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Heat of the moment

With Twins in a corner, Minaya made his savvy move

Posted: Wednesday January 30, 2008 3:10PM; Updated: Wednesday January 30, 2008 3:10PM
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Johan Santana
With Johan Santana's departure, the Twins have plenty of young pitchers, but none will be able to replace the two-time Cy Young winner.
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By Christina Kahrl, BaseballProspectus.com

Right now we're in that happy pre-consummation zone on the prospective deal between the Mets and the Twins for Johan Santana, that point where everyone's had the right number of cocktails and has that warm, tingly "I like you, I really really like you" vibe. That's ducky. Twins GM Bill Smith has been stuck with this assignment from his first day on the job, and he has assiduously wooed suitor after suitor, only to face rejection time and again. Now, after so many dances, Smith seems to have finally found his man, in the form of the always-on-the-go Omar Minaya, a 3 a.m. Mr. Goodbar if ever there was one.

There are a few cautions here, like why it's a terrible idea to give a player a no-trade clause if you might not have to. Smith wound up having to pull the trigger on some deal, any deal, lest he end up getting screwed by Santana's deadline for being dealt. Given a choice between making his player "happy" or choosing to keep his powder dry, Smith seems to be electing to end the drama. That's unfortunate, not just because of the limitations of the four Mets farmhands coming over in the deal. If Smith had decided to keep waiting, Santana could always change his mind and want out by July after another tough loss, and the packages of prospects that might be offered in a deal in the more pressurized atmosphere of late July could be better than what the Mets are offering. And given that the Twins are considered to possess as fine a collection of scouts as any other team's, settling for the draft picks wouldn't really represent a total loss for this organization. If the Twins had let Santana slip away as a free agent, those picks might have been better bets to provide the Twins something of value than the players received in this deal.

We're already hearing spin-doctoring from the many voices in the press, making a quick -- and lazy --- comparison to the Frank Viola and Chuck Knoblauch deals of yore, as if this was just another building block in some Twins master plan to contend in two or three years. The Viola trade gave the Twins real building blocks and finished products: Rick Aguilera had already been in the major leagues for four years, and was a 27-year-young veteran of obvious ability. David West was, at the time, one of the most coveted blue-chip prospects in the game, a power lefty who had blown through the Texas and International leagues; he didn't turn out quite as well as expected, but at the time he was a commodity every GM wanted. Kevin Tapani might not seem to have been as touted, but he was a top prospect out of the A's system and was tossed to the Mets as a key component in the multi-team deal that made Bob Welch an Athletic and shortstop Alfredo Griffin a Dodger. Tapani proved to be the better bet than West, shaking off a number of nagging hurts to become a classic late-developing Northern college pitcher. All three pitchers already had major league experience by the time they were dealt to the Twins, all three were immediately ready to contribute, and all three did. So far, so good -- that was a deal worth remembering fondly.

The Knoblauch deal shared one element with the Viola trade: a highly-regarded blue-chip power lefty, Eric Milton, and an equally toolsy and eventually equally disappointing shortstop, Cristian Guzman. Milton was plugged directly into the rotation, took his lumps, and never quite crossed the line between greatness promised and greatness delivered. You could argue that his greatest value to the Twins was his subsequent conversion into Carlos Silva, Nick Punto and cash, which has become Punto and... interest? Sure, there's some service time and some league-average pitching to brag about, and that's definitely worth something to a team when it's contending. It also isn't quite as brag-worthy as Aguilera and Tapani. Milton was a good mid-rotation starter on one Twins division-winning team, and Silva was as well (and was a menace to the fortunes of a second). Guzman arrived without any upper-level experience, played his age-20 season in Double-A and struggled, got promoted to the Show anyway, and then gave the Twins one good year and several seasons' worth of disappointment before becoming a contractual millstone in Washington. Meanwhile, Knoblauch was an important part of the Yankees' winning three straight World Series. This seems a lot less like something you'd want to cite as a great moment in Twins history, or evidence of canny deal-making, and while the Twins have derived benefits from the deal long after Knoblauch's career has ended, it doesn't really add up to a pile of unambiguous goodness.

Which brings us to the Santana deal, which may provide the Twins with something to build on, or it might be a brick thrown up by Smith out of increasing desperation to get Santana dealt. I'm not impressed with the Mets prospects in this trade. Carlos Gomez is a good, not great, center-field prospect. In a winter where a lot of center-field prospects changed hands, he's not as talented as Elijah Dukes, or Lastings Milledge, or Cameron Maybin. I'd rather have Gorkys Hernandez. Gomez is probably not ready for a regular job in the majors, and while he's fast and young he's also not especially patient, nor will he hit for much power. His top comparables on his PECOTA? David Green (a blowout blue-chipper), Willie Caņate and Luis Matos. That's excitement, that Green, one of the all-time Brad Komminsk-level prospect disappointments of the '80s, might be his up-side, even allowing for Green's self-destructive drinking and Gomez's presumably better habits.

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