Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Mariners Targets

Hey gang,

I'm heading to bed, so there won't be a usual column today, but amid rumors that the Mariners might be making a proposal for Johan today, I briefly researched the two names that have been mentioned the most, and I thought I might share it with you.

Adam Jones - Yesterday I talked about getting an all-star caliber player back in the trade. Jones looks like that kind of guy. He's a right-handed center fielder who doesn't have the greatest plate discipline. But he's just 22 years old, and he absolutely owned AA as a 21-year old, posting a .315 average and a .568 sluggin percentage. ThinkTorii Hunter, with a worse glove but a better bat.

Brandon Morrow - The good news is that he was their #1 pick in 2006 and spent pretty much the whole year in the majors after jumping straight from A ball. The bad news is that he spent it all at the back of the bullpen. That's probably because he had some real control issues, walking 50 guys in just 63 innings. Youch. It didn't hurt him too much - he posted a 4.12 ERA and struck out a guy per inning in the bigs, but of course that was in relief.

The 23-year-old right-hander is supposed to be starting games in Winter ball this year. If he joined the Twins, you can bet there is no way he starts the year in the majors, and I wouldn't project him much higher than another middle-of-the-rotation guy, kinda like Ian Kennedy.

They're a solid start to a package, though I'd rather replace Morrow with another high-ceiling bat, even if he's not necessarily ready for the bigs this year. As soon as we get whispers of an offer, I'll let you know what I can find out about them.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


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 and Or when I constantly checked'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 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.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Hank's Bluff

God help me, but I love negotiation. Buyer or seller. Being in one or watching one. And above all talking about one. And the reason is simple.

I love the creativity. A really good negotiator is disciplined, confident and prepared, but above all they're creative. The whole goal is to get someone to buy into a reality that you want to exist, because in that particular reality you have leverage. And so the successful negotiator can think on their feet and create a myriad of scenarios to advance their reality. Like making sure a Yankees assistant overhears a phone conversation with the Red Sox. Or leaking that an "inside source" says that a team's offer isn't genuine. Or creating an artificial deadline.

Hank's Bluff
Last night, Hank Steinbrenner tried that last one. He made sure that tomorrow's NY dailies are reporting that a deal must be done by Monday or the Yankees will pull their offer of Phillip Hughes, Melky Cabrera and some unknown "other" guy off the table.

Steinbrenner, who was not planning to attend the meetings, said of his time frame: "The Twins are aware of it, that I'm not going to wait much longer. And the truth of the matter is, they don't want to be stuck with only one team to deal with. If they're stuck with just Boston, they're going to get a lot less. I'm not going to be played. This is not a game. This is serious business. I'm not going to be played, us against the Red Sox. That's not going to happen."

That's quite a threat there, Hank. So if the Twins don't accept the Yankees offer by tomorrow, Hank will punish the Twins by:
1) forcing the Twins to trade Johan Santana to the Red Sox, who will get Santana while
2) keeping their best prospects for future trades. Instead, the Yankees will
3) ask Oakland GM Billy Beane whether they can trade for a lesser pitcher, like Dan Haren.

So the Yankees would've have driven the best pitcher in baseball to their chief division rivals, at a reduced price, and would need to negotiate a do-or-die deal with one of the shrewdest GMs in baseball while no longer having a backup plan.

Yeah. Strong bluff there, Hank. Savvy.

The Leverage of Time
Especially because by simply setting a deadline, he's admitted to a key concession about leverage: you have it - I don't.

Usually, the person who tries to set a deadline is the seller. You see this all the time. I expect an offer from another couple by the end of the day. We may be out of this model. We're having a 3-day sale.

When these tactics are in play, you need to ask yourself exactly what the rush is. If they have the best deal, you'll certainly come back. So just what is the salesperson worried about?

Obviously, he's worried you're going to find a better deal.

The Fallback Option
Turns out, Hank probably is too, because ultimately the Yankees can't provide the best deal. They may have the most blue chip pitching prospects in the game, but the Yankees aren't offering all of them. And more importantly, the Twins don't need pitching prospects.

The Twins need offense, and that's where the Yankees are sorely lacking.

The Yankees best offer would likely be second baseman Robinson Cano, but they say he's untouchable. Also, he'll be eligible for arbitration this year anyway, so he's about to get expensive fast. That's not exactly what the Twins were looking for.

The name that's in every rumor is Melky Cabrera, who is a center fielder(+) and just 22 years old(+). But he's also never been a highly rated prospect(-) and while he's decent defensively(+), he's never put up above average offensive number in either the majors or the minors(--). His upside is that of a cheap(+) average center fielder, but he might also be a slightly gifted fourth outfielder whose inadequacies are hidden in that Yankee lineup.

And there's been a lot of discussion about a third prospect. The top two hitting prospects in the Yankees system are Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata. Tabata is impressive because he's just 19 years old, but he also hasn't dominated any of the levels he's played at. Worse, he hasn't faced pitching higher than High-A ball. Neither has Jackson.

But here's where it gets good - the Yankees reportedly won't offer these two. Both guys, neither of whom is particularly attractive to the Twins, are strictly off limits. And even better, they are the only two offensive prospects worth a damn in their organization right now. The next guy on Baseball Prospectus list of top Yankees prospects is a catcher who just finished up rookie ball.

The bottom line is that the Yankees, even if they really, really wanted to, probably can't beat the Red Sox existing offer. They're stuck being a fallback option, and in a negotiation, you NEVER want to be the fallback option. It's a powerless position. The buyer just keeps negotiating with their first choice until your offer isn't the attractive one.

The Twins Dilemma
Which isn't to say that everything's perfect for the Twins either. In a perfect world, they'd have a suitor that is both desperate for Santana and had the players they need. The Yankees are desperate, but don't have the players. The Red Sox have the players, but aren't nearly as desperate.

So there are some real risks here. The primary one is that the Red Sox are simply trying to see if they can drive the Yankee's price up, but when push comes to shove, their offer isn't genuine. That would be disastrous for the Twins.

Another is that both suitors would be nearly as happy if Santana wasn't traded at all. The best leverage that Smith has is that the stakes couldn't be higher for the Red Sox and Yankees. Either their team gets the most dominant pitcher of the decade, or their arch-rivals do. Hell, both would probably be relieved if a third team did enter the bidding, especially if that third team was in the National League.

Which is why Smith's vow to "not compromise" rings so hollow. Odds are that both eastern franchises would like nothing more than for this whole Santana thing to go away so they didn't need to worry about their rival getting him. It'll be interesting to see if Smith's creativity stretches as far as bringing a third team into the Yankees deal that might be able to provide some offense.

But regardless, it looks like there's almost no compelling reason for this standoff to be settled soon, let alone today. Which is just fine for this negotiation-loving fool.