February 12, 2008
Market Shifts
by: Dan Scotto on Feb 12, 2008 12:57 AM | Filed under: Articles

Leave it to Omar Minaya to make me look like an idiot. On January 22, I wrote, “For Mets fans, though, it’s going to be tougher to get that extra piece or two than we’d hope.”

Then, of course, a week later Minaya nets Johan Santana for, all things considered, a reasonably low cost.

I went back to the archives to figure out what proposals were being thrown around for Johan Santana back in late ’07:

December 2, 2007, Will Carroll:

“The Yankees are going to have to offer more than what they have on the table. The team thought putting Phil Hughes on the table was enough, but the Twins aren’t selling Johan Santana for anything less than three major league-ready prospects.”

December 2, 2007, Washington Post, D02:

“The New York Yankees have added Phil Hughes, the most highly rated of their top young starting pitchers, to the package they are offering the Minnesota Twins in exchange for two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

“New York also is offering to send the Twins center fielder Melky Cabrera and a third player, who would be a mid-level prospect, according to a baseball official who spoke yesterday on condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing. New York won’t include Joba Chamberlain and doesn’t plan to include both Hughes and Ian Kennedy.”

December 3, 2007, USA Today, Bob Nightengale, 8C:

“The Red Sox, according to a high-ranking Twins official, have talked about several combinations, mostly focused on starter Jon Lester, center fielder Coco Crisp and minor league shortstop Jed Lowrie. The Twins, according to a high-ranking Red Sox official, want rookie center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury or starter Clay Buchholz included in the deal.”

December 3, 2007, NY Daily News, Bill Madden, 60:

“With all the parties descending upon the winter meetings, the Red Sox upped the ante in the Johan Santana sweepstakes yesterday by offering to include previously untouchable rookie center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a deal for the Twins’ premier lefthander. …

“It was unclear if Ellsbury’s inclusion still would be enough enticement for the Twins – especially since the Red Sox further revised their offer by saying that neither of their two coveted young pitchers, Clay Buchholz or Jon Lester, would be included with Ellsbury. And if the Red Sox’s new proposal was designed to force the Yankees’ hand in including Ian Kennedy in their own offer, it wasn’t going to succeed.”

December 3, 2007, Boston Globe, Gordon Edes and Amalie Benjamin, D1:

“The Sox, who so far are prepared to offer pitcher Jon Lester or center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury but not both as part of their package to acquire the two-time Cy Young Award winner, placed Ellsbury back on the table, which would cause a reshuffling of the players who would have gone as part of a Lester deal (Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson). An Ellsbury deal almost certainly would include either Masterson and/or Michael Bowden, but Clay Buchholz was not in play as of last night.”

December 4, 2007, Will Carroll:

“Johan Santana to the Red Sox is all but done. Jon Lester, a center fielder, Justin Masterson and Ryan Kalish are the package.”

So, extrapolating what we heard about the deals, here’s what was on the list. I’ve included Kevin Goldstein’s prospect rankings next in brackets.

Yankees: Melky Cabrera (N/A), Philip Hughes (#2 in 2007), B-prospect?

Red Sox A: Jacoby Ellsbury (16), Justin Masterson (53) / Michael Bowden (95), B-prospect?

Red Sox B: Jon Lester (N/A, but highly touted), Justin Masterson (53), Ryan Kalish (60), B-prospect

Mets: Carlos Gomez (65), Philip Humber (N/A), Deolis Guerra (79), Kevin Mulvey (N/A)

Meanwhile, the Mariners paid a heavy price for Erik Bedard: highly-touted outfield prospect Adam Jones and four other players. Jones, for what its worth, is 22 years old and hit .314/.382/.586 in AAA-Tacoma, a pitcher’s park. He’s a stud.

It is extremely difficult to argue that the Mets’ package was as good as the Yanks’ package or the Red Sox’ package, or as good as the one the Orioles got for Bedard (granting that Bedard is not as big of a service time risk).

Back in our initial reactions to the trade, I noted that John Sickels rated the four Mets’ prospects a B+, 2 B’s, and a B-. Kevin Goldstein only ranked two on the Top 100 Prospects list. One is largely seen as a #3 starter (Mulvey). One is mainly projection and a ways off (Guerra). One had major arm surgery and couldn’t break into a dying rotation last year (Humber). The best of the bunch has never dominated a minor league level (Gomez).

For the consensus best pitcher in the game, this was not a particularly strong haul.

So, what happened here? Here’s some speculation.

First off, it seems that most teams felt priced out of the Santana market and looked elsewhere. The Twins’ initial demands were quite high; “three major-league ready players” was the initial price I heard.

Second, it seems like that the Red Sox and Yankees were going to have to pay a “league fee,” for potentially using Santana to continue to have a stranglehold on an AL playoff berth. I think this might have been a mistake; those teams are in it anyway, regardless of what the Twins trade them, and the Twins should be looking for the best premium young talent possibly available. I could be exaggerating this, but I am utterly surprised that the Twins couldn’t put together a package with Lester or Ellsbury at the center, even now.

Third, the Dodgers, the most prospect-heavy NL team, didn’t seem to get in the race. So, who was left, with the money to lock up Johan Santana long term?

