Having passed his physical and reached agreement on a contract that will make him the richest pitcher in baseball, Johan Santana is now officially a member of the New York Mets. In return, the Twins have received a package of prospects that is almost unanimously being labeled as underwhelming. This development has Twins fans desperately seeking a deserving party upon which to pin blame in a situation that seemingly has not been handled very well. I've seen numerous articles leveling scathing criticism against everyone from Carl Pohlad to Bill Smith to Santana himself. My thinking on the subject is that while several people probably could have acted in a way that would have led to better results, no one was completely out of line here. The Twins were put in an unfortunate situation and the result is that they've lost their franchise player for a relative pittance. It's a shame, but I don't think anyone is specifically at fault.
First, let's talk about Santana. Fans seemed to have turned on him for the way he acted during this debacle, claiming that he abused his leverage and backed the Twins into a corner with his self-imposed deadline. We may never know how Santana truly felt or what he actually said behind closed doors, but reading between the lines I think it's fair to say that he didn't particularly want to pitch in Minnesota. It seems clear that Santana's preference was to move into a larger market to showcase himself, and ideally I think he wanted to move to the National League where the lineups are weaker and where he'll be able to bat. This made the Mets a natural fit.
As a fan of the Twins and a proud resident of Minnesota, the thought that Santana was anxious to move elsewhere is somewhat hurtful. But is it really a reason to hold resentment against him? If his preference is to pitch in New York, then he's well within his rights to try and arrange it. Some have accused him of being disloyal for trying to force his way out from a team that helped him become the pitcher he is today, but he did provide the Twins with five years of phenomenal performance, and he was never an open distraction in the clubhouse or unfriendly toward fans. If he wanted to move on, I think we owe it to him to respect his wishes. He was patient throughout the entire offseason, and I don't really see how he is out of line for wanting a resolution now that we're weeks away from Spring Training.
Now, on to Pohlad. In the wake of this trade, the wealthy Twins owner has been painted by numerous scribes as a greedy monster who coaxed a stadium out of the fans only to pocket his earnings and let the team's stars walk when they become expensive. I am far from a Pohlad defender, but I find this criticism to be unfair, at least when applied to the Santana situation.
For the reasons I mentioned above, I'm skeptical that Santana would have signed an extension with the Twins even if they had made an offer that rivaled the contract the Mets gave him. But even if he would have, would it really have been wise for the Twins to hand him such a contract? Signing pitchers to long-term deals is always a risky venture, and committing over $130 million to a guy who will soon enter his 30s could be suicide for a middle-market team like the Twins. Perhaps Santana is worth $25 million as long as he is the best pitcher in baseball, but will he remain the best pitcher in baseball as he ages into his mid-30s? Maybe, but that is far from guaranteed. I think that the Twins' decision not to extend Santana has less to do with a lack of financial resources and more to do with intelligent baseball management. And, in fairness, the team did just sign Justin Morneau to a six-year mega-deal, so it's not as if Pohlad has slammed the wallet shut.
Finally, many have focused their criticism on the general manager Smith for failing to get a package that includes even one true top prospect for Santana. I've frequently seen it written that Smith "overplayed his hand," when negotiating with the Yankees and Red Sox, only to eventually have them pull their offers. Yet, I can nearly guarantee that had Smith accepted one of those team's offers back in December (assuming the reported offers were legitimately on the table), there would be droves of fans and analysts criticizing Smith for acting too quickly and lacking the patience to create a bidding war which could force a better package out of one of the teams. Smith took a risk by playing the waiting game, and in the end it didn't pay off, but I hardly think one can hold it against him.
I'm more than a little disappointed by the package received for Santana, but I can't say I'm angry at any particular person about it. There's just nowhere to justifiably point a finger. The Twins made a competitive offer, Santana wanted to move on, and so Smith made the best deal he could. As I said when analyzing the trade last Wednesday, I'm not entirely sure that trading Santana for this package will ultimately be more beneficial to the team than keeping him for another year and collecting draft picks as free agent compensation, but I have to trust that the Twins see something in these Mets prospects.