Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Bedard Rumors and Santana Impacts

Rumors started flowing yesterday from two different sources about a possible trade the Mariners might make for Orioles left-handed ace Eric Bedard. It’s the kind of deal that might produce a flurry of action surrounding a possible Johan Santana trade for several reasons.

1) The rumored deals set a high standard for the quality of prospects that an ace is worth.

It’s hard to compare deals, because opinions on younger players vary so widely, but we’ll try giving each of the players a letter grade. Fox’s Ken Rosenthal suggests the Bedard deal might include center fielder Adam Jones (an ‘A’ prospect), catcher Jeff Clement (‘A’) and third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo (‘C’). Jason Churchill of ProspectInsider.com also include Jones, but includes shortstop Carlos Triunfel (‘B’) and left-handed reliever George Sherril (not a prospect, but with a 2.36 ERA last year and 56 K in 45.2 IP, we’ll call him a ‘C+’).

Either is quite a haul, similar to what the rumored deals are for Santana with the:

Red Sox: Ellsbury (‘A-’), Lowrie (‘B’), Masterson (‘C’) or
Yankees: Hughes (‘A+’), Cabrera (‘C’) and Jackson (‘B-’).

Got all those letters straight? No? I’ll help. Based on my completely subjective rankings, all of the deals are in the same ballpark, but the deals for Santana are towards the low end of what is rumored for Bedard.

2) If completed, it would represent a significant shift in power in the AL West.

Coming into the offseason, the Mariners finished six games behind the Angels, and eleven games behind them in the adjusted standings. While the Angels have added Torii Hunter and Jon Garland (and lost Orlando Cabrera) the Mariners have only added Carlos Silva. Meanwhile, the third best team in the division (Oakland) is completely dismantling itself. Is it any wonder that the Angels seem content to stand pat?

If the Mariners add Bedard, that could change considerably. Adding him closes the gap considerably, especially as he’ll end up pitching against the Angels a handful of extra times per year. For Twins fans who dream that the Angels and their deep farm system start to get interested in Santana, this is the perfect development.

3) If it isn’t completed, it shows the Mariners are in the market for a top shelf starter.

The Mariners have been mentioned before, but have never really been considered serious suitors for Santana. This shows the Mariners really are looking to acquire a top starter. And it shows that they’re willing to trade Jones, who is often compared to Torii Hunter, to acquire him. And it’s not like the Mariners have given any indication that they’re skittish about paying elite talent top dollars (see Suzuki, Ichiro). Or, for that matter, not so elite talents (see Beltre, Adrian).

It’s been widely speculated that the Mariners weren’t interested because the Twins had asked for Jones AND Brandon Morrow, who they claim they absolutely will not trade. The Twins likely don’t have much interest in the Mariners other top prospect, Clement, because he’s a catcher. Perhaps the Twins could send a power reliever, or another minor league pitcher in return to make them more willing to add Morrow.

Mostly what this does is fuel hope for those waiting for a Santana deal. It shows that the compensation in return for super-talented pitchers is significant. It shows that teams are still gauging themselves. And it shows that moves still are being made. Basically, it shows that the offseason is far from over.

Monday, January 07, 2008

What about the Cubs?

Thtuck, thtuck, thtuck!!! Thtuckk!! THTUUUUUUCCCCKKKK!!!!!!!!

Like Flick in A Christmas Story, the Twins remain stuck in their dealings for Johan Santana. The Red Sox and Yankees are primarily concerned in keeping him away from each other. Ditto the Angels and the Mariners. The Mets have the needs and money but not the prospects. Are there any dark horses on the horizon?

I submit for your consideration, the lovable Cubbies. They certainly have the money, and their 3rd best pitcher is currently Jason Marquis, so I think we can safely say they’re in the market. Frankly, pairing Santana with Zambrano might give the North Side the pairing they’ve been waiting for since Kerry Wood and Mark Prior flamed out, as well as delay Lou Piniella’s next coronary by six or so months.

They were originally not viewed as an option because they’re for sale, and the perception was that they couldn’t take on any huge contracts, but that didn’t stop them from promising $48 million to a Japanese center corner outfielder with a questionable elbow. Santana would represent a significantly larger obligation, but it might also represent a significant asset.

But the Cubs also mimic the Mets in that they don’t really have the loaded minor league system one would like to see. They could conceivably offer up 22-year-old centerfielder Felix Pie as a centerpiece, but he doesn’t outrank Jacoby Ellsbury or Phillip Hughes. You could argue that he doesn’t outrank Melky Cabrera or Jed Lowrie.

On the other hand, the Cubs success last year was partly fueled by rookies, so they can fill out their offer with quantity, though the quality is suspect. I assume 26-year-old Matt Murton would be included, but where are the Twins going to put another corner outfielder? Are infielders like Ryan Theriot, Eric Patterson, and Mike Fontenot legitimate starters, or just backups who had good years? Their minor league careers suggest the latter. And can any of the young pitchers they utilized in last year’s run be effective other than at the back end of a rotation, or in the bullpen?

All things considered, they seem to be at least as good a trading partner as the Mets, who continue to be included in the conversation without bringing anything substantial to the table. Whether they'll represent an additional bidder remains to be seen, but they should be summarily dismissed.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Betting on the Dark Horse

The Twins are doing what they can to break the little stalemate they have with Boston and the New Yorks, but the supposed deals haven’t changed much. Early rumors flew about the Dodgers, Angels and Mariners, partly because they each had “acquire a veteran starting pitcher” atop of their offseason to-do list, and partly because they have deep minor league systems. But they’ve all settled for a mid-rotation innings eater, wisely or not.

On the other hand, it looks like the free agent market is certainly doing its part to goad some new teams into the bidding. For instance, paying $11 million per year, long term, for Carlos Silva. I mean, even if you WANT to have your stomach lining eaten away, can’t medical science come up with a cheaper and quicker solution? That kind of deal makes a seven-year, $140 million contract for Santana look fiscally responsible, if not downright prudent.

The Yankees would like the Twins to think that they’re the only team that’s ever paid premium dollars for a big name free agent. It’s not true. Though, to be fair, they ARE the only team to pay $16 million for four months of an alleged steroid-using 45-year-old. So they got that going for them.

But the current market for Santana was set by some other deals. Like the seven-year contract the San Francisco Giants (2007 payroll of $90 million) gave Barry Zito. Or the $18 million per year contract Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs (2007 payroll of $99 million) worked out. Or even the one-year $22 million contract that the Astros (2007 payroll of $88 million) worked out for an alleged steroid-using 44-year-old.

So I’m looking for a dark horse to emerge over the next couple of weeks. Frankly, the rest of the free agent field isn’t particularly compelling to those willing to put up the money. And Santana’s willingness (bordering on eagerness) to talk to anyone about a long-term, record-breaking deal, is leaving the rail open.
One quick heads up. Over at TwinsCards.com's blog (Tony....Killer....and Carew), Blake is running a Twins Trivia contest. It sounds like fun, and a chance to learn some stuff to stump your friends with at the next Twins game. Please check it out.