LONGSHOTS: To include or not to include Ellsbury ó that is the question
by Dave Long
I have always loved trades, especially in baseball. Thatís why I always have a sense of anticipation for the annual winter meetings ó which are going as we speak. Theyíre where big deals often get done, some of which have changed the face of a pennant race for the next season and years beyond.
However, after word leaked out the Sox were willing to put Jacoby Ellsbury into a deal for Johann Santana, I am sitting here right now with all my fingers and both of my legs crossed that it doesnít get done. And I donít care if that means the Yankees get him. Iím praying itís just a bluff to bleed the Empire of more talent than they want to give in their pursuit of arguably baseballís best pitcher.
I will fully admit Iím violating the cardinal rule to not fall in love with your players. But I DO NOT WANT Ellsbury traded under any circumstances. Not even if Sandy Koufax were on the table. Which shows Iím at least in part leading with my heart. Koufax was the most dominant player Iíve ever seen and Santana may be close to this centuryís version of him.
My old producer Jason Richardson can verify under oath Iíve been pounding the drum for Santana since early 2006 when he kept telling me Minnesota would never give him up. So I get just how good Santana is. But the price is steep, especially in light of what else is available on the market for an alternative.
This could all be moot by the time this hits the streets, since Boy George gave Minnesota a Tuesday deadline to pull the trigger or theyíre out. And after seeing Hank Steinbrennerís Yankees stick by a similar proclamation as A-Rod came crawling back after agent Scott Boras eliminated the golden goose from the market, I believe them.
But itís just not emotion. After seeing Ellsbury play in the minors and the last six weeks of 2007 Iím positive heíll bring a dimension that will make the Red Sox more exciting and dangerous than ever. Heís an Ichiro-type player whoís going to have a string of years hitting in the .320s, maybe with a couple of .350-ish years thrown in, and regularly steal around 40. Maybe youíre among the 69 percent in a Boston.com poll against trading him, but in case youíre not, here are a few other things I think about.
The Pedro Deal: No disagreement these are comparable. One difference, though: those Red Sox had a barren farm system and had underachieved two straight years. Dan Duquette needed Pedro more and deserves credit for giving up just Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr., who have done very little since. Now, theyíve just won a world title thanks to major contributions from a flourishing farm system.
Economics: Does anyone feel queasy giving a pitcher a seven-year deal ó especially at $25 million per? It worked for Pedro, but ever heard of Mike Hampton, Kevin Brown, Dwight Gooden or Bret Saberhagen? Really good pitchers who fell off the table with injuries or outside issues after getting big money long-term deals. With Manny up after this year theyíll need a booper in 2009. Will spending that much on one guy restrict what they can spend, since Mannyís $20 million per will then go to Santana?
Josh Beckett: Howís he going to feel making $12 or 13 million less than Santana?
Alternatives: Ask yourself this: would they be better with Santana and Julio Lugo or with Erik Bedard and Miguel (you say tamata, I say) Tejada at short batting fifth? Both are said to be on the block for roughly the same price as Santana. Bedard was 13-5 and struck out 221 hitters in 182 innings before being shut down in September. Tejada is a 31-year-old former MVP ó who hit .296. His power numbers were down due to the first injury of his career, but remember Lowell hit just eight homers the year before coming here. Add Ellsbury and him to the line-up and itís relentless one through nine. Plus theyíll cost what Santana does by himself and Ellsbury wonít be in the deal.
My Cardinal Rule: While I violated one CR, I have my own. Never trade your A or A+ prospects. I wonít add ďever,Ē though. After what Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell did in 2007, they might be exhibit A in countering my CR as it took A+ star Hanley Ramirez to get him. But, remember the buzz said then on sabbatical Theo was against that deal (which is why I think this is a bluff). And they did get lucky with Lowell, who turned out to be much more than the salary dump he was thought to be. And, while Ramirez might have been the deal-breaker, think just how good theyíd be now if the brass had played chicken with the financially strapped Marlins and the fish blinked first.
This rule was developed watching Atlanta win 14 division titles. Name one top prospect they gave up during that reign as important pieces to their evolving puzzle like Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Andru Jones, Javy Lopez and Raphael Furcal came out of the farm system. When they did make a trade for a top player they gave up people like Donnie Elliott Vince Moore, or Mel Nievens as they did for new clean-up hitter Fred McGriff. And when they went for a Santana-like pitcher they did it in free agency. Why? Because Greg Maddux cost too much the other way.
Know Your Talent: Iíve heard of Andy Marte, so I know prospects donít always develop. But some do turn out very well, so you donít just give them away. For instance if you were the New York Giants and a very good pitcher away from winning it in 1951, would throw young Willie Mays into a deal for the Santana of his time? It might have thrown the Giants over the top in the series later that year ≠ó but would that have been worth giving up the great Mays? Iím not saying Ellsbury is Mays, just that youíve got to be sure what he actually is going to be before you send him.
The Kevin Garnett Factor: In seeing whatís happening on the parquet I fully acknowledge we have a case in progress of showing how it can work out when you trade promise to a team from Minnesota for a top star in return. And all of that (money aside) says, what are you crazy ó do the deal. Except the fan in me says, I donít want to see my new favorite player traded. If they do it (or have done it already) Iím going to be bummed and weíre going to miss something special.
So Iíll take my chances and say no if Ellsbury is the deal-breaker.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billyís Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM Ė The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.