Santana = Nationals' righty reliever Jonathan Santana Albaladejo.
Pitching Prospect = Tyler Clippard, who went to D.C. for Albaladejo.
Now that we've cleared that up, for all I know there could be some other news by the time you're reading this but as of 2:30am EST, when I'm writing it, the big news is that the Yankees have added the first piece to their bullpen by trading faded pitching prospect Clippard to the Nationals for Albaladejo.
It's a solid trade. The Yankees have a full rotation worth of pitching prospects who both ranked ahead of Clippard and had passed or were about to pass him on the organizational ladder, including Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Allan Horne, and Jeffrey Marquez, not to mention 27-year-old Chien-Ming Wang, who's a back-to-back 19-game winner. With Horne and Marquez due to start the 2008 season in Triple-A and the other three ticketed for the major league rotation, there's simply no room for a B-grade starting pitching prospect such as Clippard in the upper levels of the organization.
That wasn't the case a year ago, as Clippard was considered the runner-up to Phil Hughes in the Yankees' pitching-prospect hierarchy. He fell behind in part because of the outstanding performances of Chamberlain, Kennedy, Horne, and Marquez, but also because of his own failings in 2007. Called up amid the flurry of debuting rookie starters the Yanks were forced to employ in the first half of the year, Clippard struggled in five of his six major league starts, and returned the minors without the pinpoint control that had fueled his prospect status to begin with. Clippard was actually bounced all the way down to Double-A and posted a 5.40 ERA there. Though he's still just 22, that took a considerable amount of shine off his status.
Further reducing Clippard's value to the team was the fact that his lack of a dominant out-pitch (he survives on a 90-mph fastball, some slop, and that ability to deceive hitters and locate his pitches) makes him a poor candidate for conversion to high-leverage relief. Thus, the Yankees flipped him for someone already excelling in that role, Nationals reliever Jonathan Albaladejo, who shot from Double-A to the majors last year, posting a 1.41 ERA in 38 1/3 innings between Triple-A Columbus and the majors.
A tall, 25-year-old, Puerto Rican righty, Albaladejo was drafted by the Pirates in 2001 and began his professional career as a starting pitcher in the Pittsburgh organization. He was converted to relief in 2005, finally cracked Double-A in 2006 (a season in which the presence of 3 games at Rookie league suggest an injury rehab, though I've been unable to find evidence of the actual injury), then signed with the Nationals as a six-year minor league free agent and promptly pitched his way not only to the majors, but to the New York Yankees.
Albaladejo throws in the mid-90s and appears to have tremendous control, having walked just 1.73 men per nine innings in his minor league career and just two men in his 14 1/3 major league frames. His strike out rate isn't quite as impressive, but in combination with the walks it yields a 4.27 K/BB over more than 500 minor league innings, which is remarkable. Albaladejo has also allowed less than a hit an inning in his pro career and doesn't seem to have much of an issue with home runs either (though he was somewhat protected by RFK Stadium last year).
Of course, the really big news out yesterday was Andy Pettitte's announcement that he's decided to return to the team. With Pettitte having made his announcement, the Yankees will draw up a $16-million contract for him equivalent to the player option he declined in October, and the Yankees will have a six-man rotation that, if they're smart about it, they'll use exactly as such during the season in order to suppress the innings totals of the three rookies and ease the strain on the aging elbows of Pettitte and Mussina (peak-age Wang can take his turn every five days, thus moving around in the rotation like Christmas on the calendar from year-to-year).
I find it difficult to believe that it was a coincidence that Pettitte's announcement came less than 24 hours before Hank Steinbrenner's deadline on the Johan Santana (there, I said it) trade talks. With Pettitte back in the fold, the Yankees were able to stand all the more firm in their refusal to include more than one of the top pitching prospects mentioned above in the deal. As of 1:57am EST, the latest from SI.com's Jon Heyman, who has been Jonny on the Spot on the big Yankee news thus far this postseason was this:
The Twins and Yankees reached what one person called an "impasse" shortly before midnight CST. The Twins were asking that the Yankees include either pitcher Ian Kennedy or a tandem of pitching prospect Alan Horne and outfield prospect Austin Jackson in their package with pitcher Phil Hughes and outfielder Melky Cabrera.
Even though the Yankees and Twins were still talking about different combinations as the night grew later and later, there was no indication that they were any closer to a deal for Santana than they were four days ago. In fact, if anything, the momentum seemed to be in the opposite direction. Officials from other clubs said several of the Yankees' baseball personnel at the meetings had begun openly questioning whether they even wanted to make this trade if the Twins said yes. "The more this goes on," said one AL executive, "the less they want to do it.
And our man on the scene Peter Abraham made it unanimous at 2:18:
The Johan Santana trade seems colder than hotter at this point. The Twins have acknowledged they're not getting Ian Kennedy. But they're holding out for better than what the Yankees are offering for the third player.
Why the Yankees need to have an answer on this now is a mystery. But if Hank Steinbrenner sticks to his deadline, it looks like it's not getting done.
Consider the fact that the sticking point was not the inclusion of Hughes, which the Yankees were willing to do, but the tertiary player in the deal, I'll be happy to see this one wither on the vine. Brian Cashman can takes his righty reliever and head home for all I care. Just as long as the Red Sox don't slip in when he's not looking.
In other news: The Yankees have finalized the deals for catchers Jorge Posada and Jose Molina and have thus designated Andy Phillips for assignment to clear space on the 40-man roster. Same old, same old with Andy. He's 30, hasn't brought his bat to the majors yet, and at this point is unlikely to. He may be undesirable enough to slip back to the Scranton Yankees as he did at the end of spring training. If not, with Wilson Betemit and Shelley Duncan in the house and on the bench, all that will be missed about Phillips are his boyish looks and winning personality.