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The first 89 percent of the offseason didn't matter
Johan Santana has a career record of 93-44. He has a 3.22 ERA, amassed in a league where they ought to have a keg behind second base. He has struck out 1,381 guys in 1308.2 innings. He has two Cy Young awards on his shelf. He led the American League in strikeouts in 2004, '05 and '06. His arsenal consists of a 91-92 MPH fastball, a biting slider and one of the game's best changeups that makes his fastball look like it's sporting an additional 3 to 4 MPH. He's a lifetime .258 hitter, for Pete's sake. He'll be 29 on Opening Day. He's left-handed.
And unless something so awful happens that this blog will immediately be renamed Fire and Famine in Flushing, he's about to be a New York Met.
Despite the press corps biting at his ankles and a traumatized fan base in open rebellion, Mets GM Omar Minaya locked up a guy who could be the best pitcher in baseball for a stunningly reasonable price: Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, Deolis Guerra and Philip Humber. Fernando Martinez and Mike Pelfrey remain in the Mets' employ. I'd still like an explanation for Lastings Milledge's exile and the firehose of money blasted at Luis Castillo, but these now go in the "Oh, by the way" file, to be brought up post-hosannas. Omar's got a lot of credit for being creative and for being persistent, but he pulled off this deal by showing patience that bordered on the superhuman.
We could regret the names of the departed, of course: Gomez held his own in a Shea Stadium trial when he should still have been in the minors, Humber put up not-bad Pacific Coast League numbers while on the rebound from Tommy John surgery, Mulvey's been talked up as a blue-chipper and Guerra is a 19-year-old with an awesome arm. And, as always, there's the shadow of the past: We root for a team that traded Amos Otis, Jason Bay and Scott Kazmir, after all. On the other hand, we once wondered whether it was worth mortgaging the bright futures of Tim Foli, Floyd Youmans, David West and Alex Escobar for short-term gains. Anybody heard from Geoff Goetz and Ed Yarnall recently?
And we're talking about Johan Santana here, not Victor Zambrano or Kris Benson. Heck, Santana's barely the same species as those two.
What will happen with Santana at the top of the rotation? Can't tell you. How could I? OK, I can predict one bad thing: As you read this, some nitwit in the Met A/V department is excitedly putting Johan highlights to the tune of Smooth. (Because the kids today, they go crazy over that Santana.)
But that aside, I can tick off a long list of things that now won't happen:
And finally, there it is. For once, the talk-radio gasbags were right: If ever a club desperately needed a page turned, it was the current incarnation of the Mets. By collapsing on the final day of the season, there was no way to turn that page. With no next chapter, there was nothing to do but brood over what had happened. The collapse was destined to dominate February and March, to haunt April, and there was the very real danger of it shaping the narrative of late spring and summer. There was no escape.
But it turns out there was a way out. Minaya found it, and he didn't even pay the king's ransom we would have forgiven as the price for the key. Here's to Omar. Here's to a clean getaway. Here's to 2008. Here's to Johan Santana.
So long, Johan
Forget about the past
It'll always be with us
It's never gonna die, never gonna die
-- AC/DC, Rock 'N Roll Ain't Noise Pollution
By Aaron Gleeman
The early days of AaronGleeman.com were filled with a "Free Johan Santana!" campaign that urged the Twins to move their young left-handed phenom into the starting rotation. After Santana spent the majority of four years in the bullpen and another half-season at Triple-A, the Twins finally gave him a permanent spot in the rotation to begin the 2004 season. He immediately became the best pitcher in baseball, winning the AL Cy Young by going 20-6 while leading the league with a 2.61 ERA and 265 strikeouts.
In four seasons as a full-time starter Santana went 70-32 with a 2.89 ERA and 983 strikeouts in 912 1/3 innings, winning two ERA titles and three strikeout crowns while capturing a pair of Cy Young awards and deserving a third. It was an amazing metamorphosis. At 21 Santana was a little-known Rule 5 pick who showed some promise, at 23 he was an ace-in-waiting who dominated from the bullpen or rotation, and at 25 he was the best pitcher in baseball.
