Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Get ready for a ton of baseball rumors, wild trade scenarios and free agent signings, because the giant schmooze fest known as Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings gets underway next week at the Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tennessee.
While the big-name free agents are pretty much off the board, there are still a ton of middle-of-the-road players to be had. But what is expected to dominate the week's headlines is the trade talk regarding one of the biggest names in the sport, Minnesota ace left-hander Johan Santana.
Depending on who you believe, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox (who else?) are the front-runners to land the two-time Cy Young Award winner's services. Both teams have the prospects and, of course, the money to lock him up to a long-term deal.
The Twins supposedly want one of the Yankees' "big three" pitchers (Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes) plus either a Melky Cabrera or Robinson Cano and a lower-level prospect (Jose Tabata, Alan Horne, Austin Jackson). The Yanks seem intent on not dealing Chamberlain or Cano, but would probably part with Hughes if they had to in order to land Santana.
Hughes, Cabrera and Tabata should be able to get it done.
Minnesota covets Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, but he is apparently the deal-breaker for the Red Sox. They are not willing to move him. I am skeptical on whether or not they would deal Clay Buchholz either, but if you read the reports, they seem ready to include him and Jon Lester in a deal. Any deal, though, would have to include Ellsbury, and that is just not going to happen.
There are not many aces in the game, but Santana is one of them.
Let's be honest. The Yankees need Santana more than the Red Sox do. If push comes to shove and the Twins insist on the Yankees including Chamberlain to get a deal done, they should do it. And, despite all the reports saying that they wouldn't, I think they would. Remember this is the same team that said "goodbye" to A-Rod a few weeks back. Now here he is on the cusp of a $300 million deal. It is all posturing at this point. Don't believe anything you read.
We don't know what Joba Chamberlain is going to be. We know what Johan Santana is. There is a long line of "can't miss" prospects that have never panned out. Chamberlain has thrown 24 big league innings and has never made a start. You are telling me that he is going to give you more the next five or six years than Santana? I highly doubt it.
When Montreal put Pedro Martinez on the block back in 1997, the Red Sox had a trio of young pitching studs in their system too. The Red Sox told the Expos they could have two of the following three: Brian Rose, Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. Think there are any Red Sox fans left that still think they gave up too much in that deal? Because there were sure some back then that thought Pavano and Armas was too much.
Santana is just entering his prime. You have to give something to get something. This is a no-brainer, especially given the pitching depth in the Yankees farm system these days. A dominant, lefty pitcher in Yankee Stadium is worth a lot of money.
But then again, he is also going to be asking for an extension that could pay him six years at $25 million per season. Can you name me the $100 million pitcher that has succeeded? Good luck, because you can't. Kevin Brown, Mike Hampton, Barry Zito, they all stunk after signing those deals. Plus, you have to add in the New York factor, and whether or not Santana can handle the big stage.
Not to mention that Phil Hughes already has as many playoff wins as Santana.
Last year was a down year for Santana, who was 5-7 with a 4.04 earned run average in the second half of the season, allowing 88 hits (16 of which were home runs) over 98 innings. Plus, he pitched to a 5.70 ERA against teams from the AL East - with the exception of the Yanks - a year ago.
Sure, there are some drawbacks, but pitchers like this come around once or twice a decade and are rarely available. The three guys mentioned above were nowhere near the pitcher Santana is. You have to get him. It really should not be debated. Think about how many actual "aces" there are in the game today. There are not many, but Santana is one of them.
The Yankees are not the only team in New York that covets Santana either. The Mets supposedly want him bad, but they just don't have the chips to get him. Unless, of course, they try and get creative and send Jose Reyes or David Wright packing. I don't see that happening, though.
Santana is not going to be the only superstar discussed this week.
I expect one of the Los Angeles teams to finalize a deal for Miguel Cabrera. Whatever team comes up the loser in that sweepstakes could become the leading candidate to pry Miguel Tejada out of Baltimore.
Santana or not, the Mets are going to be active this week. Omar Minaya has been surprisingly quiet this offseason. He will surely come up short in the Santana sweepstakes, but could wind up with Oakland ace Danny Haren, who is apparently available. I still can't understand why the A's are shopping him, but Billy Beane loves Lastings Milledge for some reason.
I would also suspect the Mets would be in on any potential Erik Bedard deal. If Santana is dealt as expected, the Bedard talks should start to gain some steam. Don't be surprised if the Mets walk away with not only Bedard, but catcher Ramon Hernandez as well.
As far as big-name free agents remaining, the cupboard is pretty bare. Aaron Rowand and Andruw Jones are still out there, but I haven't heard a lot on either front. I thought all along Rowand would either re-sign in Philadelphia or head back to Chicago. The Phils, though, seem to be out of the running, and the White Sox have turned their attention to Boston's Coco Crisp. Apparently Rowand's demands are turning a lot of clubs off.
I expect Rowand to land either with the Texas Rangers or Los Angeles Dodgers, but it will be for less than the six years and $84 million he is supposedly looking for.
As for Jones, I have no idea. I haven't heard anything on him. My best guess is that right now, given his horrendous 2007 campaign, he is contemplating signing with a team for one year then hitting the market again next winter. If that turns out to be the case, there will be a lot of teams in on him.
It should be a fun week, though. Last year nothing really transpired at these meetings, but I have a feeling we are going to see a lot of movement this time around. Of course, I will be down there and will be updating my blog (http://ruddickmlbblog.blogspot.com/) throughout with the all the up-to-the- minute rumors.