Yesterday Rob Abruzzese of Bronx Baseball Daily wrote a post pondering whether the Yankees and Mets lined up at all with regards to a potential Johan Santana trade. Mind you, this was pure speculation on Rob’s part — no one in the media has reported anything about this hypothetical, and on the surface it seems pretty inconceivable that the Mets would ever consider trading their brittle ace to their crosstown rival.
However, given the speculative nature of the baseball offseason I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at what the possible parameters of a midseason Johan-Santana-to-the-Yankees trade — however unrealistic the idea is — might be.
Let’s start with the reasons why the Yankees would be interested in Santana, aside from the fact that they have two holes to fill in the back of the rotation.
- For one, he’s one of the best lefthanders in the game — in fact, since coming over to the Mets prior to the 2008 season he’s been the second-most valuable lefthander by fWAR (11.0) in the National League — and we know that filling the Yankee pitching staff with as many lefties as possible to mitigate the damage done to the short porch in right is always a desirable strategy.
- Two, his fastball — despite a steady decline in velocity during the past three seasons — remains one of the most effective in the game (47.3 runs above average since 2008, second only to Matt Cain during that time period in the NL) because it’s complemented by an absurdly good changeup that’s been worth 33.9 runs above average since 2008, third in the NL behind Tim Lincecum and Cole Hamels. Someone please remind Phil Franchise that his ceiling will remain that of a solid #2 starter unless he finally figures out a way to develop a reliable offspeed pitch.
- Three, he limits the damage. He routinely outpitches his FIP due in part to his absurdly high strand rate — 80.1% over the last three years, second in the National League to Roy Halladay — and having posted a strand rate of 76.3% or higher in each of his past eight seasons (77.6% career LOB%), we can’t chalk it up to luck, either (.275 career BABIP). The man is simply a beast when it comes to getting outs with men on base.
- Four, he barely walks anybody — his 2.46 mark over the last three seasons is the 4th-lowest BB/9 among lefthanded starters since 2008.
Now, why on earth would the Mets want to trade their best pitcher?
- For one, he’s been rather injury-prone since signing his extension with the Metropolitans, missing multiple starts in both 2009 and 2010 before being shut down for the year last September for surgery on his left shoulder. It sounds like the best-case scenario for Johan’s return is late June, but more likely early July. If recent history is any indication — combined with the fact that the Mets haven’t really done much to improve their anemic offensive attack while 2011 World Champion t-shirts are already being printed in Philadelphia — the Mets will probably be out of the playoff race by the time Santana comes back.
- This ties in neatly with the second reason — while no one knows for certain what the Wilpons’ financial situation is, it’s not exactly looking great these days, and it’s possible the team decides it simply can’t afford to have $77.5 million ($97 million if they inexplicably pick up his $25 million option for 2014) tied up in one surgically-reconstructed injury-prone player through 2013.
- Three, he ain’t gettin’ any younger and his average fastball speed dipped below 90mph last season (89.4) for the first time in his career. Once a player falls below 90mph we don’t often hear too many stories about the missing velocity magically returning. While I have no doubt Johan has enough talent to survive and prosper through a decline in velocity for a few years, that’s still a pretty hefty average annual contract for a player whose average fastball speed has fallen for four straight seasons.
So what exactly would it cost the Yankees to trade for Johan? Running the remainder of Santana’s contract through Sky Kalkman’s Trade Calculator (assuming the 2014 option is bought out, using projected WAR from The Hardball Times’ Oliver projection system and salary data from Cot’s), Johan’s cost-prohibitive contract actually makes his trade value negative $30.4 million. Basically, before the two teams even began to discuss players, the Mets would likely have to cover more than a third of the remainder of Santana’s deal if they wanted anything of substance in return. If the Mets truly were looking for salary relief, they could probably ask the Yankees to take on all of Santana’s contract and be done with it, although it’d probably be an impossible sell to the fanbase. If the Mets did cover that $30.4 million, the Yanks would still be on the hook for $47.1 million — a rather large chunk of change to absorb in a trade any way you slice it.
As Rob noted in his post, unless the Mets were willing to pay the bulk of Santana’s salary (or take on someone like A.J. Burnett), it makes no financial sense for the Yankees to send anything of quality to the Mets in a hypothetical deal. And now we’re running around in circles, given that the primary incentive behind a Johan trade for the Mets would be to clear payroll. Essentially, for this hypothetical to work, the Mets would have to agree to surrender Santana to the Yankees for just money and no players. Of course, at the end of the day the likelihood of these two teams even trading with each other is slim to none, as Mets fans would likely have a collective heart attack if the Wilpons sold their best pitcher to the hated Yankees.
ETA, 11:16 AM: Unbeknownst to me, our good friend Stephen Rhoades actually tackled this exact same topic — in far more comprehensive fashion — in a two-part series on River Ave. Blues at the end of January. Be sure to check those pieces out if you haven’t already done so.
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