Now 28, Santana has established himself as both one of the most successful pitchers in Twins history and one of the greatest left-handers of all time. Three weeks into AaronGleeman.com's existence there was an entry that began with this proclamation: "I suspect that many of you aren't very familiar with Mr. Santana, but with the way he's pitched this season that may change very quickly." And now, a little more than five years later, today's entry is about how the Twins traded Mr. Santana to the Mets.
Santana and the Mets still need to work out a long-term contract extension before the trade becomes official, but assuming that happens the Twins will receive outfielder Carlos Gomez and right-handers Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey and Philip Humber. Baseball America's recent breakdown of the Mets' farm system ranked those four players as the team's No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, and No. 7 prospects, but the Twins unfortunately weren't able to get No. 1 prospect Fernando Martinez included in the deal.
Trading the best pitcher in baseball without getting the Mets' top prospect in return is disappointing and without Martinez the package falls short of the deals that were rumored to have been offered from the Yankees and Red Sox. A month ago the Twins were said to be deciding between packages headed by Phil Hughes, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jon Lester, and earlier this month they were reportedly pushing the Mets to include Martinez. Instead, they end up with none of those four players.
Either the oft-cited rumored offers involving Hughes, Ellsbury, and Lester were never on the table to begin with or general manager Bill Smith waited so long to pull the trigger that the Yankees and Red Sox eventually decided to take them off the table. All of which is what makes evaluating the package that the Twins ended up accepting somewhat tricky. On one hand, it seems fairly clear that the Twins would have been better off making Hughes or Ellsbury the centerpiece of a Santana trade.
Those two players possess the best combination of long-term upside and major-league readiness, so if at any point Smith passed on offers involving Hughes or Ellsbury then he made a big mistake and ultimately had to settle for something significantly less than the best possible package. On the other hand, when judged on its own and not compared to other offers that may or may not have been on the table, the Mets' package is a decent one.
It seems natural that a team should be able to have its pick of elite prospects when trading away baseball's premiere pitcher, but from the Twins' perspective all they were truly shopping was one season of Santana. While that's plenty valuable, getting four solid prospects for one season of any player seems reasonable. Of course, had the Twins kept Santana this season and simply let him walk as a free agent, they also would have gotten a pair of first-round draft picks as compensation.
Given that, what the Twins really gave up was one season of Santana and a pair of draft picks. That complicates things a bit, but four solid prospects still seems like a relatively palatable return given the added cost and uncertainty of draft picks. Still, my suspicion is that the Twins could have done better and perhaps cost themselves a chance to get the maximum return for Santana by attempting to squeeze extra value from teams.
In poker terms, Smith slow-played a big hand and ended up dragging in less than the maximum pot. It's hard to swallow the possibility that the Twins missed out on acquiring Hughes and Melky Cabrera from the Yankees or Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, and Justin Masterson. Those were very good offers for Santana and without Martinez included the Mets' offer falls short of those standards. However, there's a difference between the Mets' offer not being the best one and the Mets' offer not being a decent one.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2002, Gomez has been rushed through the Mets' system and made his major-league debut as a 21-year-old last season despite logging just 36 games at Triple-A. He predictably struggled and there was little reason to push him so aggressively given his mediocre track record, suggesting that Gomez's development would benefit greatly from some additional time in the minors. Here are his combined numbers between Double-A and Triple-A:
Gomez is already a strong defensive center fielder and an excellent base-stealer with game-changing speed, but his bat leaves a lot to be desired. He's often talked about as a five-tool player, but with just nine homers and a .139 Isolated Power in 643 plate appearances his power has been modest so far. Beyond that, his 120-to-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio shows poor plate discipline and subpar strike-zone control, both of which are concerns for someone who the Twins no doubt view as a leadoff man.
