I have told before the story of the argument of the man who built the Yankees’ last twenty years of success, Gene “Stick” Michael, on making a big trade for a star pitcher. Still a consultant when New York was offered Johan Santana for Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, and a minor league body, Michael said he would leave the finance and the health to others. But in terms of baseball, he pointed out that whether through injury or under-performance, 50 percent of all pitching prospects don’t even approach their highest ceiling.
Thus, he said, you have to consider the two pitchers as one: Hughnedy, or Kenughes. And suddenly you’re seeing the trade for what it was: one pitcher with 13 so-so major league starts and a proclivity to injury under his belt, for Johan Santana. He said you’d make that deal every day of the week.
And yet the Yankees didn’t make the trade. The money issue is now clear: the only thing the Mets gave up for Santana that has yet to pan out is Philip Humber, and that wasn’t until this year and it wasn’t in Minnesota. The Mets wound up tying up a huge amount of cash in Santana and got one great season, two fair ones, and this one that might see him back from serious surgery to make six or seven starts this year.
Still, the Yankees could’ve afforded that from Santana. As a major league General Manager explained it to me, the reason they didn’t make it was that they must have seen signs that the Twins weren’t certain about Santana’s health. Was he getting extra time between starts? Had his pitch count been limited? Were his innings per-start level, or coming down?
In fact, Santana’s innings per-start had dropped by 0.15% from 2005 to 2006, then another 0.13% from 2006 to 2007, meaning he was coming out of every game roughly one batter sooner in 2007 than he had been in 2005. This other statistic is a little looser as an indicator, but the total number of batters Santana faced in 2007 was 45 fewer than he had in 2006. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but it suggests that the ‘torch factor’ – the exact number of pitches at which you go from being a guy who gets batters out, to a guy who gets torched. For whatever reason, Santana was coming out of games six or seven pitches earlier. That’s a red flag.
All of which brings us to Ubaldo Jimenez. Why wouldn’t you trade for a man who shined the way he did the first half of last year? Why, he was 15-1, and he was still 17-2 and the consensus Cy Young Winner before he got “tired.” He’s a solid citizen, and judging by that ‘bicycle license plate’ commercial, a very funny, grounded man. Heck, he’s got an Emmy Award for narrating a special for the regional cable network in Denver (I don’t have an Emmy Award). Well, in the year since he reached that 15-1 mark, he’s 10-16. And if that number is too obvious for you, let’s go back to the tip-off the Yanks evidently used on Santana. In 2010, Jimenez lasted 6.71 innings per start. This year, he’s lasted 5.86.
That number suggests if he’s not hurt, he’s going to be.
So what did the Indians give up for this? A pitcher in Alex White who had successfully stepped into their rotation before a serious but hardly chronic finger injury knocked him out. He’s just beginning rehab and should be starting for Colorado within a couple of weeks, and he’s a sinkerballer going to the thin air of Denver. Then there’s Joe Gardner, a pitcher who’s struggled in AA, but another sinkerballer. And then there’s Drew Pomeranz, that rarest of pitchers, the lefthanded flamethrower. There’s a high-risk throw-in, an ex-catcher named Matt McBride.
All of this for a Jekyll-and-Hyde starter who is showing early signs that a serious injury is in his immediate future. Or, if it isn’t, that he reached a peak of efficiency last July and has been heading downhill ever since. I’m confident that this is a trade the Indians will regret next year. I think they may regret it next month.