Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Hank Ultimatum

It's been a year of ultimatums in the Yankees organization:

If you don't give us extensions before opening day, we'll become free agents!
--Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada to Brian Cashman

If you opt out, we won't re-sign you!
--Cashman to Alex Rodriguez

If you don't win the Division Series, you're history!
--George Steinbrenner to Joe Torre

Unless you start the bidding at $350 million over ten years, he's opting out!
--Scott Boras to the Yankees, re: Alex Rodriguez

If you don't offer me more than one year, I'm gone!
--Torre to the Yankee brain trust

Some of the ultimata (that's the alternate plural, per Websters) proved to be for real--Rivera and Posada did each dip a toe in free agency, although it doesn't look like they got serious with anyone but the Yanks; Torre did actually leave when the Yanks' one-year "paycut, with performance bonuses" deal turned out to be final--others less so. Despite the Old Boss's stern warning, Torre was offered a contract--albeit one designed to be rejected. Despite all the posturing by both sides of the A-Rod Opt-Out drama, Alex opted out, but (thanks to a little advice from the Oracle of Omaha) negotiated a deal to return for less than the promised $350 million. So for all the threats of definitive action, the record in 2007 has been a mixed bag.

Now, the latest ultimatum comes from Hank Steinbrenner to the Minnesota Twins. If he's to be believed, Johan Santana will be a Yankee tomorrow, or the Yanks won't trade for him, period. He claims that the Yanks have a fair offer on the table--reportedly Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, and one pick from the Yanks' column B of prospects (e.g., no Joba Chamberlain, no Ian Kennedy)--and that if a deal can't be worked out on Monday, the Yanks move on. In an unrelated, but connected story, Santana's told the Twins that he won't agree to be traded during the season, giving new Minnesota GM Bill Smith deadlines to deal with.

I've been shy about talking up the Yankees' pursuit of Santana because it's one of those situations that's all speculation, no news. If I had to give odds, I'd say they still favor Johan Santana starting the season as a Minnesota Twin--as I pointed out last week at Baseball Prospectus, two draft picks (which is what the Twins would get for losing Santana as a free agent) can be a pretty substantial return, often better than one gets from an ill-considered trade. All told, in situations like these, it's often true that no one knows anything, and you wind up wasting a lot of time for something that never comes to fruition.

Now, thanks to Hank layin' down the law, we're likely to have some news--real news--on this issue by Monday night...maybe.

As far as the deal on the table's fair. I'd be heartbroken to see Hughes go, and I'm a huge fan of the Melkman--despite the fact that he often has weeks where he looks like absolutely doesn't belong in the majors. Nonetheless, if the package is Hughes, Melky, and Chris Britton (or Alberto Gonzalez, or Juan Miranda) then I think you have to pull the trigger, not because Hughes and Melky are chickenfeed, but because it's Johan Friggin' Santana, the best pitcher in baseball over the last four years, a lefthanded stud who's still on the correct side of 30.

Keep in mind, I've never heard anybody refer to the alternative as "Danny Friggin' Haren." The first time that happens, it might not be a sign of admiration. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Aside from the Yankees' role in the Santana saga possibly coming to a head; the Hank Ultimatum is important as the final, definitive proclamation that Hank--not Hal, not any of the Steinbrenner sons-in-law--is the Boss, Part II. The Decider. The Big Cheese. Numero Uno Honcho.

Boss II is definitely doing a formidable impression of the elder Steinbrenner, complete with threats and bluster and hokey-sounding proclamations about what "the Yankees" should or should not do. Is Brian Cashman still involved in the Yanks' decision making? Heck, I need reassurance that Cashman's still alive. I halfway suspect that when Pete Abraham puts up audio from Cash's next presser at the winter meetings, the Yankees' GM is going to be mispronouncing words like someone in a hostage tape.

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