Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Baseball Offseason Report: Finals Week Edition

With finals week approaching, I may not have time to update the baseball offseason portion of the blog, but with my first break from constant schoolwork in about two weeks, I think it’s time to review A-Rod, the Winter Meetings, and the current Johan Santana talk (from a Mets fan’s perspective) before the Mitchell Report occupies the eyes and ears of the baseball world.

Topic 1: Alex Rodriguez re-signs with the Yankees

Shame on me for believing Hank Steinbrenner at all. Luckily, I’ve learned my lesson, and yes, the Yankees are still contenders for Johan Santana, if not his most likely destination. In all fairness, in my offseason preview for Maize & Blog on November 7th, I did write this concerning Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees:

“Reports out of New York last week are that A-Rod would still be open to signing with New York, and while Hank Steinbrenner made it very clear that A-Rod wouldn’t be welcomed back to Yankee Stadium, can we really trust that the Yankees won’t be involved in the negotiations over the best free agent since, well, A-Rod at age 25?”

So don’t say I didn’t see it coming, but the Yankees should’ve been at the top of my list, and for that, I apologize.

This is a pretty obvious move for both sides. For A-Rod, it was easy – get rid of Scott Boras because nobody needs to sell the talent of the greatest baseball player on earth, and play where you want to play, which happens to be in the biggest media market in the country. For the Yankees, they had a vacancy at 3B, and most importantly, they had a vacancy in the middle of their lineup. Above all else this offseason, the Yanks’ top priority was acquiring a clean-up hitter, NOT acquiring another pitcher, and looking at the Yankees lineup without A-Rod and a top pitcher (Johan Santana anyone?) should reveal that:

C- Posada; 1B- Mientkiewicz/Giambi; 2B- Cano; 3B- Betemit; SS- Jeter; LF- Matsui; CF- Cabrera; RF- Abreu; DH- Damon

That equates to a lineup along the lines of: 1. Damon; 2. Jeter; 3. Abreu; 4. Posada; 5. Matsui; 6. Cano; 7. Betemit/Giambi; 8. Mientkiewicz/Betemit; 9. Cabrera

That might seem like a deep lineup, and it is, because I’m very high on Cano, Betemit, and Cabrera, but it lacks something that’s essential to a winning baseball team: POWER. Case in point, the 2007 Yankees of April and May, when they struggled in the power department and watched a Red Sox team slug their way with the likes of Manny, Papi, and Lowell to a double digit lead in the AL East. In A-Rod, the Yanks got not only the best hitter on the market, but the best hitter in baseball, and they didn’t have to give up prospects for Miguel Cabrera, they just had to open their wallet, which has never been a big deal for the Yankees. The only issue here is that Hank Steinbrenner’s word has taken a major hit, but for a franchise which thrives on smugness, does anyone think they really care?

Topic #2: The Winter Meetings

This was a whole lot of nothing for a bunch of teams that everyone figured would make a move, and a whole lot of something for two teams that I expected to stay quiet at the Winter Meetings in Nashville.

Of course those two loud teams were the Marlins and Michigan’s own Detroit Tigers, who pulled off a huge 8-player trade that sent Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers for Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, and 4 other prospects to the Marlins. This trade makes a ton of sense to me for both sides. As for the Marlins, they certainly could not have gotten Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin for Miguel Cabrera, and there may not be a better OF or P prospect in the majors than Miller and Maybin, so for the Marlins they add in a pitcher with diminished value and a ton of uncertainty and they end up with a hard throwing lefty and a 5-tool player who will most likely be an all-star in this league for many years along with 4 other prospects. For the Tigers, it makes a ton of sense also – the Red Sox are a juggernaut, the Indians are an improving and already successful young team with Sabathia and Carmona who can shut down any lineup on any given night, and seemingly every team in the AL is threatening to add a top pitcher. The Tigers simply had to do something if they wanted to win this year, and they did a big something by netting one of the best young hitters in baseball and a pitcher who, if he can reclaim his prior success, will make a 1-2-3 in Verlander, Bonderman, and Willis, which can challenge Beckett, Dice-K, and Schilling. My only reservations if I’m a Tigers fan are that they have an extremely righty-heavy lineup (Cabrera, Sheffield, Ordonez, etc.) and they traded a guy in Miller who might be better than Willis this year and a guy in Maybin who they’ve been steadfast in keeping off the trade block (even when the Nationals called offering Soriano a couple of years ago) because he really might be that good. With that having been said, they added 2 young guys who will help now, and they have enough young pieces that they won’t need to make another trade for 3-5 years, and they can use that time to rebuild their diminished farm system.

