By Joe Christensen
Most of us have given the Twins credit for not trading Johan Santana in a panic at the winter meetings. To date, they have not found an offer to their liking. But I’ve had two major league officials tell me in recent days that the Twins shouldn’t assume they’ll get more by waiting.
I still think the Twins will trade Santana rather than lose him to free agency. The question is when, and there are basically three options:
1) Soon, which I’ll define as sometime within the next two weeks.
2) During spring training. Those trades are more rare, but let’s say another team loses a top pitcher to an arm injury in February or March. In that scenario, the Twins would have renewed leverage.
3) In June or July. In other words, during the season and sometime before the July 31 trade deadline.
Before trading Santana, the Twins need to decide three things:
1) Can they afford to sign him past 2008? Obviously, billionaire owner Carl Pohlad can afford it, but can the Twins afford to commit more than $20 million to Santana every year between 2009 and 2014 under their current business model? No chance. Not even with the new stadium.
2) By keeping him, do they have a chance to reach the playoffs in 2008? Yes, but as currently constructed, they would be heavy underdogs to get there behind these AL teams: the Tigers, Indians, Red Sox, Yankees and Angels. They would need everything to go right from Francisco Liriano regaining his 2006 form to major bounce-back seasons from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Even then, it’s hard to see how they would overcome their other gaping holes.
3) By trading him, would they get more than they would by getting two compensation draft picks when losing him to free agency? Yes. They already have several offers better than this, I’ve been told. I wrote for today’s editions about how in their talks with Boston they are focused on a package with Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson, with the teams haggling over a fourth player.
(Some have expressed surprise that the Twins would make a move without getting a top-flight pitching prospect such as Phil Hughes or Jon Lester. I agree, but after moving Santana, the Twins could proceed to move Joe Nathan for a young ace.)
As La Velle pointed out in his Sunday column, the A’s traded Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson shortly after the winter meetings in 2004. The Twins also waited to trade Chuck Knoblauch until February 1998. In the Knoblauch trade and in the Randy Johnson trade with the Diamondbacks in January 2005, the Yankees were basically the only team bidding, so it took a while for the sides to compromise.
As we’ve written for weeks, the reason the Twins are in a tough spot is because it’s hard to get equal value for Santana when his no-trade clause will practically force the team that gets him to sign him to a six-year contract extension worth at least $20 million per year. As another major league official put it yesterday, “I don’t think there’s any scenario where people will look at this and say, ‘Man, the Twins really fleeced that team.’ ”
I think teams have been regrouping a bit since the winter meetings. Some are kicking the tires on Oakland’s Dan Haren and Baltimore’s Erik Bedard. Others are waiting to see where Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda lands, with the Seattle Post Intelligencer reporting this morning that the Mariners and Dodgers are the two leading candidates.
But if I had to bet, I’d say the Twins make this move in the next two weeks. The negotiations already seem to be dragging since the Yankees announced they were pulling out of the running. If the Red Sox do the same thing, this could really grind to a halt. The Twins were right not to make this move in a panic. But now they’ve had sufficient time to determine Santana’s value on the trade market, and waiting too long could also prove costly.