19 years after trade, Viola wonders about Santana deal for Twins Print
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Thursday, 31 January 2008 14:29
MLB Headline News

 MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -As the Johan Santana trade story unfolded, Frank Viola couldn't help but see the parallels to his own departure from Minnesota 19 years ago.
Both were left-handed aces with Cy Young Awards on their resumes who priced themselves out of the Twin Cities - and onto the New York Mets for a multiplayer package of mostly unknowns.
The Viola deal finally came at the July 31 trade deadline in 1989, much later than most people around the game expected. The delay helped the Twins get a better return from New York for their ace.
``That's why it worked out for me, because they waited,'' Viola said.
Time will tell how Minnesota will fare in this week's pending trade of Santana to the Mets, who continued to work on a new contract for the pitcher Thursday. The deal can't be finalized until that happens and all the players involved pass physicals.
Viola wanted to give the Twins the benefit of the doubt. He realized that new general manager Bill Smith has been in a tough spot since Santana rejected Minnesota's offer of a contract extension worth $80 million over four years.
Viola wondered, though, whether this was a good deal for the Twins.
``I question the trade somewhat, as a fan of the Twins and not an ex-ballplayer,'' he said. ``I guess if you're a Minnesota fan like I am, you hope this is the best Bill could've done under the circumstances.''
Players offered earlier in the process by the Red Sox and Yankees probably would've made a stronger impact for Minnesota, though it's unfair to predict what kind of career any of them will ultimately have. Center fielder Carlos Gomez and right-handed pitchers Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra are four of the Mets' top prospects, but none of them are considered sure bets to be All-Stars.
``You're talking four guys with a big question mark by all of their names,'' Viola said. ``Carlos Gomez, he has to be comparable to a Kirby Puckett and a Torii Hunter? Good luck with that.''
Speaking from his home in Orlando, Fla., Viola recalled the rather volatile end of his tenure with the Twins. Though the similarities to the Santana situation are striking, there's one big difference.
Andy MacPhail, then Minnesota's general manager, decided to risk the distraction and take Viola into the season with the trade hanging over his - and everyone else's - head.
As MacPhail told him years later, Viola was well on his way to the Yankees until Mets starter Dwight Gooden got hurt. That increased Viola's value, and the Twins wound up with five pitchers - Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, David West, Tim Drummond and Jack Savage - in the trade. Aguilera and Tapani were major contributors to Minnesota's World Series title two years later.
As Viola acknowledged, however, that 1989 season was a mess. After winning 91 games the year before, the Twins fell off track while the trade talk made headlines. Viola and his agent sounded off after an unsuccessful negotiation with MacPhail and said he would test the free-agent market that fall.
Fans branded him greedy and selfish, and tension was added to a normally loose clubhouse. Viola said his in-limbo status weighed heavily on him that spring and summer until the trade was finally made.
``Not so much the pressure of going out and pitching, but looking at your teammates each day and wondering if that was going to be the last day you were going to hang out with them,'' said Viola, whose 15-year career ended in 1996. ``But it was a situation I put myself into.''
The last game he pitched for the Twins was on July 28, 1989, a 6-4 loss at Detroit.
``I knew the deadline was coming, and I knew I'd be gone,'' Viola said. ``I could not focus, and I pitched like dog crap. I had to look myself in the mirror and say, 'Did I give my best?'''
Regardless of timing, the Twins have had success with trades like these before. After the 2003 season, they sent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to San Francisco for pitchers Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser in an all-time steal of a deal.
During spring training 1998, they traded disgruntled second baseman Chuck Knoblauch to the Yankees for Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Brian Buchanan and Danny Mota. That deal also helped Minnesota.
So, as the Twins tried to sort out the ramifications of this trade and figure out who's in their rotation and which guy is going to lead off, they were at least sure in their satisfaction that Santana will be pitching in the National League. Just as with Viola, nearly two decades prior.
``From a hitter's standpoint, you'd be crazy to wish that the Red Sox or the Yankees got him and we were to face him in the playoffs,'' third baseman Mike Lamb said.
 

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