The Twins may be tempted to make Gomez their Opening Day center fielder, but he looks likely to be overmatched in the majors at this point and the team would be better off delaying his arrival by signing someone like Kenny Lofton or Corey Patterson to a one-year deal. Gomez has the talent to be an impact player in time, but he's yet to convert his tools into great on-field performance and is far from a sure thing to ever become an above-average regular, whereas Ellsbury is basically already there.
Even more so than Gomez, Guerra is the high-risk, high-upside part of the package. Signed out of Venezuela for $700,000 in 2005, he's another example of the Mets needlessly rushing their prospects, spending last season at high Single-A as an 18-year-old. Guerra held his own there, posting a 4.01 ERA and 66-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 89.2 innings, which is plenty impressive for a teenager who was facing much more experienced competition.
Guerra throws hard and at 6-foot-5 there's plenty of room to project even more velocity, but he missed time with a shoulder injury last season and has a long way to go before reaching the majors both in terms of time frame and development. Had he been with the Twins, it's possible that Guerra would have spent last season at rookie ball. He has the highest ceiling among the four players acquired for Santana but also carries by far the most risk.
While Gomez and Guerra are all about projection and development, Mulvey and Humber are close to being MLB-ready and aren't especially far from reaching their relatively modest ceilings. Humber was a dominant pitcher in college, going 35-8 with a 2.80 ERA and 422 strikeouts in 353 innings at Rice University, and the Mets thought that they had a future ace when they took him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2004 draft.
Humber's heavy college workload caught up to him just 15 starts into his pro career and he underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in 2005. He returned to the mound in the middle of the next season, but left some of his velocity on the operating table and hasn't been the same pitcher since. Once regarded as a potential No. 1 starter, Humber now looks like middle-of-the-rotation material after posting a 4.27 ERA and 120-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 139 innings at Triple-A as a 24-year-old.
Mulvey was a second-round pick out of Villanova in 2006 and reached Triple-A near the end of last season after posting a 3.02 ERA and 124-to-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 173 pro innings. While Humber is a fly-ball pitcher who has had problems keeping the ball in the ballpark post-surgery, Mulvey does a much better job inducing ground balls and has served up a total of just five homers in 173 innings. He also projects as a mid-rotation starter and should be ready by the All-Star break.
In a perfect world Santana would christen the new ballpark with an Opening Day start in 2010 and wear a Twins cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, but for whatever reason his remaining in Minnesota never seemed to be a legitimate option once the trade rumors began swirling. Swapping him for packages led by Hughes or Ellsbury would have put the Twins in a better position for both short- and long-term success, so if either of those deals were passed on then Smith made a major mistake.
With that said, getting Gomez, Guerra, Mulvey, and Humber from the Mets likely beats keeping Santana for one more season and taking a pair of draft picks when he departs as a free agent. A toolsy center fielder who hasn't shown much offensively, a very raw 18-year-old pitcher, and a pair of MLB-ready middle-of-the-rotation starters is no one's idea of a great haul for Santana, but it's not a horrible one considering that Smith may have backed himself into a corner by not jumping on better offers earlier.
The end result of a bad situation handled poorly is a mediocre package of players that has no one excited, but even acquiring Hughes or Ellsbury wouldn't have made losing Santana easy to live with. Trading away one of the best players in franchise history while he's still at the top of his game and with a new ballpark on the way is a horrible thing. The fact that the Twins failed to get the best possible return for him is extremely disappointing, but the Santana trade still has a chance to work out in Minnesota's favor. It just could have been better.
Aaron Gleeman is the author of AaronGleeman.com and writes for Rotoworld.com.
Labels: Wild Card
WS: Just Another Ring
The Boston Red Sox are now just another team that wins championships.
