(Long Island, NY) All the questions could have been avoided if the Yankees just pulled the trigger on the most obvious of needs and make the deal for lefthanded starter Johan Santana. The two-time American League Cy Young Award winner and arguably the game’s best pitcher was dangled by Minnesota general manager Bill Smith during the Winter Meetings in Nashville. After failing to come to an agreement on a contract extension with him, the Twins practically begged someone to make them a reasonable offer for Santana. Not as many clubs lined up as one would have expected.
The front-runners ended up being the Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Both made quality offers, which Smith contemplated by seeming to be holding out for more. As the winter progressed, the Mets started to look like a team that may end up with the star hurler by default. The Bronx Bombers and Red Sox would not give in and include a second blue-chip prospect, while the Mets waited it out.
After becoming the only suitor, Mets GM Omar Minaya offered a package of four youngsters that – on paper – appeared to be much less than what both American League East teams had on the table. However, the Mets were the ones to make the deal and now are showcasing their ace to throw the first pitch in 2008 on March 31 in Florida.
The Yankees? They are going north with a rotation that can be viewed as a disaster waiting to happen. Their ace, Chien-Ming Wang, has an 8.04 ERA in five spring training starts. Andy Pettitte, who had a rough offseason with all the HGH talk, has already been scratched from his scheduled start in the second game of the regular season due to back spasms and will be replaced by Mike Mussina, who is coming off his worst season in 2007 but actually looked sharp in three exhibition starts.
Pettitte is starting a minor league game on March 30 and if all goes well, he will be in line to start either the fourth or fifth game of the season. Not having thrown in a game since St. Patrick’s Day, he will need to get an ample amount of work in before being in regular-season form.
“I think it’s fairly important so we know he can get close to 100 [pitches] his first start,” manager Joe Girardi said to reporters. “His bullpen was good [Wednesday] and his arm felt great. In the long run, this might help him.”
Bumping up in the rotation are the two phenoms, Phillip Hughes and Ian Kennedy, who were discussed prominently in the Santana trade talks. Kennedy has fared well, with a 2.00 ERA in five spring appearances. But Hughes, the more highly-touted prospect, has surrendered 18 hits and 8 runs in 18 innings, bad enough for an ERA over seven.
It is not the end of the world when pitchers are not sharp in spring training, but considering the Yankees do not have a big margin of error, passing on a sure-thing like Santana may come back to haunt them all summer long.