In his latest annual Baseball Bible, stats guru Bill James has projected a 10-10 season for pitcher Jon Lester in 2008, a year which could prove to be the lefty’s first full-time foray in the starting rotation.
But whether that will that take place in Boston, Oakland or Minnesota is the question.
Odds are that Lester’s name – along with Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Coco Crisp - has or will come up in any potential trade discussions involving the Red Sox’ interest in Twins All-Star lefty Johan Santana, the most pursued pitcher on the market this offseason. Santana is up for free agency after next season, and Minnesota can hardly imagine living up to any of his contract demands, a possible asking price rumored to be upwards of $25 million a year.
The entire Opening Day roster for the 2007 Twins made just over $71 million.
So Santana’s days in Minnesota are likely numbered, and the usual deep-pocketed suspects – Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Angels, Dodgers - have all come out of the woods to offer their youngsters for the opportunity to toss cash at the game’s best lefthander. In Boston, that means some salivation over a rotation that would boast Josh Beckett, Santana, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Curt Schilling. It also means some lingering fear that the Yankees land him.
Will it cost Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Hughes? More likely Melky Cabrera and one of Hughes or Kennedy, according to the Minnesota Star-Tribune’s Joe Christensen (who also suggests a Coco Crisp and one of Lester or Buchholz package from the Red Sox might get a deal done). If that doesn’t seem exactly like a blockbuster, keep in mind the hefty contract extension that will likely be part of any deal. Santana, who has a limited no-trade clause, was 15-13 last season in a campaign in which his ERA was higher than in any other season where he had more than four starts.
OK, so it was 3.33, still by Santana’s standards, somewhat stratospheric.
His value isn't what it was after 2006. By his enormous standards, he had a substandard 2007 season, going 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA. He gave up 33 home runs, nine more than his previous career high, and scouts have mentioned subtle warning signs, such as his reluctance to throw his slider.
In any Santana trade, the Twins might want an established star, such as Robinson Cano or Jose Reyes, along with multiple prospects. But that is a pipe dream.
But acquiring him might change the face of a franchise. Think Pedro Martinez.
The New York Sun’s Tim Marchman writes, “The only recent parallel for a pitcher anywhere near this young and this good being traded is Martinez. In 1997, just 25, having won his first Cy Young Award for Montreal and in the last year of his contract, he was even more desirable than Santana is now. The Red Sox ended up having to relinquish Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. for him. At the time, Pavano was Baseball America's no. 9 prospect. Armas was highly regarded for his great pedigree and a terrific fastball. This isn't notable just because Pavano was arguably as good a prospect then as Hughes is now; it's also notable because he actually represents something like the downside of trading a prospect for a truly great pitcher like Martinez or Santana. Pavano may be the punchline to a bad joke, but despite the fact that his greatest achievement as a Yankee was to miss a rehab start with a bruised butt cheek, he's had a good career. He was the best pitcher on a world champion in 2003.”
The Yankees yesterday confirmed they are in trade talks with the Twins for Santana, which should come as little surprise for a team that could creep up to almost a half billion in spending this offseason. They’ve already invested $388 million in Alex Rodriguez (10 years, $275 million plus performance incentives), Jorge Posada (four years, $52.4 million), Mariano Rivera (three years, $45 million) and Bobby Abreu (one year, $16 million). What’s another $120 million?
The $388 million they’ve spent the past month alone is already more than the Twins are worth as an organization, according to Forbes.
We’re beyond even discussing if Santana on the Yankees is good for baseball in yet another haves-and-have-not issue of disparity. The most important issue is, how vital is Santana to the Yankees’ hopes going forward? Hughes, Kennedy, and Chamberlain are earmarked for the rotation as it stands now, with one of them likely headed to Minnesota in any deal. If Andy Pettitte decides he wants to return, it gives the Yankees a starting group of Chien Ming Wang, Santana, Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and Hughes/Kennedy/Chamberlain. Good. Great? No.
Santana in Boston would be an attraction indeed, but with the pitching depth that the team already employs, is he worth the package it will take? Probably. In the short term for certain. Long-term? That's anyone's guess.
Santana had 18 win shares for the Twins in 2007, one fewer than Red Sox ace Josh Beckett, who had 19, along with Oakland’s Dan Haren, another name that’s sure to be mentioned next week at baseball’s Winter Meetings. Haren was 15-9 with a 3.04 ERA for the A’s last season, starting the All-Star game for the AL across the Bay. There has been speculation that Oakland GM Billy Beane may again be in rebuilding mode, and could put Haren up for auction, a decision that will indeed handicap what the Twins will demand for Santana.
Haren is also still under contract for the next three seasons at $16.25 million. Total.
The 26-year-old Haren has a similar professional resume to that of Josh Beckett, who broke out at the age of 27 in 2007 for Boston, and was its most valuable player throughout the recent World Series run. Is an offer of Lester and Crisp doable for the likes of Haren? If it is, it’s a trade that Theo Epstein can hardly look past making.
Yahoo sports’ Jeff Passan calls Epstein the best GM in baseball, a term that will be scoffed at by plenty pointing to the payroll with which he is blessed. But there’s more to it than that, obviously, as Epstein watched unfold in 2007.
What, you think the Red Sox are here because of money? Oh, no. They can afford Manny Ramirez at $20 million a season and make mistakes like J.D. Drew at $15 million a pop because of their incredible revenue streams, but this group – the Jonathan Papelbon-Dustin Pedroia-Kevin Youkilis-Jon Lester-Jacoby Ellsbury-Clay Buchholz core – does not materialize like rabbit from hat.
"You start planning for a season three or four years in advance," Epstein said. "That was the case this time. The decisions you make over the course of a long period effect the upcoming season. We're always thinking about this one."…
With their success, the Red Sox could fall into the same trap the Yankees did, placing so much emphasis on the present that the future, even a year or two away, will be a problem solved with money. It doesn't work, a fact that sobered up the Yankees' way of doing business.
"Never prioritize one year over the future," Epstein said, a phrase of which he's rather fond.
He could go into 2008 with his current roster and be considered the favorite to win it all again. Or he could pull off a blockbuster for Santana or Haren and really be considered the favorite. It’s all about risk vs. reward, Both pitchers promise plenty of reward going forward. But with age, career innings pitched, and dollars attached, Haren would indeed have to be considered much less of a risk.