Professional sports teams are defined by winning titles. Boston was one of baseball's first premier organizations, winning five of the first 15 World Series. Its 2004 title erased the so-called curse and restored the Red Sox to normal franchise status. The wearied jeers of "19-18!" disappeared in '04 because, after all, 1918 suddenly signified nothing more than another year Boston won the a title.
And the 2007 World Series win places Boston firmly atop 21st century baseball.
The Sox aren't used to being the best at anything, save chokes, heartbreak, men left on base and that season in 1989 when John Dopson balked 15 times. Last night proved that '04 wasn't a feel-good fluke: the Sox are a great baseball team. Two championships in four years can change a lot.
While the '04 team was built to win that year, with hungry, aging veterans like Mark Bellhorn and Bill Mueller playing key roles, the '07 squad might be around for a while. All four starting pitchers earned wins, and only one is older than 27. J.D. Drew, Julio Lugo and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who many think underperformed their big contracts, all played well in the World Series and are locked in for several more years. Curt Schilling has repeatedly said he wants to return for one more season, and that's all Manny Ramirez has left on his deal, so the Sox can still make another run with them before finding new veteran cogs.
Priority No. 1 needs to be re-signing Mike Lowell. Excuse me, World Series MVP Mike Lowell. GM Theo Epstein has done well in not offering contracts with too many years to past-their-prime veterans like Johnny Damon and Pedro Martinez, but Lowell might have just reached his prime, as odd as that is for a 33-year-old. He was an essential part of that lineup this year, even if he was originally a trade throw-in. That's changed. As one friend quipped in jest last night, "Remember when the Sox got Josh Beckett in that Lowell trade?"
I can already predict the major theme of 2008 spring training headlines: Can the Red Sox win another and become a dynasty?
The Boston Red Sox? A dynasty?
Labels: Rockies-Red Sox
WS: It's Over Before It's Over
Your World Series champions might just be the Pawtucket Red Sox.
Maybe Manny Ramirez was onto something when, as reported in a great New Yorker feature this spring, he demanded a trade from Boston to Pawtucket.
A youth movement? In Boston? It’s true: The story of last night’s game was undoubtedly the contributions of Boston’s kids, leading off with the leadoff hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury. Just 24 years old and with only 116 major-league regular season at bats under his belt —he spent most of the year at Triple A Pawtucket —Ellsbury went 4-for-5 with three doubles, two RBIs and two runs in setting the table for fellow 24-year-old Dustin Pedroia, who chipped in a 3-for-5, double and two-RBI night.
It was too fitting that Game 3 was played on the three-year anniversary of Oct. 27, 2004, the night that changed lives of Red Sox fans forever.
The remaining stalwarts from the ‘04 team didn’t do much last night. David Ortiz, Ramirez and Jason Varitek were a combined 2-for-12 with two RBIs, two runs and four strikeouts. Mike Timlin yielded two earned runs in two-thirds of an inning of relief.
Otherwise, the difference-makers were fresh faces like Ellsbury, Pedroia and, of course, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Hideki Okajima, dependable if not spectacular all season and playoffs, did allow a three-run homer but there were few other faults with the newcomers. Dice-K got the quick hook from Terry Francona but exceeded expectations not so much with his pitching (a solid two runs in 5.1 innings) but with his hitting, jumping on a first-pitch fastball for a two-RBI single. High comedy was the surprised look on first-base coach Luis Alicea’s face when he greeted Dice-K on the bag.
Undoubtedly – and deservedly – a major part of tonight’s story will be on Jon Lester’s return to baseball after beating cancer last year, even if the attention is a bit unwanted. When I chatted with Lester in July about his comeback for the magazine’s First Person interview series, all he hoped was this: “I want to go back to being normal.”
Certainly Lester seems to understand that the high-profile nature of his occupation grants him a credibility to help with the cause and give hope and inspiration particularly to children fighting cancer, but he earnestly wanted to be known as just another young pitcher in the Sox organization.
And, if his compatriots are any indication (see above), Lester shouldn’t have any problems.
Labels: Rockies-Red Sox
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