Did anyone else notice that Game One of the World Series featured a matchup of former Baseball America Minor League Players of the Year, Josh Beckett (2001) and Jeff Francis (2004)? Pitchers have won the award just seven times in 27 years, with Dwight Gooden (1983), Mike Bielecki (1984), Tom Gordon (1988), Rick Ankiel (1999) and Jon Rauch (2000) preceding Beckett and Francis.
I agree with Greg's general premise. If a prospect makes good, a team can pay him next to nothing for three years until he becomes arbitration-eligible and then well below market value for another three years before he qualifies for free agency. It's hard to overstate the value of cost-controlled quality talent. To use one example, if Phil Hughes lives up to his scouting reports, he'll blow Santana away on value generated per dollar over the next six years, no matter how good Santana is.
With the total of major league salaries crossing the $2 billion thresholds and continuing to increase, teams are very leery of parting with young talent. If prospects pan out, those deals can come back to haunt the clubs that gave them up.
However, there are two other factors to consider. Teams ultimately are more concerned with winning a championship than value per dollar. And ace starting pitchers almost never hit the open market because teams tend to lock up them up in advance.
It would make all kinds of sense for a team to hold on to its best prospects and just sign Santana a year from now—but there's no guarantee that the club will get Santana. He figures to command a minimum of five years at $100 million and perhaps as much as eight years at $200 million. If the Yankees or Red Sox decide they have to have Santana, very few clubs can compete with them.
There isn't a pitcher close to Santana's worth who's guaranteed to be a free agent at this point. The best one is Curt Schilling, who's 40 and making the transition to a finesse pitcher. Andy Pettitte can opt for free agency if he so chooses, and while he'd move ahead of Schilling, he's still 35 and not close to Santana's class.
If the Twins decide to trade Santana, it will be a rare chance to acquire a true No. 1 starter in the prime of his career. Minnesota will have no shortage of suitors.
When Wood broke out in 2005, leading the minors in doubles (53), homers (43), total bases (370) and extra-base hits (101), I wouldn't have been surprised if the Angels had added him to their playoff roster and he responded by powering them to the World Series. Instead, he had to settle for drilling 15 more homers between the Arizona Fall League and Triple-A.
I expected him to be Los Angeles' starting third baseman in 2006, but he spent the entire season in Double-A, topping the Texas League with 71 extra-base hits and again starring for Team USA. I figured he would start for the Angels this year, but I was wrong again. He got just nine starts and 33 at-bats in his big league and hit 23 of his 24 homers in Triple-A.
With Figgins hitting .330 and Reggie Willits emerging as an outfield supersub in 2007, it may be difficult for Wood to crack the Angels' 2008 Opening Day lineup. But he's still just 22 and he's still one of the best power prospects in the game, and his time will come soon. He strikes out a lot and he might never hit .300, but he should grow into an annual 30-homer hitter and play solid defense at third base. He's capable of playing shortstop, too, though Los Angeles doesn't need him there.
Though it has taken longer for Wood to claim a big league job than anyone envisioned, that won't ruin him. He'll still be a star once he gets his chance. The Angels aren't looking to trade him, though if he was the key to acquiring someone like Johan Santana, he might be on the move.
A pitcher's ability to hit can make a very real difference in his chances to win. According to the always-useful baseball-referenc e.com, Owings created 9.6 runs per game as a hitter (or rather, a team of nine Owings would have created 9.6 runs per game), compared to an average of 0.8 runs per game for the Diamondbacks' other three primary starting pitchers. So if Owings went six innings, at the plate he was likely to produce .65 runs more than Arizona's other starters would, obviously a significant advantage.
But when it comes to evaluating a pitcher, his hitting ability is just the cherry on top. Owings has been a gifted hitter since he popped up on the scouting radar, ranking third all-time in national high school history with 69 career homers and starring as a two-way player at Georgia Tech and Tulane. But very few pitchers can hit like Owings, and scouts focus almost solely on their ability to prevent runs and don't worry about their skill at producing them.