So Johan finally got dealt to the Mets, which is really where everyone wanted him to go all along.
Before I get into this, let me offer the following caveat: until the contract is signed, we don’t know for sure how good of a deal this is for the Mets. (Though my friend Zigman (a Mets Fan) is on the record for a 6 year $148 million extension)
So essentially the Mets have traded 4 good, but not great prospects for Johan Santana. In a perfect world, they got 3 starters and a starting CF, which would be a great deal, but as we know, prospects don’t always pan out.
There are numerous places around the internet that will break down this deal: Keith Law on ESPN for one.
The real question though is how did the best pitcher in baseball become worth so little? Supposedly, the Twins offered the Yankees Santana for packages that did not include Hughes or Joba, but still the Yanks wouldn’t budge. Clearly the Red Sox also had no interest, pulling Ellsbury and Lester off the table.
For as good a pitcher as Santana is, he simply isn’t that valuable.
Sure both the Yankees and Red Sox would be better this year with Santana. But they would also be paying over $30 million dollars (after luxury tax implications) for a player that would maybe improve them 2-3 wins. And after 2008, they’d be paying just as much while the return would continue to go down, as Hughes, Wang, Kennedy, Lester, Buchholz or whoever the Twins would have gotten back, improve.
Santana is awesome. But he gave up 33 home runs last year. By comparison, Wang gave up 9. To warrant a $20+ million a year contract while still giving up prospects, you have no know you’re getting your ace for the next 7 years. Randy Johnson, before he came to NY, had numbers more impressive than Santana’s (albeit in the JV league). He did not prove to be an ace. Even pitchers as good as Santana are a risk.
So why does this make sense for the Mets? In the NL, Santana will probably have an ERA of -1.28, defying even the laws of mathematics. In 4 years even if Santana’s fastball fades, he’ll still be a dominating pitcher with his change alone. This is the league where Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan, and countless other mediocre and just plain bad pitchers thrive. The Mets don’t have a single starter who would crack the rotation for the Yankees or Red Sox. Santana is a significant upgrade for them. He could easily bring an extra 6+ wins a year for quite some time. And the Mets still hold on to their hitter (Martinez) and pitcher (Pelfrey) with the highest upside.
So why does this trade make sense for the Twins? They obviously ran out of options. It was either this deal, or let Santana walk after the season. At best the Twins would have received a late first round pick and a sandwich pick as compensation. The 4 players the Mets gave them are better than that. And don’t forget the other important part: the Twins do not have to pay Santana the $13 million owed to him for this season. That is a huge deal for a team like Minnesota with limited finances.
So who loses here? Well, by default it’s the Twins, because they traded away the best pitcher in baseball. But they didn’t lose because they got duped into taking an inferior offer. They lose because they were forced to trade Santana at the wrong time. Baseball economics have changed. If this was as recently as 2 or 3 years ago, both Boston and the Yankees would have been willing to clean house to acquire Santana. Now, young pitching that will be good is more valuable than pitching that has been good.