Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Friday, January 05, 2007

Reusse's Article on Santana

Patrick Reusse wrote a column awhile back (December 30, t0 be exact) that discussed the Twins "depressing" off-season, and the more depressing off-season that he sees coming next year when, as he sees it, the Twins "inevitably" trade Johan Santana. The premise is based on the $126 million deal that Barry Zito just got, and the presumption that Johan will get a $200 million deal when he's a free agent. Is he right?

Let's look at his statements one-by-one, because there's a lot to unpack in this article:

1.) "[the Zito signing] means there is zero chance that Johan Santana will be pitching for the Twins following the 2008 season."

This is hyperbole and defeatism. The Twins will, absolutely, have to make some difficult decisions over the next few years, and what to do with Johan Santana is going to be a big part of that process. But, we should not assume automatically that Santana will be gone.

First, and this should never be relied on too much, Santana might actually want to pitch with the Twins. Players who were "for sure" going to take the money and run (Kent Hrbek, for example) have chosen to sign contracts with the Twins for less money than they could have picked up elsewhere. Just this off-season, Vernon Wells signed a contract extension with the Blue Jays that is worth less, possibly FAR less, than he could have picked up on the open market. This does NOT mean that the Twins will be able to get by with offering Santana a pittance - he's going to take at least as much as Zito I would guess. We're talking an $18-20 million/year contract to even think about keeping him around.

Now, this is obviously not the kind of contract that the Twins normally sign. But we aren't dealing with a normal player here. We aren't even dealing with a "special" player. We're dealing with the best pitcher in baseball (apologies to Roy Halladay). You dig deep to keep a guy like that around, and with a new stadium (and the associated higher revenues) coming around the corner from when this signing would take place, there is every reason to think that there is some measure of flexibility in the budget, or at least will be, when a decision has to be made on Santana.

I'll get into this in more detail further down the post, but the whole point of this section is to say that there is, in fact, a chance (maybe not a good one, but a chance nonetheless), that the Twins will be able to keep Johan in a Twins uniform for the rest of his career.

#2 - "You can let Hunter leave as a free agent and get away with it. You can't possibly do the same with Santana, perhaps the most valuable commodity in the game at the moment."

On this point, Reusse and I are in complete agreement. Torii Hunter is a nice player to have, but he's expensive. With Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer all in the expansive salary portion of their career, the Twins will need the money that they're currently paying Hunter to be able to keep the other guys around. Further, and more to the point here, he's not such a great player that the Twins could get an unbelievable package for him in a trade. If he had a good start to the 2007 season, and a contender developed a need for an outfielder, he might become fairly valuable - but he'd probably be more valuable to the Twins if they were even remotely in contention at the trade deadline, because he's a big part of the Twins offense, and his replacement would be unlikely to produce as many runs as he could. As a result, keeping Hunter and letting him leave as a free agent (thus picking up the draft pick compensation for him) isn't a terrible plan.

Santana is, of course, a completely different story. I gave Jim Bowden a terrible time this year for not trading Alfonso Soriano when the market was as good as it was going to get. Bowden supposedly thought that he could re-sign Soriano, but that was nonsensical. Santana would be even more of a sure-thing trade - the only difference being that he would probably be dealt before the start of his last season (2008) in order to maximize the trade value.

This means that the Twins will need to work on an extension for Santana next winter. I don't know whether he'll be receptive or not to the kinds of package that the Twins could/would offer him, but they will have to give it their best shot next winter. If they can't get it done, then it would be foolish to keep him around for 2008 and risk losing him as a free agent - as Reusse says, he's just too valuable.

The Twins will have to make some difficult decisions in the next few years, but I don't think signing Johan is one of them. They absolutely have to make an attempt, and a ridiculously long contract for a ton of money (7 or 8 years at $20 million per) is warranted for a guy like Santana. We can't afford to go to 10 years and $25 million, and that may be what it takes to keep him. But if that's the case, then the Twins are out of the Santana race.

How to we pay for Santana if we are lucky enough to keep him at $20 million per? Well, we already pay him $12 million (for 2007), and will be paying him $13.25 million in 2008. If it jumped to $20 million in 2009, the money would have to come from somewhere. The Twins could likely raise expenditures in anticipation of increased revenue from the new ballpark, but that probably wouldn't be enough to keep Santana and the core group of young players that are going to be getting big raises.

I leave you, therefore, with one question: If it came down to keeping Santana but losing either Mauer, Morneau, or Cuddyer - OR - keeping the three young guys and letting Santana go, what would you do? For me, the answer is clear - but that's a story for another day, sometime early next off-season. For now, it's just a hypothetical question . . .


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