Saturday, January 12, 2008

Is Johan Santana The Next Herschel Walker?

Okay, so I might be a tad bit pre-occupied with Johan Santana. I've tried to fight it, but it's no use. Hence, you get two Santana-related musings in the span of 48 hours.

I know what scares you. I know why you're reluctant to gut the farm for Santana. I know what is making you guys and gals tick on this particular issue:

You're scared that Fernando Martinez is going to become the next Emmitt Smith, and that Johan Santana is going to be the next Herschel Walker.

For those of you not so football savvy let me take you back to a more innocent time in America's history. The Dallas Cowboys had one excellent, established NFL caliber player, along with a couple of promising rookies you might have heard of named Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. But there wasn't enough top quality talent to get them more than the three wins they got in 1998, nor the one win they would get in 1989. So the Cowboys took their one, excellent, established NFL player named Herschel Walker, and traded him along with four draft picks (one of which would become Jake Reed) to the Minnesota Vikings (figures that Minnesota would be involved in this vignette). The Vikes, who some thought to be one player away after just missing the Super Bowl in 1988, thought that Walker was that player. So they traded, get this: five NFL players and eight draft picks.

(And you thought five minor leaguers was a lot.)

The epilogue is that one of those draft picks turned into Hall of Famer, all-time rushing leader, and Dancing With The Stars champ Emmitt Smith. Other draft picks obtained in the trade were used as bait to acquire other picks used to draft CB Darren Woodson, and NT Russell Maryland. Smith, Woodson, and Maryland combined with Aikman and Irvin to help the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles in the nineties.

Walker, meanwhile, was far from the specimen that the Vikings had hoped he would be. When Herschel was with the USFL's New Jersey Generals, he was a beast. I saw him at a trade show at the Javits center where he was signing autographs and the guy had a neck the size of a tree trunk. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how this guy got tackled. With the Generals and the Cowboys (not to mention his time in Georgia, where he should have won two Heisman Trophies instead of one) many people tried to tackle him ... most failed miserably.

But by the time he got to the Vikings, the perfect storm of failure hit. Walker got a little older. All those broken tackles added some tread on his tires. And part of it was Walker being misused by Vikings coach Jerry Burns. Walker had become the most physically imposing and the most expensive third down back in the history of the NFL (think Santana as the eighth inning guy.) Walker went on to be a bobsledder on the 1992 Olympic team, and now he sells chicken wings to pizza shops, bowling alleys, and casinos. No, really!

But you're worried that by trading the plethora of future stars that are being talked about in this deal, that the Mets are going to turn the Minnesota Twins into the Dallas Cowboys, and that Johan Santana is going to sell chicken products to country clubs by the time the sheen has worn off Citi Field.

And you're scared that Minnesota being involved signals some sort of passing of the torch of bad lopsided trades, much the same way as the Phillies passed the curse of Gene Mauch to the Mets last September.

Of course. Because the last time the Mets made a five-for-one deal, it was also with Minnesota. That was a deal that sent Rick Aguilera and Kevin Tapani to the Twins for what was basically one fantastic season and two mediocre ones from Frank Viola. Aguilera went on to become the best closer in Twins history (with apologies to Firpo Marberry ... not to be confused with Stephon Marbury).

But what of the other players in that trade? David West was touted as being Steve Carlton with more hop on his fastball. How did that work out?

Jack Savage had awesome minor league stats with the Dodgers, and was part of the Jesse Orosco trade before he moved on to the Twins. Perhaps he was a more highly touted product than he should have been because of his awesome name, but his minor league stats did make people drool. Savage is most famous for being the subject of a short lived NBC television series.

Oh sorry, Jack Savage now resides in Louisville.

And Tim Drummond somehow found time for a baseball career in between Neil Young and Eric Clapton concerts.

Point being this: The trade that's being discussed by us (if not necessarily by the Mets), which is Martinez, Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, and Phil Humber, is steep. It's top heavy with Martinez, and it's deep at the back-end. But let's face it: It's very rare that a five-for-one trade manifests itself into even three players hitting it big in the majors. Fernando Martinez could indeed be Emmitt Smith.

Or ... he could be Alex Escobar.

