January 2008

More reaction to the Santana trade

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

I spoke to several Twins players yesterday, and none of them criticized the Johan Santana trade.

A selection of the responses made it into our coverage. I’ll take advantage of unlimited space here on the blog to give you some more, starting with a full e-mail from Justin Morneau:

I think it was a move that we were all expecting and waiting to happen, but at the same time anytime you lose the best pitcher in baseball it still hurts.

Now we must move on and get ready for the upcoming season without him. We now have our centre fielder and leadoff hitter that we needed and added some good arms at the same time.

I think it will be a few years before we can really see who got the better of the trade, but I do remember a trade of our starting catcher a few years ago for some players that not too many people knew, and they ended up being three very good major league players.

Now the rest of the guys are just going to have to step up and there are plenty of opportunities in spring for everyone. I still believe we are young and talented and can make the playoffs.

Mike Redmond said he was watching a movie yesterday afternoon and figured something major must have happened when his cell phone started “blowing up.” Redmond said:

Personally, I’m happy we traded him to the Mets. These next couple years, I don’t want to have to face Johan Santana to try to get to the playoffs, or to get through the playoffs. At least this won’t make another AL team stronger.

I know the Twins work hard, and I’ll bet there have been a lot of sleepless nights over whether they were getting enough value. Who’s to say one of these guys we’re getting isn’t the next Johan Santana?

To a man, all of them sounded relieved that the situation was getting resolved before spring training. They received countless questions about Santana all winter, especially on the Twins Caravan and at TwinsFest. Michael Cuddyer added:

You’re not going to have those same questions every day. It’s not going to be a distraction going into spring training.

Now we can just talk about the players that we’ve got here, and then we can just go into spring training and talk about playing baseball.

The danger of dealing prospects to the Twins

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Imagine you are Mets GM Omar Minaya and you have a chance to get Johan Santana without giving up Jose Reyes, David Wright, John Maine or any other impact player from your 2007 roster.

The Twins have made it clear: They’ll do this for prospects. Yes, they want your best prospects, and you might feel like this will gut your system. And yes, after gutting your system, you’d have to make Santana the highest paid pitcher in history.

But you’re this close to the move that will help your ballclub turn the corner from that epic September collapse. You’re this close to making the splash of the offseason, upgrading a rotation that currently includes Maine, Pedro Martinez, Oliver Perez, Orlando Hernandez and Mike Pelfrey.

Your alternatives on the free agent market are Livan Hernandez and Kyle Lohse.

The Twins have asked for some combination of Fernando Martinez, Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey. You’d probably do it right now, if they weren’t asking for Martinez. You absolutely love that kid, even though the earliest he’d probably help a big league club is late 2009.

Prospects are just that – prospects. But the Twins have an uncanny knack at identifying the good ones on other rosters. They missed with David West in the 1988 Frank Viola trade but still got Rick Aguilera and Kevin Tapani. Here are a few of the other gems they’ve uncovered over the years, players who weren’t yet settled at Class AAA but eventually reached the big leagues with the Twins:

Alexi Casilla (from the Angels for J.C. Romero, 2005)

Francisco Liriano (from the Giants for A.J. Pierzynski, 2003)

Jason Bartlett (from the Padres for Brian Buchanan, 2002)

Lew Ford (from the Red Sox for Hector Carrasco, 2000)

Johan Santana (from the Marlins for Jared Camp, 1999)

Kyle Lohse (from the Cubs for Rick Aguilera, 1999)

Cristian Guzman (from the Yankees for Chuck Knoblauch, 1998)

Joe Mays (from the Mariners for Roberto Kelly, 1997)

David Ortiz (from the Mariners for Dave Hollins, 1996)

The Twins are good at this, and you know it. But how many chances do you get to acquire Johan Santana?

In Santana saga, past is prologue

Friday, January 18th, 2008

I know I keep going back to the Chuck Knoblauch trade, but as we all search for answers during this Johan Santana saga, we can learn a lot from that segment of Twins history.

1) The timing

After weeks of speculation with Knoblauch, the Twins finally pulled the trigger on Feb. 6, 1998. That’s a reminder that there is still plenty of time for a Santana deal to happen before spring training.

2) The complexity

Knoblauch had four years and $24 million remaining on his contract. Santana has one-year, $13.25 million remaining on his deal and a complete no-trade clause. This time, the Twins’ hands are tied because Santana will likely demand a six-year contract extension to complete the deal. That’s why the only teams making serious bids have been the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox.

