My Thoughts on Santana to the Mets
First, I think the question that has to be asked before anything else is a basic (although hardly simple) one: Are the Twins better off for having made this trade? To answer that question, you have to look at every aspect of this deal. You have to recognize that Santana was asking for at least 6 years and $120 million to re-sign. You have to recognize that at that asking price, the Twins were going to let him go for financial reasons (and for those of you who argue that they just signed Justin Morneau to a 6-year deal, let me just say that hitters are generally less at risk of major injury than are pitchers -- and Santana was asking for about 50% more than Morneau was over that stretch). Further, you have to recognize that had the Twins not traded Santana and failed to re-sign him, they would have picked up two draft picks in exchange for losing him to free agency.
If you've been paying attention, none of this is a surprise to you. As I said, it's a basic framing of the problem. However, at this point in the analysis, I don't think anyone should be comparing the deal that was made to the potential deals that could have been made. That comes later. So, once again, I ask whether this particular trade makes the Twins better off. I think the answer is yes, although I'm not completely convinced of that. The problem is that none of the players who the Twins received in this trade seems to me to be a sure-thing big leaguer.
Carlos Gomez is a high ceiling, extremely fast center fielder. Problem is, he hasn't proved that he can hit at the big league level (although I'm not as disturbed by his minor league statistics as some people are). He should get a chance to be the Twins starting Center Fielder, although he has just 140 AB's at the AAA level and 125 AB's in the big leagues (with a .232 average). So, the bottom line on Gomez, from my standpoint, is that he's a very good outfielder who will probably contribute at the big league level -- but he's not a sure thing.
Phil Humber had a few good stops in 2006, but is recovering from Tommy John surgery and posted a 4.27 ERA in 139 innings last year in his return. Most of the reports on Humber that I've read recently suggest that he'll be lucky to be a big league #3 someday, and is more likely a #4 or #5. That's if he gets it all together again post-surgery, which does not seem to be a guarantee.
Kevin Mulvey is a young pitcher who was a second round pick in 2006, and he posted very solid numbers in AA last season (3.32 ERA in 151.2 innings, a 1.24 WHIP, and a 110-43 K-BB ratio). Unfortunately, most of the same projections on Mulvey suggest that he's not a top of the line starter either, and like Humber would probably top out as a #3 if everything went right for him.
Deolis Guerra will turn 19 in April and seemingly has a lot of upside -- but, to reiterate, he's just 18. He also hasn't exactly dominated the lower levels of the Mets organization (4.01 ERA in 89.2 innings in High A ball last year). His numbers aren't bad -- they just aren't dominant.
This is a reasonable package, but without a can't-miss prospect it's also a dangerous one. Weighing the options, however, I do think that the Twins narrowly came out ahead here. One year of Johan Santana in exchange for somewhere in the neighborhood of 24-26 Major League seasons of mid-level players if everything goes perfectly -- and to be accurate, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 seasons once all is said and done. The chance, at least, to have a long-term speedy center fielder. Three pitchers who all have the stuff to last for at least awhile in the big leagues. That, to me, is a better payoff than two high draft picks. So, yes, I think that this deal leaves the Twins better off than they were before the made it, even with the question marks surrounding each of these players.
The next question ultimately is whether this was the best deal that the Twins could have struck. If you've read this blog before, you probably know that I was in favor of a Red Sox deal involving Jacoby Ellsbury, because I felt that he could definitively settle the Twins center field problem for years to come (even assuming that he fell back to Earth from how ridiculously well he played at the end of last year). The next best deal would have been with the Yankees for Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera (a solid although not particularly inspiring center fielder) with another player or two. The worst deal in my mind was the one involving the Mets, considering it was just for prospects.
However, the Twins weren't shopping at Wal-Mart. They couldn't just pull down a package off of the shelf and happily move on. We don't officially know whether Ellsbury (or Jon Lester) or Phil Hughes were ever even on the table. We don't know whether or not the Red Sox would have ponied up the money that Santana wanted to get a deal done. We don't know whether the Yankees were involved to the end or not (although it seems as if they weren't). In light of all of those questions, I'm simply not going to criticize Bill Smith for not making the deal that I would have preferred -- because the bottom line is that he made a deal that I think improved the Twins. It couldn't have been easy to pull the trigger on a Santana deal (the inordinate delay in getting a deal done at all testifies to that!), but he and the people around him in the organization bit the bullet and took a chance. I admire that.
And so (hopefully!) the Johan Santana saga ends, and the Twins can move forward. Frankly, I can't wait to see how Santana does in New York, but even more I can't wait to see how some of these new Twins perform during Spring Training as they compete for spots on the roster. Without question, it's a new era for the Twins -- and in my opinion, it's an exciting one. Bring on the Spring!