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1/30/2008 12:21:00 PM

So long, Johan

Johan Santana
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
We're just talkin' about the future
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:

G PA Avg. OBP SLG HR XBH BB SO SB
156 643 .282 .354 .421 9 51 42 120 58

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.

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posted by SI.com | View comments |

Comments:

Posted: January 30, 2008 1:02 PM   by Anonymous AdrenaLynn
Seaver Redux

The package for Santana sure looks like the same package the Mets received in 19777 for Tom Seaver after the Midnight Massacre orchestrated by then Mets GM, M. Donald Grant.

Seaver to the Reds for Steve Henderson (OF), Pat Zachary (P), Doug Flynn (2B), and Dan Norman (OF).

Seaver would go 75-46 and pitch a no-hitter in 5+ seasons with the Reds as part of his Hall of Fame career. None of the players the Mets acquired would become All-Stars or impact players. However, all but Norman did become very serviceable Major Leaguers.

The Mets, on the other hand, entered a Dark Ages that would last until the return of Seaver and the arrival of Keith Hernandez to the Mets in the 1983. That renaissance would continue with the debut of Dwight Gooden in 1984.

For the sake of the Twins and their fans, the Santana deal must fare better.
Posted: January 30, 2008 1:42 PM   by Anonymous Meetthemets
The Twins also save about $11,000,000 (had they kept Santana one more year at $13,000,000). They are really getting 4 prospects and a lot of cash.
Posted: January 30, 2008 2:02 PM   by Anonymous The other BS
I think you're right on the money in your evaluations of the guys the Twins got from the Mets, and assessment of the whole deal. What isn't yet clear to me is the timing of Johan's notifying the Twins that he wouldn't waive his no-trade clause mid-season. Was yesterday the first the Twins had heard of that, or had Johan's camp warned them before the winter meetings that he would nix a potential mid-season deal, if he wasn't dealt by spring training? If the latter, Smith should maybe take a little heat for not jumping on one of the earlier offers (if they were in fact legit). If the former, than Smith was pretty much screwed once it became obvious the Yanks and Sawx were pretenders.
Posted: January 30, 2008 4:13 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
This article is really one of the more thorough ones to talk about the Twins' side of things and the state of each player received. I commend you on that. Most others regurgitate the AP article.

One thing you glossed over was the fact that the Mets offers in November and December were similar (may have had Pelfrey), and were panned by most critics compared to the Yanks and BoSox offers.

Most likely, Santana could've been dealt a year ago when he had more time on the contract for probably better players.

As a Twins fan, it's frustrating to see that this trade is meant for success in 2-4 years, not this year. Add in that Liriano is coming off of TJ surgery, and it makes for a downer of a season.
Posted: January 30, 2008 6:24 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I disagree with the Seaver Redux analaogy. The ages and potential of todays' Met players involved in the Santana deal look nothing like
Dan Norman, et al! Also, saving money was not a factor. A standing offer of 4 yrs at $20 mil per was on the table for Santana. (I feel that was fair!) But he wanted a bigger East Coast stage and a larger Latino community than the Twin Cities provided. AND 6 to 7 years @ $20+mil a year. Too much and too long. Let's see if the Mets can handle the pitching side of Santana as well as the Twins staff did since signing him as an obscure Rule 5 player and devloping him into the pitcher he is today. I think the Red Sox were only playing "keep away" from the Yanks.
Posted: January 31, 2008 12:24 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
This may be an overly naive, simplistic look at this deal, but didn't the Twins trade away Matt Garza and receive Delmon Young from the Rays?? Santana is 50 times the pitcher Garza is, yet all we could get from the Mets was a bunch of mediocre players? Young is a legitimate, major league star in the making...I just don't understand why the Twins couldn't demand more quality in return for baseball's top pitcher. Any thoughts?
Posted: January 31, 2008 8:12 AM   by Anonymous baseball terri
This is the worst trade that Twins GM, Bill Smith, could have made. AN outfielder who can't hit, and 3 pitchers who don't know how to pitch. What a disgrace to all Twins fans. And then with all the money the Twins have saved by not signing Santana; they won't even sign a decent pitcher or centerfielder (unless they can get Sidney Ponson or Rondell White). Twins fans are sick and tired of the way the Twins front office cronies run the team.
Posted: January 31, 2008 11:38 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Let's not forget that the team taking Santana knows that they will need to sign that ginormous extension. There are only so many players a team will give up for the opportunity to pay out the biggest pitching contract in history. If Santana had 2 years on his contract, I'm sure they could have demanded Martinez.
Posted: January 31, 2008 3:55 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
For some reason, folks seem to be drinking the Cool-Aid on this one! This is a horrible deal for the Twins as the Met's basically stole Santana for four prospects. Gomez is not, and never will be, Torii Hunter. He pales by comparison. Center field, long a mainstay of greatness for the Twins, will deeply suffer. Guerra sounds like he was damaged by the Mets foolishly trying to rush him to the bigs. Humber WAS damaged by the Mets, and after TJ Surgery, he isn't the same pitcher. So, we are getting what...one decent prospect, one maybe prospect and two damaged, maybe already washed up prospects, in return for the best pitcher in the league? We missed out on Martinez, and we messed up not getting Cabrera, Hughes, Ellsbury, or anyone some identifiable talent. Sounds like Smith blew this deal, and blew it big time. Now, is Smith going to redeem himself anytime soon? Could the Twins be doomed by a GM that was blown away in his first big deal? This will follow him for a dozen years or so, when we really find out what they Twins got in return for Santana. Yeah, Smith, keep an eye on your rear view mirror...someone is trying to make the next theft, now that everyone knows you are a pushover....sigh....it's so tough being a Twins fan!
Posted: February 1, 2008 1:12 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Fantastic breakdown of the deal. I regularly read aarongleeman.com and have come to expect this type of analysis.