Knoblauch’s agent, Alan Hendricks, set a deadline and there was even talk that the second baseman might boycott spring training if the Twins didn’t trade him.

Some have reported that Santana has given the Twins his own deadline: Trade him before spring training or he won’t waive his no-trade clause. We’ve been told that Santana would prefer to have this situation settled by spring training, but Twins officials insist Santana has not given a firm deadline.

Last week, GM Bill Smith told the New York Times, “Peter Greenberg and Santana have been phenomenal through this whole process. They’ve been patient. They understand it’s a big deal to them and it’s a big deal to the Minnesota Twins.”

3) National interest

All kinds of reports surfaced during the Knoblauch discussions. The Twins were said to have a good chance at getting Denny Neagle and Ryan Klesko from the Atlanta Braves before John Smoltz had elbow surgery.

Cleveland refused an offer of Knoblauch for Jaret Wright. Those teams tried working out a multi-player package, but the Twins reportedly couldn’t get the Indians to part with Sean Casey and Bartolo Colon. Other names bandied about with Cleveland included Charles Nagy, Brian Giles and Steve Karsay.

When Cleveland pulled out of the running, the Twins were hung over a barrel. The Yankees were the only remaining suitor, and Knoblauch had set that deadline.

The Twins wound up getting Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Brian Buchanan, Danny Mota and $3 million in cash from the Yankees.

4) The reaction

My story for Thursday went into this at length, but the national media thought then-GM Terry Ryan had made a big mistake. After the trade, he told the Pioneer Press, “When you trade a guy like Chuck, you would expect some major league players coming back. But in this instance, there were not many offers made of major league-caliber players. And Chuck’s trade demand put us in a hole from the get-go. The offers were few and far between. We tried the next-best thing: to get top prospects.”

Obviously, the stakes are higher this time. In 1998, the Twins hadn’t had a winning season in five years. Now, the Twins have been to the playoffs four times in the past six years, and Santana might be the biggest reason.

I’ll be away from this blog for about a week. La Velle will be handling our news coverage, and it will be interesting to see if and how this situation has changed by the time we talk again.

Twins pitching prospect injures arm in car crash

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Twins pitching prospect Jose Mijares, 23, broke his left elbow in a car crash early Sunday morning in Venezuela, requiring surgery, and could miss four to six months, General Manager Bill Smith said today.

A hard-throwing lefthander, Mijares is on the Twins’ 40-man roster and would have returned to spring training with the big league club next month. He went 5-3 with a 3.54 ERA in 46 appearances for Class AA New Britain last year and posted a 1.86 ERA in 37 appearances for Tigres de Aragua in the Venezuelan winter league.

“He’s made a lot of progress in the last year, and he was throwing the ball well in Venezuela,” Smith said. “It’s disappointing.”

The Twins have been told Mijares was in a one-car accident after falling asleep at the wheel. A female passenger was also injured in the crash. The team was told alcohol was not involved.

(Hat tip to Dianna at the DTFC Twins Minor League Forum for getting the scoop.)

What if Hank is left holding the bag?

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Reading Hank Steinbrenner’s comments today in Sid Hartman’s column, I thought about how Hank will be viewed among Yankee fans if the Twins trade Johan Santana to the Mets or, heaven forbid, the Red Sox.

As we all know, Hank talks a good game. He wants Santana badly. But his brother Hal, the team’s money guy, and GM Brian Cashman and several of their baseball people have deemed Santana too expensive. Too expensive even for the Yankees? Yes, in terms of the players you’d have to give up and the $140 million or so for a contract extension.

I still think the Twins will trade Santana before spring training opens, and right now, I believe the Mets are the favorites, followed by the Yankees and then the Red Sox. I don’t think Boston will improve its offers, but I think the Mets will, and at that point, they’ll get him, unless the Yankees finally relent.

Without Santana, the Yankees rotation goes: Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Mike Mussina.

Without Santana, the Mets rotation goes: Pedro Martinez, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Orlando Hernandez and Mike Pelfrey.

At least one of these teams will be left answering how they passed on the chance to add a two-time Cy Young winner to those question-laden rotations. The Mets are coming off that epic collapse to end the 2007 season. And the Yankees haven’t won the World Series since 2000.

Hank Steinbrenner has done a lot of talking this offseason. Wonder what he’d say then.