Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pick an ace?

The Yanks essentially announced yesterday that they're seeking Johan Santana. The Twins made the astute move in 2000 to take the unprotected raw A-ball pitcher off the Astros in the Rule V draft, stuck him on the Twinkies' roster for a year, then began grooming him. In 2002, he whiffed 212 in 157 innings between AAA (13.87 K/9 ratio) and the Twins (11.38 K/9). The next year, he started their playoff series against the Yanks. In 2004, he won the Cy Young Award by putting out a Pedrovian performance (20-6, 6.16 H/9, 10.46 K/9 and nearly 5:1 K:BB ratio) and his 2005 and 2006 (CYA #2) seasons were both top-end. He's started five playoff games and allowed two runs or fewer four times.

He is an ace. But there are cracks in his armor -- his H/9 ratio this season was 7.5 -- nearly 25% more hits per nine innings than in his first CYA year. He gave up 33(!) homers. And his ERA was up 20% over last year.

Unless the Yanks get him in the next offseason, he shouldn't be a Yankee.


I agree with this guy, the price is too high. With a premium on young pitching, and the Yanks lacking position players in their farm system, coughing up Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and Jose Tabata is just stupid. As Buster Olney has noted, the Yanks would then have to pay for Santana's high-priced extension and another $10-12M for a free agent centerfielder (like Aaron Rowland) in the next two years before Austin Jackson is ready. And every dollar the Yanks pay a free agent is really $1.40 due to luxury tax -- that $10M per year for Rowland becomes a $14M hit to the Yanks; a $20M contract to Santana is a $28M hit. That's ludicrous.

Hughes is a potential franchise starter. He is only 21, and his numbers at that age are FAR better than Santana's even though Hughes pitched with an iffy leg for all but his first two starts in his rookie season. He's been on every Yankee fan's radar since the Yanks drafted him and dominated consistently (see Trenton 2006: 10-3, 2.09 ERA, 5.59 H/9, 10.7 K/9) in the farm system. In other words: the doubters need to smarten up. Talk all you want about Clay Buchholz and his 3-4 MLB quality pitches, and how Hughes' curve was inconsistent (partly because of the tweaked hamstring), Hughes can be a top of the rotation starter on a perennial contender. And the Yanks would give that away?

I hope not.

The other rumor also makes no sense: Cabrera, Tabata, Alan Horne and Chien-Ming Wang. Why would the Yanks trade a career 46-18 starter who is under contract for another three years for a starter who has fewer wins over the past two seasons (Wang 38, Santana 34)? If Wang isn't a #1 playoff starter, who cares? He can get better (see Pettitte, 1996 World Series). After all, in the playoffs from 1999-2001, Andy Pettitte was 6-3 and the '01 ALCS MVP (with two very solid starts in the '00 Series but two no-decisions); Roger Clemens was 6-4 (and 0-2 in the '00 ALDS against the A's); and El Duque went 7-2 and the '99 ALCS MVP. Only one of those three is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and a dominant ace, and he's the one with the worst record of that bunch. The Yanks are 5-1 in the ALDS when losing game 1, and that loss comes with the Lake Erie midge factor.

So keep Wang, keep Hughes, even keep Kennedy. If the Yanks want to cough up a young arm, trade Humberto Sanchez and Kevin Whelan, whom they got from the Tigers in the Sheffield trade. Don't give up the stars in waiting (Wang, Joba, Phil, Kennedy) who could turn into the Bronx's own version of Glavine-Smoltz-Avery (see 1991-93 Braves), with hopefully better overall results.

And if the Yanks feel they need an ace-like alternative -- make a deal for Danny Haren of the A's. Oakland is about to tear it up and start over because the A's need better hitters and want to get cheap pitchers. Sanchez, Horne, Tabata and a minor league infielder could do the trick without touching the Joba-Phil-Ian triumvirate. Haren was 15-9, 3.07, 222.7 IP, 55/192 K/BB last year, he's under contract for less than $20M through 2010 and successfully transitioned from the NL to the AL. The Yanks need good pitching -- lefties are irrelevant (see 2004 RedSawx). A rotation built around Joba-Phil-Ian-Wang-Haren -- that has staying power.

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