Tuesday, January 22, 2008


It’s the only subject any Mets fan is talking or thinking about these days. Well, at least in regards to the Mets’ immediate future. There’s still a bit of chatter, grumbling, and wincing where the immediate past is concerned, but just as we picked ourselves off the mat after the NLCS heartbreak a year prior, we’re starting to recover from the face-first hurtling down the staircase that was the end of the 2007 New York Mets season. As you can tell, the healing process isn’t quite complete just yet.

As we near the limbering-up stage, however, all eyes and ears are fixated on the emanations from the rumor mill as they pertain to one Johan Santana. Snippets of idle speculation on Santana’s future home have been popping up on our collective radar for two months, and by now the frequent, meaningless blips all sound the same and signify the same amount of nothing. Comments from officials of any club involved in a potential trade consist of close-to-the-vest hollowness or shrewd misdirection. The supposed insight into whether the Mets will acquire the top-tier lefty is rampant, but it’s dwarfed by the volume of opinion on whether the Mets should acquire Johan Santana, at least at the current Minnesota asking price.

That current asking price is reportedly a five-player package that includes Fernando Martinez, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, Carlos Gomez, and Philip Humber. For those who didn’t get their copy of Baseball America’s Top 10 New York Mets Prospects in November, that’d be prospects # 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7 in the Mets organization. “Yikes,” blurt the more conservative-minded residents of Mets Township.

For everyone connected (officially or emotionally) with the Mets, the worst-case scenario here is a Herschel Walker outcome – the trade, not the split personality thing – where the Twinkies ride our youngsters to World Series trophies in 2010 and 2011 while the Mets get 13 wins and a 3.85 ERA out of Santana for a few years while failing to plug in key holes with free agents as our farm system becomes the subject of a Mellencamp song. But a lot of unforeseen circumstances would have to come about for that to happen. A slightly less remote – and still quite worrisome – result would be vaguely akin to the Kazmir-for-Zambrano debacle; only one of the five would have to rise to the elite while Santana suffers an injury that keeps him from remaining there. Not a probable expectation (there was waaaaay more handwriting on both walls of Kazmir-Zambrano), but not outside the realm of possibility. And it’d be another punt in the groin for a group of fans that are still exhaling deeply and walking off the last one.

As I type this, it occurs to me that leading off with the most negative of outcomes probably tips my hand about my mindset during these Santana deliberations. The intent of this post was to outline both sides, point out that the definitive, assured statements about what the trade would inevitably incur are foolhardy, and proudly, ignorantly proclaim that I have no idea what the best course of action is for the Mets. Clearly, however, I’m a little snake-bitten thanks to some past gaffes, and that can skew logic at times.

In truth, there are plenty of points (strong or otherwise) for making such a trade. Just as many for walking away. Here’s a single-conversation encapsulation of some of the arguments that have been posited.

Johan Santana is arguably the best pitcher in baseball; there’s no argument that he’s at least in the conversation.
True. Of course, he didn’t quite look up to his usual form the last month or two of last season. He looked tired, and with all of the innings he’s logged in the last four years, you can see why. Makes you wonder.
He actually pitched fewer innings last year than he has since becoming a full-time starter.
Right, he was 6th in the league in IP instead of 1st or 2nd; oh, and his HR’s Allowed went from 24 to 33. His ERA was his highest yet, up half a run. If it’s a trend, it’s a problematic one.
Two months aren’t a trend. And he was still good enough to finish 5th in Cy Young voting. In the hitter’s league. And some speculated he was unhappy after nothing was done at the trade deadline.
Oh, that attitude will get many accolades in The New York Post.
Most significantly to the matter at hand, he was as good or better (or vastly better) in every statistical category as compared to any full-time starter on the Mets. Even the ones having (possibly) career years at Shea, a pitcher’s park.
It’s true, the Mets desperately need him to give themselves a real shot of postseason success. But is his potential value worth the self-inflicted hamstringing of the best parts of the Mets’ farm system?
In any other professional league, no. But in the mixed up, muddled up, shook up world that is the economics of baseball, the Mets don’t have the same high costs for mismanaging prospects. Prospects? We don’t need no stinking prospects! We buy players up here, El Hefe. Prospects are for the Royals and A’s.
Ah, the 2002-06 New York Yankees game plan. The Type A free-agent signing. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.
Like the system or not, the Mets are a big-market team, and there is simply no reason for them to sport a starting rotation like their current one. They won’t even lose draft picks for it – and they can re-stock the pond with a relatively decent collection of picks coming to them next go-‘round.
But 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7? Seems a bit steep.
But we're talking about prospects, man -- we're not even talking about major league players, who actually matter, we're talking about prospects. We're talking about prospects. I mean listen, we're sitting here talking about prospects, not big leaguers, not big leaguers, not big leaguers, but we're talking about prospects. Prospects, man.
Thanks, A.I.
Seriously, though, I think we take Baseball America’s lists as too much of a given. Although it’s the best resource going, let’s look at the Mets Top 10 up-and-comers according to BA from a couple of years ago:
1. Lastings Milledge, of
2. Yusmeiro Petit, rhp
3. Gaby Hernandez, rhp
4. Ian Bladergroen, 1b
5. Ambiorix Concepcion, of
6. Alay Soler, rhp
7. Shawn Bowman, 3b

