By Joe Christensen
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.