02 December 2002

The Less-Than-Perfect Trade

Welcome to another edition of the Perfect Trade Show. Every baseball fan has heard it at least once. It usually happens during the Rain-Delay-Gotta-Pass-Time-Somehow-So-We'll-Open-Up-the-Phone-Lines-and-Any-Idiot-Can-Call-In-Show. The [Whoozits] are having problems with [position] and everybody knows it. Some player on [Doo-Wahs], who are going nowhere, is really good at that position, is young and relatively cheap. Some knucklehead calls in and says, "Hey, Why don't the [Whoozits] just trade for [really awesome, young, cheap player] from the [Doo-Wahs]? He's good, and what do they need him for? They suck! We can give them [1/2 dozen or more minor league scrubs and/or aging, under productive free agents]! That would solve the problem right there!" Caller hangs up, beaming because he has just solved his favorite team's problem perfectly. Show hosts proceed to mock caller for his naivete, and probably his accent, saying that trading seven or eight lousy players for one great one will never happen. You idiot.

Last year, I heard this on a Yankee rain delay. Someone called in and asked, "Why don't the Yankees just solve their left field problem by trading for Vladimir Guerrero? What do the Expos need with him? They suck anyway. We could give them Orlando Hernandez and Christian Parker and Chuck Knoblauch and David Justice and Randy Kiesler or something like that!" Add a case of Stadium Dogs, and you'd have probably had a deal. John Sterling and Michael Kay then laughed about this, pointed out the obviously ludicrous nature of the suggestion that a Superstar player like Vlad the Impaler could come at the cost of all the Yankees' flotsam and jetsam, and went on to the next caller.

Well, now Bob Klapisch is reporting that the Yanks are actually considering a trade with the Expos, not for Vlad, but for Bartolo Colon. Of course, Omar Minaya denies it, and anyway is smarter than to consider such a ridiculous trade as that mentioned above, but Bartolo for Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera and maybe El Duque is at least a viable option. I'm certainly not privy to any of the trade talks, but it seems to me that this rumour must not be true, because Minaya would be a fool not to accept it. His bosses, ironically his competition, won't be give him the chance to sign Colon, whose market value is currently as high as it's ever going to be, not for the kind of scratch a 20-game winner is going to demand, but Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera can be renewed for several more years before hitting arbitration. Hernandez is a decent starter, and would fit in nicely as a #2 or #3 in Montreal, and if he asks too much next year, they can let him go as a free agent. They won't have Colon after next year anyway. And Johnson should turn into a very special hitter in the next few years.

According to Klapisch, the trade makes sense for the Yankees, who may have to pay Roger Clemens $10 million per year for two years just to make sure that he wins his seventh game next year (the 300th of his career) in Pinstripes. Clemens will already receive about $10 mil in deferred compensation from his previous contract with the Yankees, and they'd hate to have to be paying him to pitch for someone else, but he will be 41 at the end of 2003, and has only pitched more than 205 innings once since joining the Bombers in 1999. He may be one of the hardest-working 41-year olds around, but he's probably not worth what Manny Ramirez is getting paid.

I honestly don't know a ton about Juan Rivera, but I've seen him play a pretty good defensive CF, and if he can hit .275/.330/.450 next year, his defense will help improve on Bernie Williams' enough that they won't need to trade for/sign another OF. John Sickels, who knows more about such things than most of us do, pretty much agrees. Obviously they've gotta do something with the Rondell White/Raul Mondesi/Shane Spencer/Juan Rivera/Nick Johnson/Hideki Matsui OF/DH logjam, and Klapisch suggests that this trade would be just the thing. I suggest that they bite the bullet and make the unpopular but sensible trade with the Mets and Rockies instead, getting rid of White and Mondesi, freeing up salary to get someone like Matsui, and that they keep Juan Rivera, who would make the MLB minimum, freeing up enough salary to pay Clemens or someone else the money Roger's requesting. They will have plenty of offense to go around, with Jeter, Posada, Giambi and Bernie Williams providing their consistent levels of production, Nick Johnson maturing another year, Alfonso Soriano likely splitting the difference between his 2001 and 2002 seasons, and whomever they insert at 3B (Ventura) and the remaining OF spot (Matsui), that they can afford to suffer Rivera's offensive contributions for a season.

This could be a terrible trade for the Yankees, regardless of what the Rocket does next year. Not because Juan Rivera is the second coming of Mickey Mantle, but because Bartolo Colon may be the second coming of Kenny Rogers. Rogers was a decent pitcher with Texas, but was signed to a 4-year, $20 million contract (which was a lot of money, way back in 1996) on the merits of an uncharacteristically good 1995 season, during which he won a career-high 17 decisions and had an ERA two thirds of a run lower than his previous career average. When he went back to his established levels of play, he was villified by Yankee fans, scapegoated by Yankee brass, and caricatured by the Yankee beatwriters.

Colon, though clearly not the type of pitcher that Rogers was when he came to the Big Apple, is in a similar situation: His career ERA before the start of the 2002 season was 4.09, so his 2.93 of last year was, if not a "fluke" at least not typical. Winning 20 games also marked a career-best, two more wins than his previous high-water mark, in 1998. Colon is only 29 right now, but players in his shape (read: pear) don't tend to wear well. Roger Clemens may be of a similar body type now, but he was quite a bit leaner at the age of 29 than Colon is. And the contract he'd demand, something like Mike Mussina's 6 years/$88.5 million, would be an albatross around the Yankees' collective necks about half way into it, at best.

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