Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Perspective

I come to you today looking for perspective.

Because it's a apparent that I've lost it. You might have thought that was apparent yesterday when I spend most of the afternoon manically clicking between MNGameDay.com and MLBTradeRumors.com. Or when I constantly checked ESPN.com's Winter Meeting Blog on my iPhone while I drove home. Or when I ignored my children's pleas to help them with their homework so I could click refresh on RumorsStartedForTheHelluvaItByTheDeskClerkAtTheOprylandHotel.com. Nope.

No, I finally realized I had been sleepwalking through the last six days when I researched just how far it was from my house to Nashville. So I could drive there.

And plead with Bill Smith.

And then lock him in the trunk of my car.

But I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who is losing their perspective today. When it comes to starting pitching, there's more than ample evidence that the world has gone nuts. A 33-year-old pitcher from Japan has GMs throwing at least $30 million at him? Jake Peavy signs an extension paying with a $22 million option in the last year? Carlos Silva has ten suitors?

To be fair, my perspective may have returned because I realized I would probably be too late. All indications are that by the time you're reading this, the Twins will have made a deal so the Boston Red Sox get the best pitcher of this decade. And the Twins, by most accounts, will get:
- a left-handed #2 starter (Jon Lester)
- a somewhat expensive average center fielder (Coco Crisp)
- an infielder with patience a little power (Jed Lowrie)
- a sinkerballer who doesn't strike people out much (Justin Masterson)
- an outfielder with some promise who has yet to play a full year of professional ball (Ryan Kalish)

And now, at the risk of getting a little too wonky, let's put those players in perspective, too. We'll list them again, but this time, let's change some of the more projectable names to an existing major leaguer:
- a left-handed #2 starter (Ted Lilly)
- an infielder with patience and a little power (Dustin Pedroia)
- a sinkerballer who doesn't strike people out much (Carlos Silva)

Lets' assume two of them reach that potential. Given the existing market for pitching, would you trade Santana for any two of those guys? How about if the other teams picked up their salaries?

I wouldn't, and I don't think the Twins would either. And for all the hand-wringing about Jacoby Ellsbury, adding him doesn't change the equation much. A slap hitting speedster who can play center field but doesn't have much arm projects to be Scott Podsednick. That guy can be valuable, but like these others, he's probably not going to be an all-star.

And that's what I'm looking for when I trade the best pitcher on the planet when teams couldn't be looking for more pitching. I want at least one and probably two potential all-stars in return. Not necessarily a superstar, but someone that I can reasonably expect to be near the top of his position. I need a couple of guys that can help lead to my next pennant run, not just stay out of the way.

I don't see that, and I suspect if I drove down to Nashville and cornered Bill Smith, he would too.
And if not, there's always the trunk.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Awsome. Right on. Bill Smith better make a deal that is actually worth Santana, and not just deal him, just to deal him and not get FULL value for him. I'm sick of the Yankees and the Red Sox acting like Santana isn't worth what the Twins are asking for him. For the past few seasons, it has been about how Johan Santana is one of the best, if not THE BEST pitcher in all of baseball. Yet we sit here waiting for a team to put a deal out there that is worth getting Johan Santana leading your pitching staff.

Kyle Eliason said...

The whining over increased player salaries is getting to me. Anyone still think $11 million a season for AJ Burnett is horrible now? That was just two offseasons ago and thought way too much for an injury prone pitcher, but Silva is going to make that much this offseason and I think you would have a hard time getting any GM to make that swap even-up.

If you are a subscriber, read Joe Sheehan's latest at BP. Baseball is now a $6 billion a year enterprise and that revenue is increasingly going to players as teams try to one-up each other.

Honestly, if the Twins feel comfortable projecting future growth for the industry, $20-23 million per could look as bland in three years as Burnett's $11 million does now.

Of course, if things like MLBAM slow down because they've already experienced tons of growth and the Twins project wrong, well..

KW said...

GREAT post. The more I really think about it, the less I want to make the trade with Boston. It just doesn't seem like we are getting value. Plus, with Ellsbury recently signing on with Scott Boras, you'd be taking on all kinds of headaches... Boras is literally capable of ANYTHING. He might even have Ellsbury hold out from day one, even if he's only played half a season in the majors! Would you put it past him?

If he goes anywhere at this point, I'd love to see if the Angels would be serious about Weaver / Kendrick / Wood. I think that's a better package than even the Yankees were offering. Plus, I just would feel better in general about not having to see one of my favorite players end up with one of my two least favorite teams (NY / BOS)

David Wintheiser said...

OK, Geek, here's some perspective for you. Over at baseball-reference.com, there's a list of the ten most similar pitchers to Santana at age 28. Here's the list, with similarity scores in parens:

1. Tim Hudson (949)
2. Roy Oswalt (940)
3. John Candelaria (935)
4. Juan Pizarro (931)
5. Bob Welch (929)
6. Mike Mussina (928)
7. Kevin Appier (927)
8. Jack McDowell (921)
9. Kevin Millwood (915)
10. Sid Fernandez (915)

Now nearly every pitcher on this list is/was a quality major-league starter, and most of them have been staff aces at some point in their careers. But is there anybody on this list who's a sure-fire Hall of Famer?

