Living for the moment
Suddenly the big boys are willing to deal blue chips
Posted: Wednesday December 5, 2007 1:55PM; Updated: Wednesday December 5, 2007 1:55PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It used to be -- maybe a week ago or so -- that major league teams, every last one of them, would get all huffy about the importance of holding onto their young and talented prospects. Build from within, they all said. Scout and develop. Go homegrown. That's the way to do business.
Then baseball's winter meetings rolled around, and in the span of a couple of wild and drink-filled trading days, something in the Tennessee mountain air -- or maybe it's just a crappy free-agent market -- suddenly has all these teams looking like some deadbeat mom on Jerry Springer.
That homegrown thing? Forget it. Give up the kids. Now.
The best young players in some of the game's premier organizations -- including the Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, Mets and Tigers -- either have been dealt out of their organizations in the last couple of days or appear to be on the verge of it.
It's a risky strategy, leveraging the future against the present. But many teams, loudly and clearly, have suggested that they're willing to give up at least a part of their future for short-term success. The list of prospects on the table, or on the move, is a veritable Who's Who of future stars, straight out of the pages of Baseball America:
The Yankees' Phil Hughes (No. 4 on Baseball America's Top 100 prospects of 2007) and Ian Kennedy, both mentioned in a possible deal for Minnesota ace Johan Santana.
Detroit's Andrew Miller (No. 10) and Cameron Maybin (No. 6), sent to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in the blockbuster trade of the winter.
Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury (No. 33), Jon Lester (No. 22 on the 2006 list) and Jed Lowrie, all being talked about in the team's bid to land Santana.
The Angels' Howie Kendrick (No. 12 on the 2006 list) and Nick Adenhart (No. 34 in '07), earlier rumored in a possible trade for Cabrera. The Angels' Brandon Wood (No. 8) also has been mentioned as a possible chip for the Orioles' Miguel Tejada.
Delmon Young (No. 3), already traded by the Rays to the Twins, and Elijah Dukes, dealt by the Rays to the Nationals.
The Twins' Matt Garza (No. 21), moved in the deal for Young.
Tim Lincecum (No. 11) of the Giants, who has been discussed in a trade for Toronto's Alex Rios.
Mets pitcher Philip Humber (No. 73) and outfielder Carlos Gomez (No. 60), reportedly being discussed in a trade for the Orioles' Erik Bedard. New York has already dealt outfielder Lastings Milledge (No. 9 on the 2006 list) to the Nationals.
Untouchables? That's an endangered species in baseball circles this winter.
To be fair, most of the teams that are dropping off their kids this winter are doing it (or trying to) in a chance to pick up extraordinary, still-young but already established stars such as Santana, Cabrera and Willis. The surprise isn't that these teams are trying to trade for those kinds of players. A team would be drummed out of the league if it said it wasn't interested in a player the caliber of those three.
The surprise is that teams are using their top prospects -- and often so many of them -- to get the job done. It's a strategy that could end up crippling a franchise's future, financially and otherwise.
"If you don't have them, that pipeline becomes drier and drier as time goes by," says Ed Wade, the new general manager of the Astros. "And then you're trying to overspend to compensate."
If there's one team that has stuck to its young guns this winter, it's the Dodgers. General manager Ned Colletti has had plenty of interest in a core of fantastic young players. Matt Kemp, Jonathan Broxton, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, James Loney and Andy LaRoche all have been mentioned, at one time or another, in different trade scenarios.
So far, Colletti has resisted the urge to break up the family. The price, in his mind, has been way too high. And it's hard to argue with his logic.
"You fill a one-year need with a tremendous player," he told L.A.-area reporters on Tuesday night, "and look around and have three more needs to fill. I'm not sure how you gain ..."
A lot of the game's best prospects are still on the table this winter. With Santana yet to be traded, and with feelers still out about Tejada and others, it's very likely that more teams will have to make the decision in the weeks ahead on whether to go homegrown and stick with the guys they scouted and developed or go in another direction.
"You can't fall in love with your own players," a longtime front-office man explained to me on Tuesday morning, before the wildest winter meetings day in years. "You've got to be honest with yourself; 'Do we think too much of this guy?'"
The problem for some teams may well be that they don't think enough of their kids.