3:30 pm Dec. 20, 2011
Maybe it's not completely crazy, the idea that the Mets and Yankees could even be thinking about pursuing the same player.
Both teams, like most in Major League Baseball, could use another starting pitcher. And Gio Gonzalez, a 26-year-old lefty with the Oakland Athletics, is certainly an effective starter at this point. His looming arbitration award, likely to be above $4 million, is the only reason Oakland is shopping him.
Still, something's not right here. The Yankees are coming off of a playoff appearance, adding at the margins, with another long trek into October expected in 2012. The Mets, meanwhile, are shedding salary like few teams in major league history, and also shedding any pretense that they're going to be in a position to compete for so much as a division title anytime soon.
In fact, it doesn't make much sense for either team to be mixed up in the apparent Gonzalez feeding frenzy. The Mets and the Yankees need a pitcher. But not this pitcher, and not at the price Oakland is demanding.
Let's start by looking at what Gonzalez provides. He'll be entering his age-26 season following a pair of 200-inning campaigns. He strikes out just less than a hitter per inning. His ERAs were superficially strong-looking, in part due to his home park. (His numbers were Cliff Lee-like at home and Ivan Nova-like on the road.) His walk rate remained stubbornly above four per nine innings, meaning that any erosion in his strikeout rate would make the number of base-runners he allows problematic.
He seems like less of a sure thing than a pitcher Oakland traded a few years back, Dan Haren.
And that's what makes Oakland's insistence on a similar package to what they received for Haren so puzzling. The Athletics eventually traded Haren in December 2007, just as he entered his more expensive seasons, and received six quality prospects in return. Apparently, Oakland's demands have been similar this time around.
There is a scarcity on the market that didn't exist in 2007, when teams who chose not to pursue Haren knew they'd get the chance to grab another ace. In the case of the Mets, that turned out to be a trade a month later for Minnesota's Johan Santana. The Yankees waited until after the 2008 season, then snapped up CC Sabathia with a seven-year, $161 million contract.
This year, Gonalez is the best of a mediocre lot.
In fact, the lot is so mediocre that the Mets have dangled their Gio Gonzalez-like pitcher, Jonathon Niese, hoping to take advantage of a desperate market. And rumors had Niese possibly going to Oakland as part of a Gonzalez deal.
The problem the Mets have with that deal is that Niese, who gives up more runs and is less durable, doesn't come close to netting them Gonzalez.
So the Mets would need to add significant additional talent to any trade package, with little to choose from at the major league level. Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy could begin to bridge the gap, but this would leave the Mets without a right side of the infield. And they still don't much in the way of minor league impact-players, despite general manager Sandy Alderson's efforts to hoard them.
As for the Yankees, Gonzalez would instantly become their second-best starting pitcher, and his salary is merely Mets and Athletics Expensive, not Yankees Expensive. But the number of prospects they'd be forced to give up would be considerable: probably catching phenom Jesus Montero, along with several of the top starting pitching prospects the Yankees are counting on to take rotation spots.
The reason? Given how infrequently the finest starting pitchers become available, teams have to trade the farm for pitchers of any quality, such as Gio Gonzalez. The Yankees don't have the luxury of giving up many of their best pitching prospects; simply buying new pitchers isn't so easy anymore.
Make no mistake: some team will pay Oakland's (and Billy Beane's) ransom. But neither New York team, despite the rumors, has any business acquiring Gio Gonzalez. And barring a massive change in strategy, neither team will.