Friday, November 30, 2007

He's Got the Whole World, In His Hands

It is a slight exaggeration to suggest that Johan Santana has the whole world in his hands, but he does probably hold the key to the AL east in his hands. At this point the Twins are in serious negotiations with the Red Sox and Yankees for the services of the best pitcher in the AL. Santana, who is only one year away from free agency could be the single player who could decide which team will be the dominant one in the AL for the next five years. The Red Sox already have an advantage in pitching and adding Santana would not only make their rotation the best in baseball but the Yankees would be unable to match the move, even with their seemingly unlimited payroll. The Yankees on the other hand, by acquiring a number one starter would put themselves back on equal footing with the Red Sox in the pitching department.

The Yankees have spent lavishly this off season to retain their aging stars. Mariano Rivera was paid a ridiculous amount of money to come back for three more seasons and both he and Posada will be north of their 40th birthdays when these contracts expire. The monstrous Arod contract will also employ him until he well into his 40's. The Yankees were supposed to be in the middle of a youth movement, but their only moves this offseason have been to secure the services of players who will be well past their primes when their contracts expire. The seeming hope of the franchise (besides the endless supply of money) is that they have a wealth of young pitching. Three in particular stand out. Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. It was assumed that they would all get a chance to make the starting rotation next year. Now the talk of trading for Santana has changed that. The Yankees have said all along that Joba is untouchable and they'd rather not trade Hughes. That's pretty tough talk, but they'd probably do almost anything to block Santana's trade to the Red Sox. The Yankees had talked about moving in a new direction, about using home grown talent, about lowering their payroll. But at the end of the day, it's all about winning and winning now.

The Red Sox are sitting on top of the baseball world at this point and adding Santana would make them prohibitive favorites heading into next season. It must seem strange for most Boston fans to realize that they have basically switched roles with the Yankees. It used to be that the Sox were always trying to catch up with the Yankees and now it's just the opposite. The Red Sox have as much young talent as the Yankees and could almost certainly make a deal if they were willing to part with the players that the Twins have requested. However, like the Yankees, they are taking a harder line by refusing to include certain players. Do they as much at stake as the Yankees? Probably not. Unlike their Bronx counterparts, they would probably still feel good about their team if the Yankees were successful in acquiring Santana. I don't think that they would sweeten their offer to include their players who they now deem as untouchable if they were told that the Yankees had increased their offer.

Santana will demand a new contract in the range of $150-$160 million over seven years. That's why this bidding has come down to the Yankees and the Red Sox. They are not only the teams best stocked with the talent to make this trade, they are the two teams who could easily absorb a $20 million a year pitcher. Santana also has a complete no-trade clause in his contract. It seems to me that if he hadn't already told Twins management that he would accept a trade to either team, that they wouldn't be talking to them. There are other players in the game. The Mets, Angels and Dodgers have all had talks with the Twins as well, but if Santana is indeed traded, I expect it to be to the Yankees or Sox.

The Twins could just decide to hold on to Santana and see how the first half of the season goes. Teams are usually a little more desperate around the trading deadline and they could potentially get even more for Santana by waiting until then. A trade deadline deal from a desperate team (the Yankees) might be the way to go. Santana has already turned down a extension offer from the Twins, so it is unlikely that they will keep him past next year. The Twins have holes in CF, SS, Third base and the starting rotation, with Santana being the biggest chip they have, they are certainly going to take their time in making a decision.

So who wins this high stakes game of poker between the Yankees and Red Sox? Frankly I think the Sox are slightly better positioned to win this game. The sticking point with the Sox and Twins is over a center fielder. Position players are easier to come by than starting pitchers. The Yankees and Twins sticking point is Phil Hughes, who is a starter. I think the Sox eventually give in and throw the CFer into the deal and get it done. It's not the outcome that I want, but unless the Yankees are literally willing to give away the farm, they are going to lose this pissing contest.

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