Santana loses his effectiveness. Agree or disagree with their decision, the rational has always been as simple and as transparent as that conclusion.

As we head into Opening Day, hopefully this will be the end of the Johan Santana speculation. He’s on the Mets and not the Yankees or the Red Sox (or the Twins who surprisingly ponied up for Joe Nathan instead), and the Yanks are in a position to potentially win a lot and often over the next decade. End of story.

Categories : NYC Sports Media
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Feb
01

Santana, Mets reach end game

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Johan Santana is now under contract for seven years and $150 million. That’s a lot.

Categories : Asides
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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.

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Categories : Rants
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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.

Categories : Asides
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Jan
30

A Johan Santana post-mortem

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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…

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