Leave it to Omar Minaya to make me look like an idiot. On January 22, I wrote, “For Mets fans, though, it’s going to be tougher to get that extra piece or two than we’d hope.”
Then, of course, a week later Minaya nets Johan Santana for, all things considered, a reasonably low cost.
I went back to the archives to figure out what proposals were being thrown around for Johan Santana back in late ‘07:
December 2, 2007, Will Carroll:
“The Yankees are going to have to offer more than what they have on the table. The team thought putting Phil Hughes on the table was enough, but the Twins aren’t selling Johan Santana for anything less than three major league-ready prospects.”
December 2, 2007, Washington Post, D02:
“The New York Yankees have added Phil Hughes, the most highly rated of their top young starting pitchers, to the package they are offering the Minnesota Twins in exchange for two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.
“New York also is offering to send the Twins center fielder Melky Cabrera and a third player, who would be a mid-level prospect, according to a baseball official who spoke yesterday on condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing. New York won’t include Joba Chamberlain and doesn’t plan to include both Hughes and Ian Kennedy.”
December 3, 2007, USA Today, Bob Nightengale, 8C:
“The Red Sox, according to a high-ranking Twins official, have talked about several combinations, mostly focused on starter Jon Lester, center fielder Coco Crisp and minor league shortstop Jed Lowrie. The Twins, according to a high-ranking Red Sox official, want rookie center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury or starter Clay Buchholz included in the deal.”
December 3, 2007, NY Daily News, Bill Madden, 60:
“With all the parties descending upon the winter meetings, the Red Sox upped the ante in the Johan Santana sweepstakes yesterday by offering to include previously untouchable rookie center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a deal for the Twins’ premier lefthander. …
“It was unclear if Ellsbury’s inclusion still would be enough enticement for the Twins - especially since the Red Sox further revised their offer by saying that neither of their two coveted young pitchers, Clay Buchholz or Jon Lester, would be included with Ellsbury. And if the Red Sox’s new proposal was designed to force the Yankees’ hand in including Ian Kennedy in their own offer, it wasn’t going to succeed.”
December 3, 2007, Boston Globe, Gordon Edes and Amalie Benjamin, D1:
“The Sox, who so far are prepared to offer pitcher Jon Lester or center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury but not both as part of their package to acquire the two-time Cy Young Award winner, placed Ellsbury back on the table, which would cause a reshuffling of the players who would have gone as part of a Lester deal (Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson). An Ellsbury deal almost certainly would include either Masterson and/or Michael Bowden, but Clay Buchholz was not in play as of last night.”
December 4, 2007, Will Carroll:
“Johan Santana to the Red Sox is all but done. Jon Lester, a center fielder, Justin Masterson and Ryan Kalish are the package.”
So, extrapolating what we heard about the deals, here’s what was on the list. I’ve included Kevin Goldstein’s prospect rankings next in brackets.
Yankees: Melky Cabrera (N/A), Philip Hughes (#2 in 2007), B-prospect?
Red Sox A: Jacoby Ellsbury (16), Justin Masterson (53) / Michael Bowden (95), B-prospect?
Red Sox B: Jon Lester (N/A, but highly touted), Justin Masterson (53), Ryan Kalish (60), B-prospect
Mets: Carlos Gomez (65), Philip Humber (N/A), Deolis Guerra (79), Kevin Mulvey (N/A)
Meanwhile, the Mariners paid a heavy price for Erik Bedard: highly-touted outfield prospect Adam Jones and four other players. Jones, for what its worth, is 22 years old and hit .314/.382/.586 in AAA-Tacoma, a pitcher’s park. He’s a stud.
It is extremely difficult to argue that the Mets’ package was as good as the Yanks’ package or the Red Sox’ package, or as good as the one the Orioles got for Bedard (granting that Bedard is not as big of a service time risk).
Back in our initial reactions to the trade, I noted that John Sickels rated the four Mets’ prospects a B+, 2 B’s, and a B-. Kevin Goldstein only ranked two on the Top 100 Prospects list. One is largely seen as a #3 starter (Mulvey). One is mainly projection and a ways off (Guerra). One had major arm surgery and couldn’t break into a dying rotation last year (Humber). The best of the bunch has never dominated a minor league level (Gomez).
For the consensus best pitcher in the game, this was not a particularly strong haul.
So, what happened here? Here’s some speculation.
First off, it seems that most teams felt priced out of the Santana market and looked elsewhere. The Twins’ initial demands were quite high; “three major-league ready players” was the initial price I heard.
Second, it seems like that the Red Sox and Yankees were going to have to pay a “league fee,” for potentially using Santana to continue to have a stranglehold on an AL playoff berth. I think this might have been a mistake; those teams are in it anyway, regardless of what the Twins trade them, and the Twins should be looking for the best premium young talent possibly available. I could be exaggerating this, but I am utterly surprised that the Twins couldn’t put together a package with Lester or Ellsbury at the center, even now.
Third, the Dodgers, the most prospect-heavy NL team, didn’t seem to get in the race. So, who was left, with the money to lock up Johan Santana long term?
I maintain that my markets position is tenable, and that the markets are a little stagnant. But that fact does not supersede something pretty basic: player preference. Santana, for whatever reason, wanted to pitch for the Mets, enough so that he opted not to go on the open market in order to secure a place on a contender in 2008. I’m thinking that Steve Hubbell is right:
“I submit, with no supporting evidence whatsoever, that the New York Mets have covertly transformed themselves into a well-run and respected organization. That’s right—while most of us were shrieking about epic collapses and imminent front-office housecleanings, certain professional baseball players were concluding that Queens was a pretty good place to ply their trade.”
In the end, it was the no-trade clause that reset the market in the Mets’ favor. Santana, in putting the Mets on his short list, endorsed the team. The Sox and Yanks withdrew, and the Mets were what was left. Were they lucky? Probably a little. The Mets are now a heavyweight, something the NL has lacked since the Cardinals of the early 2000’s, and they certainly have the best core I’ve ever seen them have. Market forces be damned; individual choice certainly has a place in the equation.