In general, I’m a very big believer in the present tense as it relates to sports. While I absolutely appreciate the concepts of “up-and-coming,” “upside” and “potential,” most of the time I look at all those terms and just think they’re nicer ways of saying “haven’t made it yet.”
In baseball (especially when it comes to the Yankees), I feel even more strongly about this. Do I think the Yankees should be a team of guns-for-hire? Mercenaries? A team that – to borrow a recently nonsensical quote – just goes out and signs the Cy Young award winner every year?
Hardly. But I do think that, when given a chance to pull the trigger on a deal for a high-level established major leaguer (especially a pitcher), it’s worth giving up a lot of “prospects” to make it happen. In other words, I would have absolutely made the deal for Johan Santana a few years back.
That trade (or non-trade, I suppose) may well go down as one of the best decisions that Brian Cashman made. Some folks will be revisionists and say they “knew all along” it was a bad idea but I’ll cop to my true thoughts at the time and take my lumps – I thought the Yankees should have pushed for Santana two years ago and, given the same set of circumstances now I’d probably say they should push for it again. As Moshe wrote this morning, I’ll always value a player who I know can play at the major-league level over someone who may be able to play at the major league level. There are too many can’t-miss prospects who do; too many guys who burn out before they ever make it big.
If you look now at the potential Santana deal the Yankees could have made, you’d have to call the Yankees winners overall; they probably wouldn’t have had the money to sign CC Sabathia and/or A.J. Burnett and/or Mark Teixeira if they’d given Santana an extension, for starters, and then there are the prospects. The Yankees used Ian Kennedy and Melky Cabrera in other trades (hello, Curtis Granderson and Javy Vazquez), while Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez were in the Nick Swisher deal. Phil Hughes? Well, you know what’s happened to him.
Thing is, while Santana hasn’t been as successful for the Mets as they’d imagined (though he’s been pretty darn good), but who knows what he would have done for the Yankees. And who knows how the budgets of the past few years would have played out if he’d gotten an extension in the Bronx instead of in Queens. It’s easy to look at where everyone is right now and say the Yankees did the right thing, but maybe they’d have done even better over the past few years? And more importantly, what did you think they should have done at the time?
Given the exact same opportunity for the exact same star player and the exact same prospects (at that point in their careers) again, I still think I’d be in favor of going out and getting the best pitcher in baseball. That’s no knock on the Hughes of a few years ago (or any of the other kids in the deal); it’s more a testament to what I believe the value of an established superstar is and should be.
What would you do?