Thursday, December 20, 2007

Checking Back In

The work piled up higher than I expected, so this will be my first entry in about three weeks. Sorry about that but that's how it is. Now that I'm done with school yet still stuck here until tomorrow because of yet another snowstorm, why not check in with a blog on the happening (and non-happenings) since you've last heard from me? It's not like I have anything better to do.

I'll briefly address the Mitchell Report, lots of people have been asking me for my take. In general I try to stay away from the steroids stuff because I'm more interested in what is actually happening on the field than anything else. The Mitchell Report, in my opinion, was about as useful a document as a Larry King marriage certificate. Buster Olney has covered this, but the report did nothing to show why the steroid culture of the '90s spread so rampantly, and did not pin any blame directly on anyone within baseball. I would have been fine if the report included answers to those questions and the series of recommendations that were actually in it. The "naming of names," most of which came from hearsay, served absolutely no tangible purpose in helping the game move on, which is what the report should have been about. I guess we were all wrong to expect more from Bud Selig.

As for Roger Clemens, if he really did not do all the things alleged in the report, he absolutely must use everything at his disposal to clear his name. Corroborative evidence against Brian McNamee's testimony, testifying before Congress, suing Mitchell for libel, taking a polygraph test; whatever it takes. Of course, I actually do believe what was in the report about him, it was something we all suspected for years. Now, instead of thinking of Clemens as a lying, arrogant, dirtbag mercenary, I can think of him as a lying, arrogant, cheating, dirtbag mercenary. So it's not all bad for me personally.

Moving on to more important things. The winter meetings wound up really just being a whole bunch of nothing in regards to the Johan Santana discussions. Not much has changed since the meetings ended, with the Red Sox leaving two very good offers on the table and the Yankees lurking around somewhere in the background. I'd still love to see it happen but I'm perfectly content to go into this season with the team they have as well.

The big news of winter meetings was the blockbuster trade of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers for star young lefty Andrew Miller, CF uber-prospect Cameron Maybin and four other players of minimal note. Taking chances on these two highly-touted, highly-expensive draft prospects in the 2005 and 2006 drafts paid off bigtime for Detroit, as they were able to turn them into veteran talent and make them instant World Series contenders. In Cabrera, the Tigers add perhaps the best young power slugger in the game not named Prince Fielder. Finishing in the top ten in OPS in the NL each of the last three seasons, his most comparable hitter by age to this point in his career is Hank Aaron. Now, he's moving from a terrible park for right-handed hitters to one that will much better suit him. There's a lot of issues about Cabrera's often brutal defense at third base, and there was some discussion around the time of the trade that he'd move back to the outfield. For now, the Tigers will keep him at third as they shop Brandon Inge (if Inge takes away his trade demand, he automatically becomes the best utility man in the league and gives the Tigers a huge advantage as a late-game defensive replacement. I'm sure he could still catch if needed as well).

Getting Willis in the deal was a good gamble for the Tigers as well. It's conceivable he could regain his stuff and revert back to his 2005 dominance, but he is going from the NL East to the AL Central, which is not likely to result in short-term success. Today news came out that Willis had agreed to an extension with the Tigers, one that buys out his last two years of arbitration and first year of free agency at around $10 million a season. As Tim Dierkes put it today over at MLBTR, around $10 million a year seems to be the going rate for an innings eater. In fact, that rate might be a slight bargain considering that it appears Carlos Silva is about to sign for 4/48 with the Mariners, and I'd think Willis' upside right now is a hell of a lot more than Silva's. In three years, it might be that $10 million is an even bigger bargain, especially if Willis does find his 2005 form. At the same time, I wonder if the Tigers will regret not waiting a year to see if Willis can pitch in the AL Central before giving him an extension. It's not like they have anything to lose since he could not have become a free agent until after 2009 anyway. Either way, the money won't set the Tigers back too far.

Miller and Maybin both have major star potential, as I think it's possible Miller will outpitch Willis in 2008. Maybin has been called the "next Griffey" by some, but his swing is awfully long and will likely never get the chance to play in Triple-A to work on it. At least he can say he got his first career hit off Clemens if things don't work out. Overall I'm fairly confident the Tigers won this trade solely based on acquiring Cabrera to cement the most potent offense in the AL, even more potent than the Yankees. The questions about their pitching depth, both in the rotation and the bullpen, keep me from calling them the favorites in the division in 2008. It's pretty close right now between them and Cleveland, and the offseason is still far from over. This trade also totally depletes the Detroit farm system, which now can only sport 2007 draft steal Rick Porcello as a blue-chipper.

Out west, Billy Beane finally decided to pull the trigger on moving Dan Haren, shipping him off to the D'Backs for a bevy of young players. Of the players they got back, only OF prospect Carlos Gonzalez looks like he might be a star, with lefty starter Brett Anderson also primed for a top-of-the-rotation future. I was a bit surprised to see him deal his best pitcher for a package of quantity over quality, but Beane is a mad genius and maybe knows something about one or two of the other guys he got back that we don't. For the Diamondbacks, Josh Byrnes did a phenomenal job getting a frontline starter without disrupting much of his 2008 club. The rest of the National League must be shuddering at the thought of Haren being teamed up with Brandon Webb for the next three years at well below market value (with 2010 options included, these two guys will cost a total of $36.75 million for Arizona. Holy shit.) and they'll also have Randy Johnson ready in spring for one last go-round. With a young, developing lineup centered around Chris Young, Justin Upton, and Stephen Drew, these Diamondbacks seem poised to sit atop the NL West for many years to come.

