To think of a time when the New York Yankees last had an ace is to think of a time that now seems to be tarnished. The Rocket Roger Clemens provided that for the Yankees in the 2000 and 2001 baseball seasons.
Clemens, who had been acquired by the Yankees in a trade following the 1998 season which saw them finish with a then Major League record 125 wins, was brought to the Bronx to satisfy owner George Steinbrenner's appetite for box office stars and the acquisition at the time was looked upon as a luxury more so than a necessity. After a mediocre first season in Pinstripes in 1999 Clemens regained his vintage form following the 2000 All-star break and saw it last through the end of the 2001 season where he took the ball in game seven of the world series against Arizona and opposed Curt Schilling as they dueled for the right to be crowned 2001 Champions. Clemens had a regular season that year in which he became the first pitcher in the history of the game to begin the season with a 20-1 record. He would finish the regular season with a 20-3 record and was voted the American League Cy Young award winner for the 6th time of his career. This was all preceded by a 2nd half performance in the 2000 season in which Clemens was brilliant, including a 1 hit 15 strikeout shutout against Seattle in game four of the American League Championship series en route to a world series victory over the New York Mets in five games.
After Clemens came up as one of baseball's biggest culprits in former senator George Mitchell's investigation into steroid use in baseball all of what Clemens did in pinstripes now seems like it was aided by performance enhancers. Nevertheless, Clemens presented a force in the Yankees rotation that you knew every fifth day no matter what the circumstance would shut the other team down and put a win on the board. More importantly Clemens gave the Yanks a pitcher who could be dominant in postseason situations, a type pitcher who can carry a team regardless of what the offense is doing. Since that 2001 season the Yanks have had a lot of pitchers come and go, they have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into pitching arms, but no one has given the Yanks that formidable ace that they had when Clemens was on the top of his game at the beginning of the decade. Whether or not Rocket Rog was pumped up on steroids at the time is another story. What is clear is that even with some of the most impressive lineups on paper that the game has ever seen the Yankees have not won a world series in 7 years now and the biggest reason for that, among others, is the fact that the Bombers have failed to arm themselves with one of the game's elite pitchers. A pitcher who comes playoff time becomes so valuable because they can duplicate top notch pitching performances more than once in a series. Of course getting a chance to land a pitcher of that elk is easier said than done because there are just so few to go around and the ones who do present that kind of dominance on the mound are locked up by their teams way before they have a chance to hit the free agent market and they are rarely if ever traded away.
Every postseason after the Yankees are knocked out of the playoffs fans and critics of the team always point to the pitching staff and dress down the Yanks for the fact that none of their pitchers were able to step forward with a big-time pitching performance. They are ripped for always seeming to load themselves with all-star bats while neglecting to bring in great pitching. After all, the saying is that pitching wins championships. The only problem is the criticism has not been justified due to the lack of true great pitching in the majors whether they are available to be had or not. Whether it’s been bringing in Carl Pavano, Kevin Brown, Jon Lieber, Javy Vazquez, or Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens in 2007 the Yanks have always tried their best to bring in what they thought and hoped would be outstanding pitching for them. They even made the trade for Randy Johnson in 2005 who is one of the top two pitchers of his era and was coming off finishing 2nd in the national league Cy Young award balloting the season prior to the trade, after winning four consecutive national league Cy Young's from 1999-2002. The Yankees showed a bit of financial discipline at the time as they passed on giving outfielder Carlos Beltran a mega contract following the 2004 season which saw Beltran have arguably the greatest postseason run ever. Beltran wanted to play for the Yankees and was even willing to give them a discount to sign with them but the Yanks chose to spend the big bucks on Johnson instead. Johnson turned out to be a miserable bust during his two year stint in the Bronx as father time caught up with him. Johnson was 40 years old during his first season with the Yanks.
