Not only am I a columnist, but I'm also a mind-reader. It's late Friday--Ask BA has been put on the back burner because of the 2007 Prospect Handbook--and there's interesting breaking news today. (Well, breaking rumors and breaking news.). With that in mind, I'm going to ask the questions that you readers would be asking me next week if I didn't address them today.
No one knows for sure if Boston placed the highest bid in the Matsuzaka sweepstakes. ESPN and its various entities began reporting this afternoon that "The Boston Red Sox may have posted the top bid for the right to negotiate with Japanese righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka, according to Major League Baseball sources." I'm not sure how solid that's supposed to be. Until we get official word from the Seibu Lions and MLB, it's also true that the Devil Rays or the Royals or any other team "may have" posted the top bid. That's just a very odd way to report a story that theoretically has some confirmation behind it.
Will Matsuzaka be worth the cost, which also will include a major league contract that figures to run for at least three years and eight figures per season? He very well could be. Remember, it's not unprecedented for the Japanese team to kick back part of the posting fee, and there may be merchandising and licensing benefits that allow the club which gets his rights to recoup part of it. He's only 26 and he's preferable to any free agent on the U.S. market, a market in which demand will far outstrip the supply this offseason. Not many 26-year-old potential aces with a proven track record become available.
It seems silly in some regards to consider Matsuzaka anything except an established (Japanese) major leaguer, but just as he'll be a rookie in MLB's eyes, he's a prospect in Baseball America's book until he exceeds 50 (U.S.) big league innings. He unquestionably would push Jacoby Ellsbury aside for the No. 1 spot on our Red Sox list, and he'd get my vote for No. 1 on the Top 100.
Both teams got what they wanted out of this deal. After trading for Bobby Abreu, the Yankees didn't really have a spot for Sheffield in their lineup. Given his propensity for becoming disruptive, they were better off finding him a new home, even if he's still one of the most fearsome righthanded hitters in the game. For all the money New York spends, its pitching staff keeps springing leaks, and they got back three interesting righthanders from the Tigers.
Humberto Sanchez, who started the 2006 Futures Game for the World team, is one of the better pitching prospects in the upper minors. He's not as good as top Yankees prospect Philip Hughes, but Sanchez is in the next tier. If he's healthy after experiencing elbow problems late in the season, he could contribute in New York in 2007. Kevin Whelan doesn't get a lot of hype, but he could be Mariano Rivera's eventual successor at closer. Anthony Claggett could become a future setup man and is a good value as the third player in the deal.
Detroit has so much young pitching already established in the majors that it could afford to trade three arms like Sanchez, Whelan and Claggett. The Tigers needed to bolster their offense, and Sheffield immediately becomes the most dangerous hitter in their lineup.
Of course, the trade that sent Josh Beckett from the Marlins to the Red Sox looked like it made sense for both sides last November. A year later, Florida looks like it won that deal easily after getting Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia.
As I was writing this, Sam Factor (Staten Island, N.Y.) sent in a similar version of this question--proving my clairvoyancy.
Sanchez would have ranked third on our Tigers Top 10, and I think it's obvious that the two guys ahead of him were Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller. I haven't talked with John Manuel about where he wants to put Sanchez on the Yankees Top 10 he wrote. I could see him as high as No. 3, behind Hughes and Jose Tabata, but I suspect John will drop him a couple of more notches, after Dellin Betances and Joba Chamberlain.
Here's the report that Jon Paul Morosi wrote on Sanchez:
Born: May 28, 1983. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 230. Drafted: Connors State (Okla.) JC, D/F 2001 (31st round). Signed by: Rob Guzik/Buddy Paine (Tigers).
Background: Sanchez went from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx to an Oklahoma junior college to status as one of the Tigers’ top pitching prospects. Not bad for a draft-and-follow from the 31st round, albeit one who turned pro for $1 million. The ascent of Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya left him as the Detroit's best pitching commodity in the minor leagues--at least until the signing of Andrew Miller--but a tender elbow limited him to only one start after mid-July.
Strengths: Sanchez has the power stuff, starting with a 90-94 mph fastball he can dial up to 97 when necessary. He has two breaking balls, including a slider with splitter break, and flashes a quality changeup. His repertoire was big league-ready by the middle of 2006.
Weaknesses: He must become more durable. A rededicated Sanchez worked hard to trim his weight following 2005 season in which he was limited by pulled lat and groin muscles. The results were encouraging, as he had dynamite numbers in Double-A, earned a promotion to Triple-A and was fielding his position better than ever. Then the elbow pain began, resulting in a clunker finish to what had been a very promising season. He finished with 123 innings, which still were a career high. From a stuff standpoint, his changeup needs more consistency.
The Future: Had Sanchez remained healthy, he likely would have earned a September callup. The issue, though, is that he never has lasted beyond 123 innings in a season. Questions about his durability may have prompted the Tigers to move Sanchez into the bullpen, which also would have been easier to break into than their young, talented rotation. Now it's the Yankees' call.
Whelan also would have made our Detroit Top 10, at No. 9. To see his scouting report, you'll have to buy the Handbook.