My evolving stance on Santana
As I was watching Santana striking out Ranger after Ranger yesterday, I got to thinking yet again about Santana's future with the Twins. My position on this has been consistent and clear -- sign him for whatever he wants. Break the bank. He's the best pitcher in baseball, and that kind of talent cannot be allowed to leave. I've been saying this since the middle of the last off-season, and with my foolish optimism I believed that the Twins would try to come to terms with Santana this past spring.
Of course, that didn't happen -- and in the meantime, Santana decided to play "annoyed fan of the day" when he complained about Terry Ryan's decision to trade away Luis Castillo and not add anyone in his place. I've stated before that I think that view is wrong, but I can understand from the standpoint of a guy on the team who feels that management isn't doing enough to win. It may not demonstrate that Santana has the goods to be a GM, but it does show that he wants to win and I really don't mind that at all. Santana's comments in late July started up a feeding frenzy on the part of the national media over the question of when -- not if -- Santana would no longer be a Twin.
A funny thing happened as I read the articles and listened to the radio debate on ESPN radio during my commute -- to put it bluntly, I started to change my mind. I haven't fully signed on to the "trade Santana this winter" viewpoint, but I'm now much closer to neutral on this issue than I was before. Before I launch into the reasons why, I want to reiterate what I just said so as to make my current viewpoint abundantly clear: I want Johan Santana to remain a Twin for the rest of his career. I believe the Twins should do just about anything to sign him to a 5 or 6 year deal, and they should make the money enticing enough to make him forgo his impending free agency. The reason why is simple -- letting go a Hall of Fame pitcher (and while he'll never reach the 300 wins that for some reason marks a magic number, I have no doubt that when things are said and done Santana will make it to the Hall on the strength of a stretch of utter dominance that he's still in the middle of) is just not a very sound move.
So, you ask, why have I come closer to accepting the need for a trade? The answer should be obvious to anyone who has watched the Twins play this season -- the offense is horrible. There are glaring holes at 3B, LF, and DH -- and CF is about to be a major problem if Torii Hunter bolts town this winter. Now, teams can go about addressing holes in three basic ways: promotion of players from the minor leagues; free agency; and trades. Unfortunately for the Twins, the first two aren't really options.
Let's start by looking at minor league players. The Twins had hoped that Matt Moses would step it up this season for Rochester so that he could compete for the 3B job in Spring Training 2008. Instead, Moses has regressed -- he played so poorly, in fact, that he was demoted to New Britain midway through the season. His replacement at Rochester was, of course, Brian Buscher -- and while Buscher should get about 5-6 weeks to prove himself at the position, I have serious doubts about the ability of a player who was just claimed by the Twins in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft last winter to be able to step in and claim a starting spot with a Major League team. In the outfield, the Twins have Denard Span, who has had a mediocre season in Rochester (although there are those, such as a commenter in my AAA update post from last week, who feel that the Twins may be perfectly happy with the improvement that Span has shown from the beginning of the season to know -- put simply, I disagree, but here's some equal time for that view) doesn't seem near ready to step in for Torii in CF, and he isn't an option in left or at DH. Jason Kubel may still develop into an every day player, but at what point do we as fans have to stop relying on that? Beyond that, the options are slim -- Josh Rabe? Completely unproven. Trent Oeljten? Doug Deeds? Garrett Jones? None of these guys are viable options to step in and nail down a position next year, and probably not ever. Forget about securing help from the minors.
What about free agency? Beyond the initial problem that a player has to actually be interested in joining the Twins for this to be a legitimate option (so, yeah, even if the Twins could afford him you can forget about Alex Rodriguez ever joining the Twins, for instance), there's the further problem that the players who are going to be available are, simply, underwhelming. Look at the names of eligible third basemen, and you'll likely spot the problem pretty quickly: Russell Branyan, Corey Koskie, Mike Lamb, Mike Lowell, Greg Norton, Abraham Nunez, Alex Rodriguez (if he opts out). Yep, that's the list. Amazing, huh? On that list, there are only two players who would help the Twins -- and as I already mentioned, A-Rod isn't an option. Mike Lowell is the only other player there who's even halfway decent, and as the only legitimate third baseman on the market, he'll probably be able to cash in elsewhere. There are more -- and better-- options available in the outfield, but the Twins would likely be confined to the bargain bin of players such as Reggie Sanders, Mike Cameron, and maybe a guy like a Geoff Jenkins or Corey Patterson. Improvements? Yes, indeedy, in most cases -- at least in LF. But these aren't the kinds of exciting, long-term fixes that the team really needs -- and they aren't exactly young, either.
The Twins, then, seem to be confined to improving the team through trades if they expect to actually have an offense next year. I'm not going to belabor this point and speculate on who could match up well with the Twins in a deal. Instead, I'm just going to say that if the Twins chose to deal Santana this off-season, when his value would be through the roof, they would probably be able to get major league ready players who could fill the holes at 3B, LF, and DH along with an upcoming prospect or two. The teams offense could be dramatically improved with one fell swoop.
Obviously, the downside is the havoc that this would wreak on the pitching staff -- and it would be considerable. The Twins appear to have the kinds of young arms that allow something like this to possibly pay off. Imagine a rotation next year with any five of Liriano, Garza, Baker, Bonser, Slowey, and Perkins. It would be young and raw -- and there would be games like tonight -- but I think those guys would be able to keep things close enough to allow the newly rejuvenated offense to win quite a few ballgames and compete for a playoff spot.
Ultimately, it comes down to this -- if the Twins keep Santana, the offense will continue to languish, and probably for the foreseeable future, since so much money would be tied up in Johan -- but the pitching should be absolutely top notch, and the team will still have a chance to win. If they trade Johan, they can patch most, if not all, of the holes in the offense and still have a very good rotation -- albeit one with a giant, gaping hole where a future Hall of Famer once resided.
It will not be an easy decision for Terry Ryan when the off-season rolls around -- but for the first time, I think the Twins have a chance to win either way. His decision will shape the direction of the team heading into the next 5 or 6 year stretch. Hopefully, he makes the right one.
Labels: Johan Santana