I think the trade in the long-term makes tons of sense for both teams. Having locked up a couple of big bats (Morneau, Cuddyer and to an extent Mauer) the Twins have a solid lineup nucleus. The addition of Gomez to the bottom of the lineup (his OBP is too low to function as an effective leadoff hitter) will probably have people talking about the Piranas again. In 2010 when the new stadium opens, we will probably see Gomez on the field and one or two of the other pitchers received in the trade in the rotation/bullpen. Santana needed a bigger stage and got it.

My prediction is that his numbers get worse this year due to the added pressure of pitching in NY with the largest contract ever given to a pitcher.
Posted: February 1, 2008 2:56 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Keep in mind they traded Santana out of the AL. A boon for all the AL, acutally. So, even though the rumored offers may have been a bit better, in the end the Twins may have benefited more.
Posted: February 1, 2008 7:16 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
June 15, 1977 (the date Seaver was dealt) still scars my childhood memories, so though I am a Mets fan, I do empathize with Twins fans. It's a bit early to equate this current prospect with the non-impact guys the Mets received way back when, but I do agree that, at worst, Minnesota will have at least 3 serviceable major leaguers within a year or two from this group.

My advice to the Twins is give Carlos Gomez a full year at AAA.
Posted: February 2, 2008 12:17 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
The word I hear from sources within the Twins organization is that the Yankees never formally included Phil Hughes in any offer, so there was some misreporting by the press. When the Red Sox figured this out, they cut back on the offers they were initially putting forward, with the result that Bill Smith at the end of the day was left with the deal the Mets put on the table. Santana then forced the timing of the deal by threatening to invoke his no-trade rights and simply wait for free agency next year. Nonetheless, the view of the scouts for the Twins is that Gome could be better than Ellsbury because he is stronger in the field and has the potential to hit for power, and he is two years younger. They also see the 18 year old kid as having tons of upside. So the view is that it will be a couple of years before the merits of this trade can be fairly assessed. My own view, as a Twins season ticket holder, is that, under the circumstances, the Twins did OK. I don't mind seeing a heavy emphasis on defense up the middle, especially if we have hitting in the outfield corner positions. And one can never have too much be way of pitching prospects.
Posted: February 3, 2008 12:53 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Great post comparing this trade to the Seaver one. The Twins G.M. and their organization screwed their fans with this trade. It was all about money and nothing else. They should have kept him for the 2008 season and if he left via free agency they would still get a couple of draft picks. The 4 guys they got in this deal are a bunch of minor league players that wouldn't make the opening day roster. This trade made by the Twins is worse then the trade made with Seaver, at least they got back guys that could make the major league roster. Twins fans should boycott games this year. This G.M. should be fired for not taking the deals by the Yankees and REDSOX, much better talent in those packages. Could go down as one of the worst trades in the history of the league.
Posted: February 6, 2008 5:37 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
this guy gleeman knows his stuff-how about more of him for us baseball people-
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