As for the quiet teams, Johan Santana is still on the Twins, Erik Bedard is still on the Orioles, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton are still on the Athletics, Omar Minaya still wants a pitcher, and the Angels and Dodgers kept their prospects… for now. Chances are all of these names will come up again and again for the rest of the offseason, but in Nashville it was much ado about nothing. The Orioles seem to want more than the Twins want for Johan Santana if they’re going to trade Erik Bedard, which means they’re demanding guys like Jonathan Broxton along with Matt Kemp, James Loney, or Andy Laroche (I’d assume pitching prospect Clayton Kershaw could substitute for these guys, but those are the names I’ve heard). The A’s are sending out signals that they may want to hang onto Haren and Blanton unless they get blown away. As for the Twins and Santana….

Topic #3: Johan Santana

While the reports have changed by the minute when it comes to this guy, I’ll give you the abridged version of how we got to where we are before I rant. At the Winter Meetings, it looked like Santana would end up on the Red Sox after Hank Steinbrenner put a deadline on the Yanks’ negotiations with the Twins. The Yankees were apparently offering Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, and one or two other prospects, while the Twins were asking for a package including Hughes and Ian Kennedy, which the Yankees decided was too much. As for the Red Sox, it appeared a deal was very close on the 2nd day of the Winter Meetings, but the Red Sox left Nashville empty-handed, but still negotiating with new Twins GM Bill Smith. The Red Sox basically made two offers, with one containing LHP Jon Lester, disappointing OF Coco Crisp, and two prospects in SS Jed Lowrie and P Justin Masterson, and one containing star OF prospect Jacoby Ellsbury along with two or three prospects (possibly including Lowrie and Masterson), and when it looked like the Twins were going to accept one of the deals after exchanging medical records, the Tigers pulled off their deal for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, the AL Central got a lot stronger, and the Twins became gun-shy. Most notably, they backed off their insistence on getting players who can help now and concentrated more on stockpiling high-ceiling guys who can help beat the Indians and Tigers in a few years, and with that new mentality, here come the Mets. Certainly teams aside from the Yanks, Red Sox, and Mets want Johan Santana and have the prospects to get him (see Rangers and Mariners with Adam Jones), but remember that Johan Santana has a no-trade clause and is going to demand a contract for 7-years and more money than Barry Zito got, potentially in the $25 million per year range, so that eliminates nearly every team that isn’t named the Yanks, Red Sox, or Mets (see Angels, Dodgers, DBacks). The word lately has been that Santana is not crazed about pitching in the Bronx, although I will still NEVER count out the Yankees – as I’ve said, I learned my lesson, and lets be honest here… if Bill Smith called up Hank Steinbrenner (I love how I’ve completely disregarded Brian Cashman as a member of the Yanks’ organization now) and said, “We’ll take Hughes, Cabrera, Tabata, and Jackson for Santana”, Hank is not going to say, “Well Bill, we’d love to do that, but you see you didn’t meet our deadline, so it’s a no-go.” However, what’s important is that Santana and his no-trade clause apparently wants to go to the Mets and then the Red Sox, and the Twins want to honor his desires, so they’ve been working with the Mets to get something done. Today, apparently the Mets offered the Twins a number of packages with either top OF prospect Carlos Gomez or high ceiling OF prospect Fernando Martinez, but none with both. The Twins said they would agree to the deal with Gomez if the Mets included either Martinez or a fourth pitching prospect in the deal, and the Mets declined. That means the Mets declined a trade for Johan Santana which didn’t involve David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, John Maine, or Oliver Perez… and I’m furious. The Mets were offered the National League pennant on a silver platter and they declined. It is idiotic to not give up prospects – let me repeat that, PROSPECTS – to get the best pitcher on the planet. Put Johan Santana at the top of a rotation with Pedro Martinez, John Maine, and Oliver Perez, and you have a team that contends for a title in 2008. Keep Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Mulvey, and whoever else the Mets are putting too much faith into, and they’ll continue to be an 88-win team that falls a game short of the playoffs. The Mets just had one of the biggest collapses in baseball history, and they won’t unload five prospects to get a chance at a title for their fans this year, and I, as a fan, am furious.

- Jeremy Kreisberg