Thursday, January 31, 2008

I love New York (NL)

I’d like to send a big “shout-out” to my dawg, Omar Minaya, for bringing Johan Santana to Queens. I’d also like to send out smaller “shout-outs” to Hank Steinbrenner and Theo Epstein for haggling themselves out of the best pitcher of the 21st century. Boston and New York fans alike seem to be buying the “company line” that Minnesota’s asking-price was simply too much. Somehow, Boston convinced itself that Jacoby Ellsbury (oh ye of 116 regular season at-bats) and Jon Lester (1.566 career WHIP) were too much value to give up for one of the 15 best pitchers in MLB history in his 20s no less. The Yankees—no doubt using the same highly questionable logic—convinced themselves that Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera were too much to part with. I would hate to be a Yankees or Red Sox fan five years from now when Santana is in the midst of throwing down Greg Maddux-caliber seasons like they’re Kwame Kilpatrick-perjuries. Remember, Santana has only been a full-time starter for four seasons. He has a lot of innings left.

The Tigers—facing the same "unproven talent or proven awesomeness" dilemma—gave up Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller—who were both rated among the top 10 prospects in baseball—along with Dallas Trahern, Eulogio De La Cruz, Mike Rabelo, and Burke Badenhop for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Willis was essentially a “throw in.” The Tigers clearly weren’t offended by having to take Willis but the only way Cabrera was coming to Detroit was by giving up both Maybin and Miller. That package is considerably more potent than anything the Yankees and Red Sox discussed for Santana. Despite parting with two uber-prospects and four of the top six prospects in the organization, Dave Dombrowski jumped all over the deal without the slightest reservation. Tigers fans were universally ecstatic. Adding a player of Cabrera’s caliber for prospects was a no-brainer. As good as Cabrera is—and part of his allure is the fact that he’s only 24—Santana is even better. It is astonishing to me that the Yankees and Red Sox failure to land Santana can be construed as anything other than a disaster. At least Boston can point to its World Championship. New York has no excuse.

Yet, it seems like Boston and New York fans are actually breathing a sigh-of-relief that their coveted prospects are still with the team. I understand that fans obsess over prospects. I’ve fawned over a Juan Encarnacion or two so I’m not going to come down too hard on the folks who love prospects. However, please show some semblance of discretion. A Yankees fan left a comment on a related-article that said, “I really am finding this Santana thing a bit overkill. The Yankees might have 4 Santanas right in front of their noses…” Of course, those four Santanas are Chien-Ming Wang, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, and Phillip Hughes. The latter three have 16 career starts between them. Who needs Santana when you can have uncertainty? Apparently, it's the Yankees. Boston fans feel the same way about Jacoby Ellsbury. He has been touted as “the next coming” because of one stellar postseason. He’ll have to be pretty damn good to justify passing on Santana.

The Mets gave up four of their top seven prospects (Guerra, Gomez, Mulvey, and Humber) according to Baseball America. I haven’t seen or a heard a single mention by anyone that the Mets gave up too much. The Mets instantly became a World Series contender and possible favorite by adding Santana to its rotation. One would think that with the Tigers putting together an all-world lineup capable of rockin’ out 1,000 runs that an AL team would feel the need to get involved. To be fair to Boston, it actually has a pitching staff that can be counted on. Still, it had the means to add Santana and didn't. While Boston and New York are patting themselves on the back because the other didn’t get Santana, the Tigers are the big winner in all of this. Here are just a few of the gazillion reasons why the Tigers scored big-time with this trade…

* The two biggest threats to the Tigers in the AL are New York and Boston. Santana to either of those teams would’ve changed the landscape for 2008 dramatically. Instead, the Red Sox and Yankees come back with essentially the same teams—unless you want to make a big deal about Pettitte in NY—while the Tigers added Cabrera, Willis, and Renteria.

*Santana is no longer in the division which means the Tigers won’t see him six times per year like they did last season.

*The Tigers don’t have to contend with the Johan Santana/Francisco Liriano combo that propelled the Twins through a 31-7 stretch in 2006 that culminated in winning the division after trailing by 12.5 games. The Twins are annoying with Santana alone. They are downright scary with Santana and Liriano.

*Since the Yankees and Red Sox passed on him, the Tigers won’t have to face Santana at any point in the AL playoffs where a pitcher of his caliber does the most damage.

*The Yankees play six games against the Mets which could very well mean they’ll have to face Santana twice. The Tigers won’t face him at all. Last season, the Tigers faced Santana six times and the Yankees only had to seem him once. That should be worth a few games in the standings for the Tigers.

All of these little things add up to one huge boost for Detroit’s chances of reaching and ultimately winning the World Series.

I thought for sure that the Yankees or Red Sox would reach into their unlimited pocketbooks—with Detroit’s $130 payroll, am I still allowed to say things like this?—and gleefully plug Santana right into the top of the rotation. I’m blown away that this didn’t happen. Back in early December when the Santana-negotiations heated up—even after the Tigers had added Cabrera—I felt that if either the Yankees or the Red Sox added Santana, they would be the favorite to come out of the AL slightly ahead of Detroit. If neither ended up with him, Detroit’s addition of Cabrera and Willis would put the Tigers on top. I haven’t changed my mind. This trade was huge for the Tigers. If it can be assumed that Santana was definitely going to be traded and it can be assumed that the Red Sox and Yankees were the two primary contenders for his services, then this trade may end up being nearly as important as the Miguel Cabrera-trade. Avoiding the wrath of Santana/Liriano while also avoiding having to face Santana against the Red Sox or Yankees in the post-season is huge.

I could understand New York’s decision to pass on Santana if it had focused its attention on adding another top-flight starter. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be in the works either. The Yankees passed on Dan Haren who is now in Arizona. They also appear to be passing on Erik Bedard who is likely headed to Seattle. Midway through the 2007-season when the Tigers were an offensive juggernaut, Dave Dombrowski said he would not be adding offense at the trade-deadline. That statement broke my heart considering the Tigers were getting subpar offensive production from third base, first base, and left-field all of which are positions that are generally counted on for offensive production. Despite Dombrowksi's optimism, the Tigers needed to look at adding offense. Instead, they decided to pass. Gary Sheffield got hurt just a short time later and the offense fell apart. My point is that Boston is in love with its rotation in the same way Dombrowski was in love with his lineup. Dombrowski no doubt learned a lesson and brought in "Miggy" in the off-season. Thankfully, Boston has chosen to learn its lesson before making a similar addition.

The 2007-season showed just how difficult it is to make the playoffs even if you bring back a team that just went to the World Series the year before in tact. The Tigers seemed to be poised for another run at the World Series with an even more talented team coming back last season. Injuries and inconsistencies proved to be too much and the Tigers came up just a few games short. Boston and New York’s indifference this off-season may go overlooked now but it should pay huge dividends for the Tigers in 2008.

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