New York, evidently, needs Johan Santana.
Since the Minnesota Twins made their star pitcher available in a trade, the Yankees’ Hank Steinbrenner made it known that the team is negotiating to put him in pinstripes. Meanwhile, Mets general manager Omar Minaya is fixated on landing Santana to throw the first pitch at CitiField, and resolve a three-year obsession with landing a number-one starter.
The competition for Santana’s services is unlikely to be resolved based on money alone. The team that lands him, whichever it is, will certainly pony up for a contract extension of 6-7 years at $150 million. Instead, the question is: which team can put together the trade package that the Twins will finally bite on?
Here is a guide to the players you will hear about in the coming days (and weeks?) as elements of a possible mega-deal.
For the Yankees
Good Bets to Go
Why he will go: Hughes is a frontline pitching prospect beyond any that the Mets can offer. The Twins could simply slot him into the rotation next season, and with his four strong pitches, he could conceivably replicate Santana’s success, should he stay healthy. He wouldn’t cost the Twins much, as a second-year player, for several years.
Why he won’t go: If the Yankees can put together a deal with any other pitcher as the centerpiece, excluding Joba Chamberlain, they will.
Why he will go: The Twins need a center fielder to replace the departed Torii Hunter, and Melky is the highest-upside, cheapest option the Yankees have. Questions about his long-term potential, with two straight seasons of below-average offensive production, leave him as an unlikely centerpiece. But it is hard to imagine the trade happening without Melky in it, simply because of the alternatives the Yankees can offer.
Why he won’t go: The Yankees won’t want to blow another $60-70 million on a free agent center fielder like Aaron Rowand or Andruw Jones.
Why he will go: If the Yankees need to add a second quality pitcher, Kennedy could be the one. He could be put into a starting rotation right now, though his stuff is merely average, making him more likely to pan out as a number 3-4 than a number 1. The Yankees don’t really have another major league-ready pitcher to throw Minnesota’s way, unless they deal Chamberlain (they don’t want to) or Chien-Ming Wang (Minnesota doesn’t want him).
Why he won’t go: It opens up two spots in the rotation if Hughes and Kennedy are dealt. That either means another year of counting on Mike Mussina, or a free agent contract for Carlos Silva.
Why he will go: Despite his youth (he’s 20) and inexperience (only one season of high-A ball), Jackson represents the closest thing the Yankees have to a ready-to-go top hitting prospect. This is not a knock on Jackson, who tore through the Florida State League, a notorious pitchers’ league. But optimistically, the earliest he is likely to be ready is 2009.
Why he won’t go: Minnesota may prefer another high-end pitcher to Jackson.
Why he will go: If the Yankees are determined to get a deal for Santana done, and especially if the Mets end up as the other serious team in the running, a Joba/Hughes-based deal should put any Minnesota doubts to bed. He is a trump card.
Why he won’t go: Dealing Chamberlain and Hughes puts to rest any idea that the Yankees are looking to build around young pitching. Both the organization and its fans prefer Chamberlain to Hughes. They are both top-flight prospects.
Why he will go: If the bidding goes high enough, the Yankees may need to counter with a star offensive player. Cano is the only one young enough for Minnesota.
Why he won’t go: He’s still too expensive, entering his fourth year.
Why he will go: If Minnesota decides they want a pitcher with a track record, Wang has it.
Why he won’t go: He’s also too expensive, entering his fourth year. He’d also be a poor fit for Minnesota, with a 4.85 ERA for his career on turf.
For the Mets
Good Bets to Go
Why he will go: Because the Mets can trade him, a high-upside center fielder, without worrying about the position in the near future, thanks to Carlos Beltran. Because Minnesota likes him, and has asked about him on several occasions in the past. Because he’s probably not ready for 2008, and the Mets have a player in front of him developmentally in Lastings Milledge, and one behind him in Fernando Martinez.
Why he won’t go: Because if Minnesota wants someone to plug in immediately, Milledge is a surer bet, though without the same level of raw tools.
Why he will go: Because he offers Minnesota a plus-defensive center fielder who already hit better than league average as a 22-year-old. He is younger than Melky Cabrera, most scouts see his long-term potential as better, and he’ll be more valuable to Minnesota than the Mets because he won’t play center field for New York.
Why he won’t go: If the Mets can package around Gomez, even if it means giving up more secondary players in the deal, they’ll do it, since Milledge is penciled in to start in right field in 2008.
Why he will go: He offers a frontline pitching prospect. Even though he has struggled at the major-league level, his fastball velocity remained consistent through the second half of the season, and if he simply fails to become consistent with his off-speed pitches, he still profiles well as a closer. If they work, he can be a top-flight starter.
Why he won’t go: He may not be a better in-house option than the pitchers Minnesota already has.
Why he will go: An insane home run rate in AA (4 home runs in 151 2/3 innings) and major-league polish to his pitches make this average-stuff pitching prospect a lesser-but-comparable counterweight to Ian Kennedy.
Why he won’t go: The Mets will need someone to step in when Orlando Hernandez gets hurt next year. Also, a groundball pitcher is less effective on turf. (See Wang, Chien-Ming.)
Why he will go: If the Twins want a potential buy-low prospect, Humber is a nice bet. His numbers in AAA last year look artificially mediocre in the hitter-happy Pacific Coast League. But he was a top prospect and is now sufficiently removed from Tommy John Surgery to regain more sharpness on the three pitches he can command. And taking a chance on quantity over quality in the risk-rich world of pitching prospects is almost always a good idea.
Why he won’t go: If Pelfrey and Mulvey are already in the deal, the Mets would really leave themselves without a viable starting option if El Duque goes down. And the odds of that happening are, well, it’s happening.
Why he will go: If the Twins demand a second high-level hitting prospect, the 19-year-old Martinez offers a plus bat. He also held his own at AA as an 18-year-old, which is rare. That he did it while playing through a broken hand makes questions about his ceiling moot at this point.
Why he won’t go: The Mets love him desperately, and if the Twins want more immediate help, both Milledge and Gomez are likely to provide that sooner.
Why he will go: His September swoon frustrated the front office and angered Mets fans. If the Yankees offer Cano, and the Mets want to top the offer, Reyes may be the only w
ay to persuade Minnesota.
Why he won’t go: Even Jim Duquette himself, father of Kazmir-for-Zambrano, knows you don’t trade gold-glove caliber shortstops with top-level offensive games entering their age 25-seasons. That combination might be the only thing harder to find in baseball than a number-one starter.