|Johan Santana trade is no-brainer for Mets, but did Twins get best possible deal?|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 30 January 2008 00:12|
Perhaps the only thing that kept the Mets out of the last two World Series was this: Their rotation lacked a durable, dominant ace.
Of course, they weren't the only club without one. In the big leagues, legitimate No. 1 starters are the hardest commodity to find.
So when the Mets had a chance Tuesday to trade for Santana, they jumped at it. Omar Minaya has always been an aggressive general manager, and he wasn't about to pass up an opportunity to land arguably the game's best pitcher.
The Mets agreed to send Minnesota four prospects, including three pitchers, for a guy who could cost them $120 million or more to sign to a contract extension of five to seven years.
That's a steep price, especially considering Santana could have become a free agent after this year's World Series and the Twins don't have the budget to re-sign him. Next offseason, he might have been available to the highest bidder - without having to give up any players in return.
Still, this deal was a no-brainer for the Mets, who are trying to win a championship right now.
Carlos Delgado, Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez have one year left on their contracts. Carlos Beltran is in his prime, David Wright and Jose Reyes will soon enter theirs. All-Star closer Billy Wagner is 36.
And New York has the financial resources to sign Santana, with its own regional sports network and a new ballpark on the way in 2009.
``We're going to welcome him with open arms,'' Wright said. ``He's a competitor on the mound. He doesn't like to lose. He wants the ball, and that's what you want out of your ace.''
Before Minaya took over, the Mets made a huge mistake in July 2004 by trading young lefty Scott Kazmir to Tampa Bay as part of a deal for pitcher Victor Zambrano. By 2006, Kazmir was an All-Star. Last year, he led the AL with 239 strikeouts.
This swap of prospects is much different for New York. Johan Santana is not Victor Zambrano.
The question is, did the Twins get the best possible deal for their star lefty?
The New York Yankees offered the best package of talent earlier this offseason, proposing a deal that would have sent pitcher Phil Hughes, center fielder Melky Cabrera and a minor leaguer to Minnesota.
Considered one of the premier prospects in baseball, Hughes has already shown he can get major league hitters out and he projects as a front-line starter. He went 5-3 with a 4.46 ERA as a rookie last year and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his second big league start, against Texas.
The 23-year-old Cabrera is an excellent defensive outfielder and a switch-hitter who holds his own with the bat. Don't be surprised if he develops more power as he gains experience.
But new Twins general manager Bill Smith waited, perhaps trying to play the Yankees against the Boston Red Sox, who also made a bid for Santana. Neither team upped its offer, however, and New York pulled out of talks at the winter meetings in December.
When the Twins went back to those clubs last weekend, the Yankees and Red Sox held onto their youngsters. Santana fell to the Mets, who didn't even have to part with their top overall prospect, outfielder Fernando Martinez. They also retained right-hander Mike Pelfrey, drafted No. 9 overall in 2005.
Minnesota could have kept Santana for one final season, hoping to make a run at the World Series. The Twins have some dangerous hitters, and left-hander Francisco Liriano is coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery. But winning the AL pennant will be a tough chore - the Tigers, Red Sox, Indians, Yankees and Angels all look stacked.
Plus, if Santana were to leave as a free agent, the Twins would only get draft picks as compensation.
The other option Minnesota had was to hang onto Santana for now and wait until the July 31 trade deadline approached in the hope that a bidding war would start among teams that viewed him as the final piece to a championship season.
But that would be risky. What if he got hurt before that? What if he refused to waive his no-trade clause? What if the summer trade offers were much less attractive?
So the Twins decided they needed to move Santana now.
What they're getting in return is a raw, speedy outfielder in Carlos Gomez, who didn't look like much of a hitter in 125 at-bats with the Mets last year, and right-hander Philip Humber, who has bounced back from elbow ligament replacement surgery after being drafted third overall in 2004.
Minnesota also acquired pitcher Kevin Mulvey, who was 12-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 26 starts at Double-A Binghamton and one at Triple-A New Orleans last year, and Deolis Guerra, who turns 19 in April and was 2-6 with a 4.01 ERA at Class-A St. Lucie.
Some think Mulvey can be a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the majors. Guerra is a wild card.
If two of these guys pan out, it won't be a bad deal for the Twins, who at least shipped Santana out of the American League. The best thing they did, though, is obtain multiple prospects. When dealing with minor leaguers, dealing in volume is the way to go.
But waiting to pull the trigger might have cost the Twins. Hughes and Cabrera have already proved they can perform at the major league level - in New York, during a pressure-packed pennant race.
Santana, left unprotected by Houston in the 1999 winter-meeting draft, turns 29 in March. The two-time Cy Young Award winner seems to be the closest thing there is to a safe bet, too.
After beginning his career in the bullpen, he proved durable for the Twins but wasn't overused. Minnesota takes great pride in protecting its young arms - Santana has made 33 or 34 starts each of the last four seasons and pitched anywhere from 219 to 233 2-3 innings. He threw extra innings in the playoffs several times, but not last year.
The Mets needed to make a big move after their unprecedented collapse last September left players and fans bitter. Then, Tom Glavine took his 200 innings to Atlanta, creating a huge hole in the rotation.
Plus, they had sat by and watched this offseason as their chief rivals in the NL East, the Philadelphia Phillies, upgraded their bullpen (Brad Lidge) and lengthened their lineup (Geoff Jenkins and Pedro Feliz).
Just two years ago, the Mets were one win from the World Series. The addition of Santana makes them NL favorites again.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.