All of the hullaballoo about Roy Halladay being on the trade market has made many Yankee fans think back to the 2007-2008 off-season, and the Johan Santana trade that wasn't.
For those that need a refresher course, let's recap:
- Johan Santana was on the market that season because he was slated to become a free agent at the end of 2008 and the miserly Twins did not want to pay what it would have cost to kept him.
- Therefore, whatever team traded for Santana would also have to be willing to sign him to a long contract extension as well.
- No one not named Brian Cashman and Bill Smith know for sure, but the rumored deal the Yankees had on the table was Hughes + Melky Cabrera + Jeffrey Marquez.
- Santana ended up going to the Mets for Carlos Gomez, Phillip Humber, Deolis Guerra, and Kevin Mulvey
- Of the four the Mets traded, only Carlos Gomez is currently playing in the Majors.
- It is widely believed that Twins' GM Bill Smith overplayed his hand with the Red Sox and Yankees and settled for a package that, in the words of some, has netted him "nothing".
Got all that?
Now, 2008 was an interesting season, in that despite the Mets' trade and the Yankees' non-trade, neither team made the playoffs.
For the Mets, the problem in 2008 was not Santana. He pitched to an ERA of 2.58 and an ERA+ of 168--while not the best numbers he's ever put up (especially in WHIP), the numbers are still very, very respectable. Sure, he did give up a grand slam to Felix Hernandez (yes, THAT King Felix), but on the whole Santana did exactly what the Mets needed him to do.
The problem, however, was that the Mets kept blowing his leads. His record, 16-7 for 08, is impressive enough...but when you consider that he started 34 games (thus getting a decision in only 23 of these starts) you begin to see how life went for fans of the Mets last season.
For the Yankees, on the other hand, 2008 was an unmitigated disaster for both Hughes and Cabrera; Marquez's season was un-special enough that he ended up being shipped to Chicago with Wilson Betemit for Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira.
Hughes spent most of 2008 injured; he pitched only 34 innings with a WHIP over 1.70 and an ERA over 6.60.
Cabrera started the season hot and cooled off so much that by the end of the season he had an OBP of .301. He was sent down to AAA Scranton; though by then it was far too little too late. In other words, he was as close to an automatic out in the Yankee line up as you could get.
Fast forward one year later, and things have changed.
For instance, Johan Santana, while not necessarily having a bad season, is having a bad season for him and there are warning signs.
- Since 2002, Santana's 3.29 ERA is second only to his 2006 3.33 ERA. Again, it's not that this is a bad stat, but that it's poor for him. After all, his ERA was 2.53 last season and he's moved from the American League to the weaker National League.
- More concerning: his WHIP of 1.22 is the highest it's been since 2002; his H/9 is the highest since 2002; and his walks are up while strikeouts are down. In other words, his peripheral statistics are declining and, at age 30, Santana should be in the middle--not the wrong end--of his prime.
- Mets fans might want to stay away from this one: in the past nine months, Johan Santana has had knee surgery and elbow problems; now word (still just rumors, but keep your ears open) comes to us today that may have just received a cortisone shot.
- Just for kicks: in his last five starts Santana is 1-4 with a 5.64 ERA and nearly equal strike outs to walks. I know Santana can't be blamed for the shoddy defense behind him, but unearned runs don't count towards ERA and he can't blame that start against the Yankees on his defense.
On the other hand, Phil Hughes is finally (first since 2006) having a healthy season for the Yankees.
Called up as an emergency starter during Wang's first d/l stint, Hughes had one ycch start against Baltimore but was okay otherwise, and getting better. Because he only started seven games his numbers are skewed by the Baltimore start but he seemed to improve each time out after that.
After Wang has returned from the d/l (alas only to go back on it), Hughes was shifted to the bullpen--and here he has flat-out excelled, helping, along with Alfredo Aceves and Phil Coke, to rescue what was one of the league's worst bullpens and turned it into one of the league's best. All you really need to know is that as a reliever, Hughes' WHIP is 0.614. Mariano Rivera's WHIP from last year, where he was, statistically the best closer in the league? 0.665.
Granted, Hughes' sample size as a reliever is pretty small, but he shows know sign of slowing. At any rate, Hughes has already pitched more innings, total, this season than he did all of last season. He is, in other words, thriving, and he's still just turned 23 years old.
Melky Cabrera seems to have benefitted from sharing outfield duties with Brett Gardner; but perhaps most interesting is that while his .OBP is still a not-that-inspiring .336, 13 of his 32 RBI--a little less than half--have come in situations defined as close-and-late. Furthermore, 17 of his RBI have come in situations defined as high leverage. The Yankees already have eight walk-off wins on the young season and Cabera is directly responsible for three of them.
In other words, Cabrera might not be getting a whole lot of hits, but when he does, they sure as heck count.
Think that's not important?
The eight walk-offs are a huge reason the Yankees are still only one game back of Boston.
Then there's the other thing to consider:
By not trading for Johan Santana, the Yankees were able to get CC Sabathia in the off-season this year for just money and not prospects, put together the package that netted Nick Swisher--which given Xavier Nady's injury has thus been invaluable--and give us an idea as to what Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero might bring to the table.
So, a year and a half later, what have we learned?
- Patience is a virtue. Prospect development takes time and there are growing pains. This is why it's not right to automatically give up one of Hughes/Chamberlain for Halladay. Hughes/Chamberlain are both just 23 years old and have a lot of growing to do. With Chamberlain there is a legitimate concern as to his declining velocity , but if the Yankees can figure out the cause and solve that problem, they could end up with the potential that they drafted. At any rate, Halladay, Randy Johnson, Johan Santana, two of the three of the Braves trifecta (Maddox/Smoltz/Glavine, I forget which) and plenty of other brand-name pitchers all struggled when they first came up. Unless your name is Tim Lincecum, developing an ace takes time.
- If you are a GM, don't overplay your hand. The Yankees and Red Sox played it perfectly and ultimatley got Johan Santana out of the American League. They now only have to face him in interleague play and/or the World Series, and in 2009 it would take a miracle to get the Mets to the World Series. Not saying that it can't happen, but it's unlikely.
- You can't judge a trade or non-trade based on one year alone. Right now it looks like the Twins got really nothing in the trade except a speedy centerfielder that robs Alex Rodriguez of grand slams, but one can take two things from this: a) the other prospects (may) still be developing, and b) the Mets don't really have much of a farm system. Right now the Mets can't be considered really major players in the Halladay sweepstakes because they simply don't have the farm system to get it done.
- Ultimately, we won't know for another six or seven years as to whether or not the trade should have been made, but what this can do is it can show the type of parameters to consider when talking about Halladay. What is the team willing to give up, and what will it get in return? If not this year, what about next?