Mike Silva's New York Baseball Digest » Blog Archive » Hideki Irabu’s Legacy, Johan Santana as Freddy Garcia, Jimenez Risk, SF Exec on Wheeler, Is Beltran the Best Positional Player in Mets History?

Hideki Irabu’s Legacy, Johan Santana as Freddy Garcia, Jimenez Risk, SF Exec on Wheeler, Is Beltran the Best Positional Player in Mets History?



By Mike Silva ~ July 29th, 2011. Filed under: Mike Silva.

Very sad news out of Rancho Palos Verdes, California as former Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu committed suicide. TMZ is reporting he hanged himself to death.

Irabu was certainly a disappointment with the Yankees when you consider the hype he came with to the States. He never lived up to the “Japanese Nolan Ryan” billing that was given to him upon signing with the Yankees. Irabu wasn’t great in New York, but he was serviceable in 1998 and 1999. His best season came in ’98 when he was 13-9 with a 4.06 ERA.

To be fair, there was a lot of pressure on Irabu to perform. He was following the wildly successful Hideo Nomo, who won the Rookie of the Year award with the Dodgers two years earlier. George Steinbrenner very much had his fastball, and was not about to tolerate less than the best. This is especially true since the Yankees gave up their top prospect at the time, Ruben Rivera, in the deal with San Diego.

It probably would have been better for Irabu to start his career in laid back Southern California. Naively, Irabu demanded a trade to the Yankees who promptly rewarded him with a 4 year/$12.8 million dollar deal. A target was immediately on his back.

Irabu does leave a legacy with the game. After the Padres purchased his contract from the Chiba Lotte Marines in January of 1997, Irabu refused to report to San Diego and said he would only pitch for the Yankees. This situation resulted in the current posting system, which is essentially a silent auction where MLB teams post bids for the right to negotiate with an NPB player. Before posting, teams could have “working agreements” with a Japanese club (San Diego and Chiba Lotte had such an agreement). It was a very ambiguous system. Unless they are posted, Japanese players are bound to their team for 9 seasons until they become free agents. That is why you saw Hideki Matsui sign with the Yankees as a free agent, whereas Ichiro Suzuki was posted and the Mariners won the bid.

Irabu’s contract squabble with the Padres was ugly. He even threatened to take them to court if wasn’t freed from their control. In the end the Yankees won the player, but basically acquired a headache.

***

You never want to make light of the death of someone, but Irabu also made his way into pop culture. During an episode of Seinfeld, George Constanza’s father lashes out at George Steinbrenner over the Irabu contract.

***

Kevin Kernan of the NY Post appeared on WFAN with Steve Somers. He talked about Carlos BeltranA.J. Burnett, and Daniel Murphy. He also talked about what to expect from Johan Santana post-shoulder surgery and compared him to Freddy Garcia. Kernan rightfully believes the old Santana is gone. He thinks we may see him compete and win in the same manner as Freddy Garcia.

It’s unlikely that we see Santana until late this year, if at all. Randy Niemann‘s quote after his rehab start was telling when he said there was “a big gap” between the old Santana and the current version. He also said “physically his shoulder wasn’t ready.”

Again, as I said earlier in the week, I believe the days of Santana throwing 90+ are over. Common sense and logic dictate as much. He is recovering from a shoulder injury that’s claimed the career of Mark Prior. Perhaps everyone should watch closely to Chien-Ming Wangs start tonight in Washington, as he needed nearly two years to recover from the same shoulder surgery.

Can Santana compete at a diminished level? Freddy Garcia throws an 86 mph fastball and 79 mph changeup. Not much differentiation. Garcia does have a slider, curveball, and split-finger fastball in his repertoire. Santana will need to continue to compete and deceive hitters if he is going to thrive going forward. He might need to incorporate his slider more into the mix. Who knows, he might even need another pitch.

I agree with Kernan is the one thing that makes you want to bet on Santana is his desire to compete. It may be his bulldog mentality that separates him post surgery from the others that have failed before him.

***

If Colorado wants Jesus MonteroAustin RomineDellin Betances, and another arm for Ubaldo Jimenez should the Yankees do it? It’s an expensive haul as they would be sacrificing their top hitting prospect, arguably their top pitching prospect, and catching depth. As long as Jimenez’s health checks out I think they should pull the trigger on such a deal.

The Yankees have Russell Martin controlled through next year. Martin is a veteran that gives the Yankee exactly what they need: good defense, game calling, leadership behind the plate, and a little pop with his bat. He is still young enough (28) where you could expect 3-4 years of performance while 18 year old Gary Sanchez develops in the minors. Losing Montero and Romine isn’t crippling because of the presence of Sanchez. No one seems to believe that Montero will be a catcher anyway.

Even if you lose Nova, Warren, or Hector Noesi it’s not the end of the world. They have tons of mid to back-end of the rotation type of arms. Again, that depth makes it an easier pill to swallow.

The real risk my come with Dellin Betances. In two years Betances might be Jimenez. Maybe he is better. Right now, we just don’t know. What we do know is the Yankees are 2.5 games behind Boston in the American League East. We do know that it’s hard to see them win a 7 game series with their current rotation. Jimenez is not Hiroki Kuroda as he is a top of the rotation talent. He is young and controllable as well.

Any other team couldn’t clean out their farm system. The Yankees can spend money in the future to cover up any mistakes. They can draft and go over slot as well to recoup the lost depth. If Colorado truly is lowering their demands from the “Herschel Walker level” to a simple “king’s ransom” you really have to consider doing it.

***

We reached out to a San Francisco executive and asked him his thoughts on Zack Wheeler. He responded with a brief, but telling statement on young right-hander.

The kid has great stuff and an overpowering arm, if he stays healthy? Only time will tell.

The one thing that might stand in the way of Wheeler is health. I still think those quirky mechanics the Giants worked on fixing might be the crux of arm troubles throughout his career.

Remember, his brother Adam had his career with the Yankees derailed because of shoulder issues.

You can’t criticize the decision by Sandy Alderson to acquire Wheeler. Let’s hope, for the Mets sake, they catch a break and all this is just over analysis.

***

So where does Carlos Beltran stand in terms of positional players in Mets history? According to Baseball-Reference, the top five positional players according to Wins Above Replacement are:

Darryl Strawberry

David Wright

Carlos Beltran

Edgardo Alfonzo

Jose Reyes

Keith HernandezHoward Johnson, and Mike Piazza are just outside the top five.

When you start to think about his offensive contributions, Gold Glove defense, and the fact he played a more important defensive position than either Strawberry or Wright you can argue that he is the best positional player in Mets history.

Our tune might change in five years, especially if Jose Reyes re-signs with the club this winter. I think ultimately we will argue whether Reyes or Wright is the better all around player in Mets history. Right now, you probably have to give that distinction to Beltran.

For the record, I ranked Beltran #8 on my Top 50 Mets List this past offseason. Perhaps if I did that list today I would think differently.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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2 Responses to Hideki Irabu’s Legacy, Johan Santana as Freddy Garcia, Jimenez Risk, SF Exec on Wheeler, Is Beltran the Best Positional Player in Mets History?

  1. Stu B

    “The one thing that might stand in the way of Wheeler is health.”

    That’s not saying much. The one thing that might stand in the way of any prospect, especially a pitcher, is health.

  2. Mike Silva

    Stu

    You are correct, but with his mechanics he might be a bigger risk than your normal prospect… that’s all.

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