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He's flying under the radar, as are his Minnesota Twins, but is there a worthier American League Cy Young candidate than Johan Santana? He beat Seattle on Thursday to improve to 12-6. He's first in the league in strikeouts (190) and opponents' batting average (.203) and second in ERA (3.25).
Santana is a left-handed version of Pedro Martinez when he was in Montreal: a blossoming 25-year-old with a pinpoint mid-90s fastball, a soft, deceptive change and a nice breaking ball. After a rough spring training, April and May that coincided with his rehabilitation from offseason elbow surgery, Santana has become nearly unhittable. In a stretch of 13 starts since June 9, he's gone 10-2 with a 1.66 ERA and struck out 129 in 97 1/3 innings for an Eric Gagne-esque 11.9 strikeouts per nine.
Santana is further evidence that the Twins, though they do not deploy the Moneyball arsenal of performance-analysis tools, are a model franchise. (Aside from the club's tendency to reward career years with lucrative, long-term deals; see Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart.) Minnesota scooped up Santana as a Rule 5 pick in 1999 (through a trade with the Marlins), a first bit of astute scouting, and moved him steadily up the organizational ladder. As a major-leaguer, Santana went from long man to a setup role alongside LaTroy Hawkins, to starter; it was a deliberate, sometimes maddeningly slow process, particularly when the Twins' rotation struggled last summer and Santana was openly craving a starting slot.
But the process resulted in a polished starter. Dredging through old notebooks, I found this from Minnesota GM Terry Ryan during a conversation this spring at Twins camp in Fort Myers, Fla.: "It's a nice thing. Sometimes, you don't have the luxury to develop players that way. We're an organization that has had to force-feed a lot of players through the years."
Ryan was being modest then; other clubs would kill for the players Minnesota "force-feeds." Not only have organizational soldiers like Santana cheaply stocked the club's roster, as in the case of utility man Lew Ford, but they've allowed forward-looking trades to occur, like the four-way deal in which they unloaded first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz (and the $3.5 million owed him in '05), replaced him with masher Justin Morneau -- a major offensive upgrade, by the way -- and scooped up Cubs left-handed prospect Justin Jones.
The Twins do it their own way, but no discussion about cutting-edge franchises is complete without them.
Making a stand
Props to my colleague Josh Elliott for raking Terrell Owens over the coals after Owens's Neolithic comments about Jeff Garcia's sexuality. This is what I found most farcical was Owens's explanation to reporters: "My grandmother raised me to be honest. She told me not to lie. There's no such thing as borderline lying. I'm not a politician. I'm not going to play to the media. My thing is, it's honesty first. If people don't like it they don't like it. I'm still going to be myself, regardless." Elementary school teachers, Boy Scout troop leaders -- and parents -- take note: This is the way to stand on principle.
Owens's position had me thinking about another athlete who's taken flack for his beliefs, Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado, who declines to participate in the seventh-inning singing of God Bless America because he opposes the war in Iraq and U.S. policy toward Vieques. This is not so much of an issue in Toronto, but when the Jays played at Yankee Stadium last weekend, Delgado was viciously booed each time up to bat. I was watching Delgado during last Friday's game; he simply returns to the clubhouse tunnel during the seventh-inning stretch and reemerges when play resumes; I found this a pretty respectful, deferential way to register discontent, especially in a sensitive place like New York.
As SI copy chief and overall sage Gabe Miller pointed out, the same core Constitutional right that allows Delgado to register his discontent also allows fans to heckle him -- and Gabe, your First Amendment reading is overly generous to the yahoos I sat with in the loge, first-base side -- but for my part, Delgado deserves admiration for making a difficult public point with subtlety and eloquence.