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.

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