I maintain that my markets position is tenable, and that the markets are a little stagnant. But that fact does not supersede something pretty basic: player preference. Santana, for whatever reason, wanted to pitch for the Mets, enough so that he opted not to go on the open market in order to secure a place on a contender in 2008. I’m thinking that Steve Hubbell is right:

“I submit, with no supporting evidence whatsoever, that the New York Mets have covertly transformed themselves into a well-run and respected organization. That’s right—while most of us were shrieking about epic collapses and imminent front-office housecleanings, certain professional baseball players were concluding that Queens was a pretty good place to ply their trade.”

In the end, it was the no-trade clause that reset the market in the Mets’ favor. Santana, in putting the Mets on his short list, endorsed the team. The Sox and Yanks withdrew, and the Mets were what was left. Were they lucky? Probably a little. The Mets are now a heavyweight, something the NL has lacked since the Cardinals of the early 2000’s, and they certainly have the best core I’ve ever seen them have. Market forces be damned; individual choice certainly has a place in the equation.

5 Responses to “Market Shifts”

  1. Comment posted by mr.bmc on February 12, 2008 at 11:14 am (#609512)

    Yohann was destined to be on the Mets. I firmly believe he would sign with the Mets had they waited until next off-season. But #57’s interest in the Mets is only partly a reflection of the Mets standing as a well-run and respected organization. I don’t agree that’s true among industry insiders and pundits.

    Let’s consider what an Ace pitcher is looking for:
    1) To get paid
    2) To play in a major market (read: to get paid)
    3) To move to the NL I suspect to better secure his legacy
    4) To contend
    5) An east coast team (just a rumor I read)

    How many teams really fit that description:

    Sure the Cubs might have made a move for TBPiB’s services for 2009 and beyond but aren’t they reaching the upper end of their payroll capacity? I submit that not only are the Mets a perfect fit for JS… They’re the only fit.

    That’s not to say the Mets didn’t make the right move in securing J.S. NOW. I’m just posing that in all probability he would have ended up in queens next year anyway.

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  3. Comment posted by JK47 on February 12, 2008 at 12:07 pm (#609606)

    I’m stunned that the Dodgers didn’t get in on the Santana sweepstakes. They certainly had the prospects to get it done, but I guess we got lucky that the Dodgers are stuck with so many bad salaries:

    Jason Schmidt $15.7M
    25 1/3 IP, 6.31 ERA

    Rafael Furcal $13.7M
    OPS+: 76

    Nomar Garciaparra $8.5M
    OPS+: 78

    Juan Pierre $7.5M
    OPS+: 75

    That is no way to spend $45.4 million dollars. The Dodgers are a strange organization. They are amazing at developing young talent, but instead of just letting their excellent young players play, they commit money and playing time to scrubs like Pierre and Nomar. Then when a big fish like Santana is available, they have too much money tied up in crappy contracts to make a move for him.

    The Dodgers have two very good young outfielders– Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. They must have thought long and hard about how to keep these guys from playing, since this year the Dodgers’ big offseason innovation was to bring in another overrated veteran (Andruw Jones) and move Juan Pierre to a corner outfield position.

  4. Comment posted by Michael Oliver on February 12, 2008 at 1:22 pm (#609671)

    Goldstein was a little harsh in regards to the Met prospects. Jim Callis loves Guerra so it really depends on who you read. Sickels similarly likes Guerra.

    Also, it is worth noting that although Sickels had Gomez and Mulvey as Bs, he also said they were borderline B+s rather than a solid B.

    The Mets are the only team that gave up what Johan was worth. It could be argued he still was not worth that much since the Mets had to pay market value for him in 2008 while still giving up about $5mm in signing bonuses from these kids as well.

    There was substantial risk here and everyone wised up at the same time. The Red Sox and Yankees were upping the ante to simply keep him out of each others hands so I do not think you can view their deals in the same context as the Met deals (though a case can be made they were much closer than popular sentiment would lead you to believe) and this marks the second off-season in a row where the Mets refused to overpay for a player. Of course you can argue that the Mets did overpay in terms of the cash they gave Santana, but his average annual salary is not so bad.

    First Omar named his price for Zito and stuck to it and did the same with his prospect package to the Twins. I was saying that deal was the correct value for quite a while so I am not all that shocked that it got done. If someone else wanted to overpay, so be it, but that should not be Omar’s problem and it should not have triggered him to panic and add F-Mart. Desperation is a bad way to run a franchise and Omar certainly does not make panic moves.

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  6. Comment posted by Dep on February 12, 2008 at 2:52 pm (#609741)

    there is a large disparity between what was truly offered and what was reported.

    Madden the other day said Hughes was NEVER on the table.

  7. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on February 12, 2008 at 10:24 pm (#609999)

    A pretty lady tried to get the Red Sox and the Yanks to play chicken.

    But then the pretty lady dropped the hanky, they both decided that they didn’t wanna wreck their cars and walked away… so she had to settle for dating the only other dude in the class with a decent car at all, the Mets.

    She wanted to date and she couldn’t date a dude with a crappy car or none.

    As so it was and so it shall be written.