Alex Escobar, for those of you ten and under (or those who just picked up the sport last week), was Fernando Martinez before Martinez was cool. He was traded in another large player deal ... the one for lousy punk Robby Alomar. That trade could have been a disaster too, and on the Mets' end it sure was, as Alomar turned out to be one of the most disappointing players ever to put on a Mets uniform. But Alex Escobar, for all of his "tools", never turned into that player that was going to make the Mets really regret that trade.

Baseball's landscape is littered with guys that had all the tools in the world but amounted to nothing in the major leagues. It's proven fact. Escobar isn't going to be the first, and he isn't going to be the last. Yusmeiro Petit, once a top notch Mets prospect who was traded for Carlos Delgado, and Gaby Hernandez, who was traded for Paul Lo Duca, have both found it significantly tougher after moving on to higher levels. Petit hasn't set the world on fire after a 9-3 season at Binghamton, and it's been rough sledding for Hernandez after pitching a no-hitter at Hagerstown.

Unless you're talking about the number one prospect on your system for, say, a 29-year-old mediocre pitcher with arm trouble, prospects are tricky to figure out. And if that deal involving said number one prospect for mediocre damaged goods is scaring you, just understand that Johan Santana is not Victor Zambrano. If that deal is scaring the Mets front office, then they need to grow a set.

Now if the Mets are merely holding back so as not to bid against themselves in terms of prospects ... if indeed the two-headed albatross known as the Yankees and Red Sox are out ... then the Mets are playing it very smart. But if that strategy results in the Mets getting too cute for their own good, allowing either dragon head to re-enter the bidding, that's not so good. Maybe five is a bit much. But if it's such a deep offer, then perhaps holding back a pitching prospect like Mulvey or Guerra instead of insisting on keeping one of the outfielders would be just as smart a play as keeping Martinez or Gomez. And that might be the trick in getting a deal like that done.

And remember, we're not talking Victor Zambrano. We're not talking Frank Viola. And we're not even talking Herschel Walker. We're talking one of the best pitchers of our generation. Because of that, I'm willing to keep an open mind in terms of who, and how many, go the other way.

As long as Willie doesn't employ Johan as a third-down slot receiver ...


metsnyc said...

Dating yourself a bit with the Herschel reference, but unfortunately so am I by relating to it.

MetFanMac said...

What's this "BALLHYPE" thingamajig?

Demitri said...

I can understand the fear and loathing - but you're right on regarding the fact that Johan is NOT Victor Zambrano. I think of how the fallout over not going after A-Rod (the 1st time) colored Mets GM decisions from then on, and I fear that the same thing is happening here.

I think 2 other trades are more easily comparable- even though they were for catchers not pitchers:

Gary Carter for: Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham, and Floyd Youmans.

I remember Youmans pitching extremely well against the mets in the 80s, and I remember a lot of flack for including Brooks.

And of course the Piazza trade (for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz). Wilson had some good years in FLorida, and was a particular pain to the Mets.

In both cases, they made trades at times the mets were 1 player away from being a World Series team. Isn't this the situation now?

Even if you follow the Frank Viola Theorem - they get one great year out of Santana (plus 4 of 5 mediocre ones) - and they win the 2008 Series, I think we'll all be happier than if he goes to the Yankees, pitches for them in the playoffs, and the Mets finish second to the Phillies again.

katherine said...

I'm obsessed too. I think I'm so traumatized by last season I need something major to happen, NOW, to allow me to enjoy 2008. Really, I am actually dreading the season right now. Every year my sister, a Yankee fan, invites me to one of the Yankee/Mets games, and the thought of the Mets facing Johan, and my sister lording it over me, is more than I can bear. (Happy to report, the game we attended last year, was the friday night game in which we beat Roger Clemens, oh BLISS. And at that game, I saw the Yankee security guards confiscating a poster that two Mets fans were parading around with that said, "I have a fatigued groin". I tried to intervene, I came to their defense, to no avail. This was a few weeks before the infamous Cynthia Rodriguez game.)

MP said...

As I've said in the past...Omar needs to pull the trigger. What are the odds one of F-Mart, Mulvey, Guerra, or Humber becomes a Santana quality player? If I were a redneck this would warrant a Larry the Cable Guy reference.