The Twins have been known to surprise us before. Who would have thought that the prospects received back in the Frank Viola trade would help push them to a World Series championship just two years later? Who could have known that the prospects brought over in the Chuck Knoblauch deal would help form the foundation for putting them back into contention after a horrible dry spell in the late '90s? How could anyone have predicted that two of the relatively unknown pitchers received back in the A.J. Pierzynski trade would transform into elite All-Stars, while the third became an important member of the rotation?
Let's face it, the Twins have a track record of success when trading away star players amidst their primes, even if the results initially seem heavily skewed in favor of the other team. Maybe that will be the case with yesterday's deal that likely sends Johan Santana to the Mets in return for four unspectacular prospects. Unfortunately, that seems rather unlikely.
According to reports, the Twins made a final offer to Santana for five years and $100 million. Santana turned the offer down, and he and his agent pressured the Twins to make a decision as soon as possible. With the Red Sox and Yankees both reportedly having backed off with their offers, Bill Smith was forced to take what he could get from the Mets. It ended up being a package that includes center fielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey and Philip Humber.
All that's left is for Santana to pass a physical and for the Mets to reach an agreement with the left-hander on a contract extension for the deal to become official. Since Santana is in tip-top shape and the Mets have the fiscal resources to give him the kind of money he's seeking, it seems very likely that this deal is as good as done.
There was really no way the Twins were going to get equal value for the best pitcher in baseball, and each of the rumored offers from the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets was underwhelming in its own way. Yet, almost each of those deals included at least one player who could be considered a relatively sure bet to produce at the major-league level, a quality which this Mets package lacks. Perhaps it is unfair to compare this package to the rumored superior deals from the Red Sox and Yankees (or even the rumored superior deals from the Mets that included Fernando Martinez and/or Mike Pelfrey) and to accuse Smith of overplaying his hand. After all, there were continual rumblings that Yankees' GM Brian Cashman was unwilling to part with Phil Hughes, and many believed that Boston's only real interest in this sweepstakes was keeping Santana out of the Bronx. Additionally, it is entirely possible that the Mets were never truly considering parting ways with Martinez or Pelfrey. Still, it seems awfully hard to believe that this is the best offer the Twins officially received for Santana, and it's not clear to me that this course of action will be more beneficial to the team than simply hanging onto Santana for another year and taking the draft picks when he departs for free agency following the 2008 season.
In fairness, the players received from the Mets in this deal aren't bad. There's just a lot of questions surrounding them. I first discussed the players involved in the deal a couple weeks ago, when Joe Christensen first reported that the Mets had made the offer. When breaking down the players, I noted that I'm higher on Gomez than most, but that he will need to overcome his alarming plate discipline issues and gain some power to develop into a solid major-league starter. Gomez is a superb athlete with the ability to steal 60+ stolen bases and he has the tools to become an excellent defender in center field with more experience. He could be a star, but he has a long way to go. He was overwhelmed in the majors last year and would likely start this season in Rochester.
I imagine that the Twins view Guerra as the type of pitcher who could eventually transform into a Santana-type talent. At age 18, he has already developed a plus change-up, which will likely become more effective as he adds velocity to his fastball. But there are major concerns. His breaking pitches aren't strong, he's already experienced some shoulder issues, and he still doesn't turn 19 until April, which makes him fairly difficult project. Scouts view Guerra as the type of pitcher who could develop into a star in the major leagues, but he has so many hurdles yet to overcome before that point that it's very difficult to factor him into the Twins' plans, short-term or long-term.
The other two pitchers in the deal, Mulvey and Humber, don't project as anything more than middle-of-the-rotation starters, but then again they also seem like the types of players that could end up surprising us, given the Twins' history. Mulvey is probably being underrated by some -- he has had success at each stop in the minors and reached Triple-A last year in just his first professional season. Unfortunately, it's difficult to get excited about him because he lacks a dominating arsenal. Humber was a terrific pitcher in college and a first-round draft pick, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2005 and has been unspectacular since then. Humber does know how to pitch, however, and he's a guy I could see making a name for himself in the Twins' bullpen.
In order for this deal to really work out for the Twins, Gomez and Guerra need to take some significant strides and make good on their considerable potential. Mulvey and Humber aren't likely to separate themselves from the numerous solid pitching prospects already littering the Twins' system, but if they can, it would certainly be an added bonus and would take the heat off of Smith in what appears to be a situation that could have been handled a lot better. The odds aren't necessarily stacked against these four players becoming productive contributors to the Twins, but the fact that the package lacks a relative sure bet like Hughes or Ellsbury, or even Martinez or Jon Lester, makes the swap a rather disappointing one from the Twins' standpoint. Smith has traded an exclamation point for several question marks, and in dealing Santana he has also likely mortgaged the Twins' chances of competing in 2008 with an eye toward the future. Time will tell whether the gamble pays off, but I'm not overly optimistic.