8. Victor Diaz, of
9. Jesus Flores, c
10. Matt Lindstrom, rhp
Knowing what we now know, would you give up Milledge, Petit, Hernandez, Bladergroen, and Bowman for Santana? Of course you would.
I can’t disagree. Still… though you might hop on your Jump To Conclusions mat and see another BA list (the Mets #1 prospects since ’95) as a dismissal of “prospects”...

1995 Bill Pulsipher, lhp
1996 Paul Wilson, rhp

1997 Jay Payton, of
1998 Grant Roberts, rhp
1999 Alex Escobar, of
2000 Alex Escobar, of
2001 Alex Escobar, of

2002 Aaron Heilman, rhp
2003 Jose Reyes, ss
2004 Kazuo Matsui, ss
2005 Lastings Milledge, of
2006 Lastings Milledge, of
2007 Mike Pelfrey, rhp
I see Jose Reyes amid all of that carnage and think that if but one of these five could evolve into a gem that could change the face of the franchise – and you can’t tell which one – why not hold off on this deal?
Because Johan Santana is the culmination of that prospect turning into a superstar. And if you wait until he hits the open market next year, which he may not, you risk losing him altogether, or at the very least . . . wait for it . . . losing a draft pick (a prospect).
It’s just that the single most compelling argument why the Mets should make the deal is not that the price is right, nor that they can afford him, but that they need him the most. They’re desperate because of last year, because of the moves (and lack thereof) of yesteryear. But the pressure to succeed in New York with a high payroll and a roster that needs to win now . . . that doesn’t justify selling the farm for the merits of one great pitcher.
Nor can you justify clinging to minor leaguers who don’t grade out particularly well simply because you see Scott Kazmir in your nightmares. Plus, I think you’re overestimating “the farm”; outside of Martinez and maybe Guerra, it’s wishful thinking. And neither of those two are a lock.

I see your Scott Kazmir and raise you an Alex Escobar. Seeing his name thrice in that list is a painful reminder of the 5-tool phenom who never was. How many All-Stars did the Mets turn down for him? But you can’t trade away your future simply because you hung on too long to one dud.
Touché. But I raise you one Robby Alomar. That may be the closest parallel to this potential trade, and you’re afraid of another sure-fire Hall of Famer flaming out in two short seasons. I think we have to agree that Roberto Alomar’s singular disemboweling of not only the 2003-04 New York Mets (a.k.a. dues-paying time at MLC) but also the future general management of the Metropolitans organization as a whole is an anomaly and an unfortunate, unpredictable rash on the inner pelvic region of trade-makers from here to Binghamton and back. It was not a lesson in the making. Just because one former megastar’s transition from AL Central to Shea time lasted several seasons and many, many . . . okay, The Big Lebowski’s worth of F-words . . . you don’t walk away from a once-in-a-tenure opportunity.
Ah, fuck it. You make good points.
So do you.
What next?
Wel’p . . . let’s get drunk and rehash this six or seven more times.
Done and done. Thanks, Herschel.
You bet, Herschel.

And there you have it. The continuing quandary that is the endless, pointless debate over whether the Mets should dump everything and anything in the pursuit of the best pitcher going. Does anybody really know what to do, or what time it is? The point of all this: make your own decision, one without the input from the blogosphere’s or television’s so-called experts. And just sit back and watch what unfolds (or doesn’t) with a shrug. Enjoy.

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