The most representative name on that list is probably Tim Hudson, the one right on top. If you recall, Hudson's age-28 season was his last in Oakland, during which there was rampant speculation over the size of the contract he'd sign, and after which he was traded to Atlanta for three guys who haven't made any kind of impact on Oakland's roster three years later (two of those players have since been traded themselves, in fact). Meanwhile, Hudson himself has been...well, not bad, but not 'dominant' either -- he finished 16-10 last year for a ballclub that barely made it over .500. It's certainly possible to argue that the Hudson trade looks bad in retrospect, but on the other hand, would the A's be any better off paying $7-9 million a year for Hudson now?

If Bill Smith does manage to get two potential All-Stars for Santana, that other GM is an idiot; there are simply too many ways in which one guy can go wrong on you (see, for instance, today's PiPress article) to make him really worth that kind of compensation.

Jack Ungerleider said...

Quit your belly-aching!

When the Twins traded Frank Viola what did they get (at the time):

1. A middle of the order starter with a few years experience.

2. A potential top of the rotation starter

3. Three "prospects" that I can't tell you if the were high, mid or low-level at the time.

Five pieces. Two of the five became important for the Twins. Neither was the "center piece" of the deal. (That's #2 on the list, David West.)

Number 1 on the list was Rick Aguliera, who of course became an All-Star reliever with the Twins, after showing some promise as a starter with the Mets.

West was probably his generations Kyle Loshe, unfulfilled potential.

Of course the second jewel of the trade was one of the "prospects", Kevin Tapani.

Moral: You never know what you're going to get, even if you think you do.

John said...

David,

These comparisons are often used, because they're fun, and do in fact provide some perspective. But to be totally honest, I've never seen how they're derived. I don't know if I can trust them or not.

I can't look up stats right now, but I don't remember Hudson being anywhere near as dominant as Santana. I don't remember Hudson having any Cy Youngs, and I don't remember a string of strikout titles either. Just because he name is at the top of Johan's list, doesn't mean he's Johan.

So I just don't buy it. Sorry.

David Wintheiser said...

I can't look up stats right now, but I don't remember Hudson being anywhere near as dominant as Santana. I don't remember Hudson having any Cy Youngs, and I don't remember a string of strikout titles either. Just because he name is at the top of Johan's list, doesn't mean he's Johan.

Well, certainly you're welcome to your opinion, but I'd argue that it's not the job of a pitcher to be 'dominant', and though strikeouts do a good job of predicting longevity for a pitcher, they're not as good of an indicator of quality (the best pitchers in the league in a given season are not the same as the pitchers with the highest strikeout rates, though there is certainly a decent amount of overlap). I also happen to think that Cy Young awards overrate pitchers, since the awards process themselves tends to be caught up in things other than true measures of quality (remember the two recent Cys that Santana didn't win?)

But I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Let's compare Johan to some guys who do qualify as 'dominant' by their age-28 seasons.

First off, let's note Johan's key numbers:

93-44, 3.22 ERA (141 ERA+), 1308.7 IP, 1432 H+BB, 1381 K

Now, let's compare him to some 'big guys':

Pedro Martinez - By the time Martinez finished his age-28 season, he'd won three Cy Young awards, was first or second in his league in ERA four years running, was first or second in WHIP four years running, and was first or second in strikeouts four years running. He'd even finished second in the MVP vote in one of those years. He was already in the middle of a huge contract he'd signed with the Red Sox after being traded a few years earlier by the Expos (for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas the Younger).

Pedro's key numbers at age 27 (since they're closer in volume to Johan's numbers): 107-50, 2.83 ERA (155 ERA+), 1359.3 IP, 1460 H+BB, 1534 K.

The won-lost can be largely dismissed, but Martinez is decisively better both in ERA+ and Ks.

Roger Clemens - By the end of Clemens's age-28 season, he'd won three Cy Youngs, led his league in ERA three times, led his league in strikeouts twice (with three other seasons in which he placed second). The Red Sox wisely kept him locked up as one of the highest-paid pitchers in the league, then allowed him to leave as a free agent after his age-33 season, amidst mutterings that Clemens was losing some of his talent to age. (How's that working out, Red Sox Nation?)

Again, Clemens's key numbers are closer to Johan's at the end of his age-27 season, so we'll use those: 116-51, 2.89 ERA (146 ERA+), 1513.0 IP, 1706 H+BB, 1424 K. Clemens looks closer to Santana, particularly in K's, but it's worth pointing out not only that Clemens's ERA+ soundly beats Johan's, but that Clemens was posting his strikeout numbers in the late 80's, when strikeouts were less common. Compare the following AL strikeout totals while each pitcher was starting during his era:

Clemens Santana
yr1 11777 (1985) 14496 (2001)
yr2 13058 (1986) 14233 (2002)
yr3 13442 (1987) 13805 (2003)
yr4 12323 (1988) 14529 (2004)
yr5 12296 (1989) 13764 (2005)
yr6 12689 (1990) 14229 (2006)
yr7 12944 (1991) 14740 (2007)

It's certainly defensible to argue that Clemens's league-leading strikeout total in 1989 was significantly more impressive than Santana's league-leading total in 2005, for much the same reasons that one would argue that Kent Hrbek's 29 homers in 1986 are more impressive than Justin Morneau's 34 homers in 2006.