Now the grand pitching prize to be had in this year's off-season market is right there staring the Yankees in the face yet they have been reluctant to pull the trigger on a deal that would certainly move them up a notch from where they've been the last few years. The pitcher is Minnesota Twins 28 year old lefty Johan Santana. The Venusluan fire baller is no doubt a certified ace and the only reason he is available is because the small market twins won't be able to afford him when he commands top dollar on the open market following this upcoming season. Ever since Minnesota made it clear that he was on the trade market before and during baseball's winter meetings, the Yankees would have been wise to make a deal. Especially when you consider the fact that the asking price for Santana from Minnesota was more than reasonable. From all accounts the Minnesota asking price for Santana centered around the Yankee's 20 year old Blue chip pitching prospect Philip Hughes who was the number one pitching prospect in all of baseball just last spring training, along with Yankees 22 year old outfielder Melky Cabrera, and a couple of lower level minor leaguers. There have even been indications that instead of the two lower level minor leaguers Minnesota wants pitcher Ian Kennedy, another young Yankee prospect, who got his feet wet in the Bronx during a couple of spot starts last September. Whatever the case may be the Yankees would be making a mistake if they did not agree to terms on one of these proposed deals, or any deal for Santana including prospects that does not include the Yankees young pitching sensation Joba Chamberlin who took the league by storm over the final two months of last season.
Yankees General manager Brian Cashman has caught the majority of blame for the Yankees lack of top line pitching. He's been blamed for giving loads of money to guys like Kei Igawa, Jared Wright, Carl Pavano, and Kyle Farnsworth, and everything else when the Yankees are having their midseason struggles. Cashman reportedly is the main reason the Yanks have not completed the deal for Santana. For the last couple of years or so Cashman has made it publicly clear that he is committed to building the Yankees, most notably their pitching, through their minor league system. For Cashman a deal for Santana that includes Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy would mean a departure from that stance. The apparent "New Boss" Hank Steinbrenner, son of Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner, has made his presence felt this off-season as he has taken hard line stances on particular issues and played a role in the resigning of Yankee mainstays Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Alex Rodriquez as well the finding and hiring of new Yankee manager Joe Giradi. Ultimately it seems as if the decision on whether or not to part with Hughes and Kennedy will come down to Hank Steinbrenner, and passing up on a pitcher the caliber of Santana could prove to be a costly mistake.
Santana is the best pitcher in baseball today. Truly great pitching is at a premium in Major League Baseball and those two factors alone should be enough for the Yankees to trade away top pitching talent which is unproven to complete the deal. The Yankees should look at Hughes and Kennedy as assets and feel good about the fact that they've put themselves in position to be able to trade for a pitcher like Santana because of a well stocked farm system with highly regarded prospects. Santana has won two American league Cy Young awards since 2004, both by unanimous decision becoming just the 5th pitcher ever to win the award twice by unanimous decision. Santana is also a lefty pitcher which is always a great quality to have at Yankee stadium to off-set opposing lefty bats who take aim at the shallow right field porch. The Yankees have had no problem making the playoffs since 1995 but they haven't been able to make it to the World Series since 2003 despite being favorites in their postseason matchup's every year. They always enter October with a pitching staff which is capable of putting together good performances but their shortcomings always seem to be exposed. With Santana and the unlimited promise of Joba Chamberlain, who will become a starter next season, the Yanks could have themselves a formidable 1- 2 punch for years to come with Chein-Ming Wang also on the pitching staff who led the team in wins each of the last two seasons.
Another key variable the Yankees must consider when it comes to completing a trade for Santana is not allowing him to go to the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox have also been in the running to attain the services of Johan Santana via trade. Surprisingly, Boston has not taken the initiative to complete a deal either which would make them the clear favorites to win the American League division again next season and make it back to the world series. The offer that Boston has on the table to Minnesota for Santana is very similar to the deal Minnesota is asking for from the Yankees. Boston's offer also revolves around a young top flight prospect in outfielder Jacob Ellsbury or pitcher John Lester, either or, with lower level minor leaguers involved that would complete the deal. However, Boston has been unwilling to sweeten the offer just a little which if they did would seal the deal for them. Any team who trades for Santana, who will become a free agent after next season, would most certainly want to agree to a contract extension with him to avoid the chance of him walking away after next season. Santana reportedly is looking for an extension in the ballpark of about $140 million over 7 years. For a pitcher who will be 29 years of age next opening day those type of dollars may be a concern for the Yankees, Red Sox, or any other team. However, the Yankees would be smart to make the deal before they lose out on bringing a True Ace to the Bronx. Santana would give the Bombers what they've lacked since the first go around of Roger Clemens. While it now appears that Clemens' memories were spiced up with steroid juice, a Santana deal to Boston could give the Red Sox a feel of a dynasty similar to the one of the Yankees when they had Clemens for the back end of their four championships in five years.