I'm already tuckered out by all this. Happy Holidays everyone.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Winter Meetings Eve

Tomorrow the best and brightest of baseball's world will converge on the Opryland Hotel in Nashville for that annual week of transaction madness, better known as the Winter Meetings. This is one of my favorite times of the entire year, and for baseball hot stove junkies like me, this provides a glimpse of the warm spring to come during the coldest days of winter. There is plenty to talk about, and it begins with Johan Santana.

I've been following the negotiations intently for the past week or so. Once again, these sweepstakes have become a battle between the superpowers of the game, the Red Sox and Yankees. What we know right now are the following: the Sox have decided to include Jacoby Ellsbury in their offer, but they have removed Jon Lester. Their proposal right now most likely is Ellsbury, minor league shortstop Jed Lowrie, and one of Justin Masterson or Michael Bowden, both minor league right-handed hurlers. The Yankees have put their future ace Phil Hughes on the table along with their regular CF Melky Cabrera. The third prospect in their offer is still undecided, but some potential players include minor league OFs Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata or pitchers Alan Horne and Ross Ohlendorf. The Red Sox could put Lester back in their proposal but they'd demand another player back from the Twins as a result. The Yankees have set a deadline for tomorrow to get a deal done, but absolutely no one believes they would adhere to that.

So what do I think? I was pretty against the Red Sox making a move if it meant giving up either Ellsbury or Clay Buchholz in a trade. The Twins made it clear they wanted nothing to do with Coco Crisp and the $10.5 million still guaranteed on his deal. The only way the Red Sox would get Santana would be to include a position player of Ellsbury's talent and upside. I've decided that the current Red Sox offer is just about right. They are giving the Twins young, talented hitters in Lowrie and Ellsbury that they desperately need much more than pitching (the Twins are pretty deep in starting pitching). At the same time, the Twins may want that solid starter in return that could replace Santana right now. That would leave the Yankees to give up Hughes, whom I think is the best player in either offer. And all along I've felt the Red Sox were in this to make the Yankees give up a ton of players and money for the player the Sox don't really need. The inclusion of Ellsbury does mean the Sox are playing hardball, but it's still not an end-all offer and the Twins could easily take the Yankees offer.

If the Red Sox do trade Ellsbury, it will likely be unpopular amongst the less-learned denizens of the Nation (of which there are many). "How could we give up Ellsbury? The guy just helped win us a World Series! He's the effing man!" For those that will say this, take a look at some incredible Santana stats from the past few seasons, courtesy of ESPN's Jayson Stark. Over the last four years Santana has led the AL each year in fewest baserunners allowed, a feat that had never been accomplished before. Also in that span, Santana became the first pitcher in history to finish either first or second in the league in strikeouts for four consecutive years. He also has a better career K/9 than many of the games best closers (JJ Putz and Huston Street are both at 9.14 and Joe Nathan is at 9.10, while Santana's is a staggering 9.50). These three stats that I have just listed are truly astounding. His recent four year-stretch of dominance is almost on par with what Pedro accomplished between 1997 and 2001, and Red Sox fans remember what that was like. Unlike Pedro, Santana does not have a fragile body or arm and is poised to pitch well deep into his 30s. He's got three plus-plus pitches, including one of the best change-ups in history. In short, Johan Santana is the best pitcher in the world.

We tend to fall in love with young players and prospects with a world of potential. But it's easy to forget sometimes that these guys are "prospects," guys who still need to prove themselves. Given his performance during the final six games of the Red Sox World Series title run, I'm fairly certain Ellsbury is going to be an All-Star caliber player for many years to come. Johan Santana, on the other hand, has nothing left to prove except whether he can anchor a World Championship team. One day in the future, barring injury or bewildering ineffectiveness, Santana will likely take his spot in Cooperstown as one of the most dominant pitchers in history. If this guy is worth giving up a young, talented prospect for, then I don't know who is. There are very few players that I would give up Ellsbury for, but Santana is unequivocally one of them.

So I say we do it. Give Santana an extension and create the best pitching staff ever. I can't see any team in baseball stopping the Red Sox if their top two starters are Josh Beckett and Johan Santana. Also, this would force the Yankees to engage Billy Beane in trade talks about Dan Haren. Good luck on not getting completely screwed on that one. I think I've said enough on this topic.

Elsewhere, the meetings will likely be a hotbed of trade chatter, given the lack of attractive free agent options. The Miguel Cabrera-to-Angels talk has quited down mostly because the Marlins are being relentless in their demands. Lemme get this straight: they want Howie Kendrick, Jeff Mathis, Nick Adenhart, AND Ervin Santana? Why didn't they ask for Vlad and K-Rod while they were at it? If the idiots running the Florida front office come to their senses there will probably be a deal this week. There are rumblings that the Indians are prepared to make a run at the Pirates' Jason Bay, which would be a huge get for them in that competitive division. Look for there to much talk about Miguel Tejada, Scott Rolen, Dontrelle Willis, and maybe even Jose Reyes.

I'll try to update this as much as I can, but the work is piling up, so it might not be easy. You'll hear from me for sure whenever anything major happens.