Given the contextual differences in strikeouts, I feel confident arguing that Santana 2007 isn't as good as Clemens 1991, or even 1990.

You want an example of a pitcher Johan is more comparable too, despite him not appearing on the similarity list? Bret Saberhagen. Saberhagen had won two Cy Youngs by the end of his age-27 season. Strictly by-the-numbers he was a cut below Santana, having just an ERA+ of 128 and having significantly fewer strikeouts even taking the difference in eras into consideration. The Royals dealt Saberhagen to the Mets for Kevin McReynolds (a solid veteran outfielder), Gregg Jeffries (a young, good-hitting third baseman), and Keith Miller (an inexpensive throw-in utilityman). The Royals have had just two winning seasons in 15 years since that deal (though the Saberhagen trade wasn't specifically to blame, the mindset behind it -- that we can't afford to keep our stars and thus have to continually turn them over for cheaper players with 'potential', almost certainly is).

I guess my point is that if Santana is really 'worth' two potential All-Stars, then he's worth keeping. The presumption that the Twins are not only trading Santana, but also Joe Nathan, seems to me to be a sign that we're entering a Royals-like period of living up to our small-market expectations.

hrunting said...

So Ken Rosanthal is speculating about a new possibility -- Santana to the Mariners for a package that would include "outfielder Adam Jones and right-hander Brandon Morrow." The Ms are my second-favorite team, so I like this idea better than the Boston version.

The Mariners seem to like those young players. Morrow does strike people out, which is nice. (If I recall, he also walks people, which is less nice.)

Peter Gammons, however, is saying that Santana will likely stay put for a while.

Clearly I am also flipping between websites. Sigh.

Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

John:

OK, I'm trying to deal with the whiplash here ....

At one time, we were lamenting the Twins limited leverage in the trade market, given (1) Johan has a "no trade" clause; (2) he's a free agent after 2008; (3) we're unlikely to get "top value" unless our trading partner can sign Johan to an extension; and (4) it'll probably be a BIG extension (which we suspect will dampen the enthusiasm of some).

Now we're in "Pirates of the Carribean" mode - "Avast, ye mateys ..... send over yer All Stars ...."

What did I miss?

BD

Uncontrollable Id said...

Thanks for this, John. Well said. I have seen very little of Mr. Smith, and so far, I'm with you on the trunk idea. What, exactly, is the man up to? What is he even thinking? He make me very, very nervous. And am I crazy, or wasn't the new stadium supposed to make it possible for us to keep our team? Did I hear that somewhere, or did I make it up? Was I dreaming? Because right now, I feel like I'm watching my team dismantle itself.

I try not to listen to the rumors, because all it does is make me totally wretched, but this whole Santana thing has me tied up. Oy.

John said...

Hey BD,

I was asking myself the same question last night.

First of all, I don't think I've changed my tune much. I was reacting last week to suggestion that the Twins would be able to completely plunder some team's farm system. That's a long way from the current Boston proposal, in my opinion. If the offer was Buchholz and Ellsbury and Lester and Lowrie, I'd be singing a different tune. And that's the level of offer that was being floated as people said we should look into trading Santana. I mean, remember the Dodgers rumors?

Also, a few things have changed a bit:
1) The Twins are playing this exactly right. The got the counter-offer, and they completely overexagerated at the slightest sign of tampering. Perfect. The tampering thing is absolutely key.

2) I underestimated the incentive for Santana to favor a trade and an extension. There's something to be said for getting $140 million without throwing another pitch.

3) And I absolutely underestimated the cost of pitching. Last year the Zito contract was an outlier. The Peavy extension has completely changed that.

walter said...

You know I'm beginning to think why don't we sign Santana and lock Smith in the trunk until he does it.

The money until Peavy's rolled around was about the same on a per year basis (Twins were 92 million for five years or 18.2 the Zitto deal was 127 over 7 or 18.6 million). It seems to me that if Smith offered 114 million over six years with a club option for a seventh year or a guarentted year based on performance in years five and six you can lock up the contract!

The point being the trade is being done by Smith to fill out the holes he thinks he has in the organization. Right now there are three preceived holes:

SS, 3B, and CF. Okay it might drive Grad crazy, but Alexia has excellent potential and deserves a year to see what he has. We have what appears to be a young left handed hitting 3B with power.

That only leaves CF and isn't Rowland a CF we can gobble up the second we decide to sign Santana.

What am I missing here?

What is Smith missing here?

One of use need to be thrown into a trunk to make sense.