Why Red Sox and Yankee fans are happy they didn't get Johan Santana.

The stadium scene.
Feb. 28 2008 6:49 AM

Say No to Johan

Why Red Sox and Yankee fans are happy they won't be rooting for the best pitcher in baseball.

Johan Santana. Click image to expand.
Mets pitcher Johan Santana

You'd think Yankee and Red Sox fans would be upset about losing Johan Santana to the Mets. After all, he's the best pitcher in the known universe—and left-handed! But when Santana was introduced at Shea Stadium earlier this month, Mets fans weren't the only ones rejoicing. It must seem strange to Minnesotans, who spent a dreary winter fretting over Santana's impending departure, but a large segment of Yanks and Sox supporters didn't want their teams to buy the league's most dominant player. When the Mets deal was announced, blogs and message boards on both sides of the rivalry lit up with relief. In a reversal of baseball's natural order, Yankees exec Hank Steinbrenner wanted to spend money on his team, but his fan base was begging him not to. Since when did fans get so cheap?

Only a few teams ever had a chance to acquire Santana. With only one year left on his contract, potential trade partners had to be willing to sign the pitcher to a record-breaking extension in addition to giving up a package of promising young players. Still, at just about 29 years old, with no history of serious injuries, and in possession of a stupefying change-up that should allow him to age gracefully, Santana is the closest thing there is in pitching to a safe bet. Five years ago, the Red Sox probably would have been all in. The Yankees certainly would have.


But the war between Boston and New York has entered a new phase. They've got the two highest payrolls in baseball, with the Yankees some $60 million ahead of the Sox and with Boston $30 million above its nearest competitor. That's not likely to change anytime soon, as demonstrated by Alex Rodriguez's latest record-shattering contract, but both teams are trying to rein in their spending.

Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein and Yankees GM Brian Cashman have similar strategies. Both want strong farm systems that provide a steady supply of affordable core players, with trades and free agents to supplement the homegrown talent as needed. (One glance at the Yankees' roster, dotted with expensive aging stars like Jason Giambi—who now earns thousands of dollars every time he spits—should explain why.) It's easy to understand why Red Sox fans have embraced this idea; winning two World Series titles in four years inspires a lot of confidence in management. What's more surprising is that, despite the team's recent postseason failings, many Yankee fans don't want to buy the pennant either.

There are two movements behind this sort of thinking, one logical and one emotional. First, the average baseball fan is savvier than ever. The mainstreaming of statistical analysis and the massive popularity of fantasy baseball have demystified the nuts-and-bolts tactics of team-building. Sure, New York sports radio still gives plenty of airtime to nuts who want the Yankees to sign every player in the major leagues. But an increasing number of fans have figured out that there's more to winning than corralling big names. They know how many years a guy can earn the minimum salary before he's arbitration-eligible, and they're smart enough to compare Santana's projected 2008 VORP with that of Phil Hughes or Jacoby Ellsbury. And even Twins fans understood that the A's Dan Haren and the Orioles' Erik Bedard, both recently traded, got their teams a better prospect haul than the superior Santana because they had years left on their affordable contracts.

Baseball watchers have also gotten smarter about the importance of a solid farm system. When Derek Jeter began 1996 as the Yankees' shortstop, I wondered who the hell he was; when Phil Hughes made his big-league debut last summer, I'd been reading about him for years and shelled out $25 more than I usually spend on a ticket to ensure a decent view. This is where the emotion comes in: Given how closely Yankees fans have already been following Hughes and Ian Kennedy and the way Sox fans have been mooning over Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, it's no wonder they're reluctant to see them go. In November, the popular Yankees site River Ave. Blues started a campaign, complete with T-shirts, to avoid a Santana trade and "Save the Big Three"—referring to highly touted pitching prospects Kennedy, Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.