Omar Wins Big

If everything works out according to plan--please work out according to plan--Johan Santana is a Met. After all the weeks of speculation, reading daily updates across the web and lapping up scraps of rumors, I don't think I really believed it would happen. If I had, I wouldn't still be smiling, hours after the news broke.

And maybe even better than the thought of Santana wearing blue and orange is the price Omar Minaya paid the Twins for his services. Compared to the carrots the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees were allegedly dangling before Twins GM Bill Smith, the final sale price must seem enormously disappointing to Minnesota fans.

The prize is Deolis Guerra, an 18-year-old kid with a pitcher's build if ever I've seen one: 6'5", 200 pounds. He doesn't throw real hard (88-90), but there's hope that he'll gain some velocity as he continues to fill out his frame. He does have an excellent changeup, but he lacks a consistent breaking pitch to go along with it. He's very young for his level, but he's also a long way from the majors, and you never know what injuries might be in his future.

I've never been a big fan of Carlos Gomez, but, like Guerra, much of his value depends on his fulfilling his potential. He could become a Carl Crawford-type, but there's a fair chance he ends up a fourth outfielder instead. It's just very difficult to get a real read on his actual ability since the organization has rushed him every step of the way. He's always held his own, but I would like to see him flat-out dominate minor league pitching at some point.

Phil Humber was at one time a top prospect, but his status has taken a hit since undergoing Tommy John surgery a couple years ago. He's still got the curveball, but his velocity never quite returned, and there are legitimate questions about his durability. He still performed better in 2007 than the AAA stats looked, and he could step right into the Twins' rotation. Kevin Mulvey could, too, but his stuff is mediocre, relying on plus control and a wide arsenal to save him. Unfortunately, there's no real out pitch there. Both guys project as mid-to-bottom of the rotation starters.

In a vacuum, it's not a terrible deal for the Twins. Two high-risk, high-reward prospects, and two safer bets who offer lower upside. In some years that wouldn't be a bad haul, even for a pitcher like Santana. What the Twins received wasn't the crushing part--it's what they didn't. After weeks of teasing fans with names like Jacoby Ellsbury and Philip Hughes, Smith couldn't even land top prospect Fernando Martinez. Omar played it smart, persistent, and patient, everything he was criticized for not doing with Lastings Milledge.

But while you can't argue with the trade's personnel cost, there are some negatives. First, the organization has been robbed of much of its top-tier depth. That depth might really come in handy if there's a significant injury during the season, or the team decides it needs another bat or bullpen arm. Lacking mid-range prospects, the team might be forced to choose between overpaying or being inactive.

Second, the Mets now have the luxury of giving him a record contract that could last for seven years, taking him into his mid-30's. Yes, Santana is a tremendous pitcher, but long-term contracts for pitchers will always be risky, even for the best of pitchers.

And finally, Santana might be showing the first signs of slipping, just a little bit. Last season he "only" went 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA. However, a closer look reveals another explanation.

Year        K/9   BB/9   HR/9
2004   10.46   2.13   0.95
2005    9.25   1.75   0.85
2006    9.44   1.81   0.92
2007    9.66   2.14   1.35

In 2007, there was a slight rise in his walk rate and a sharper rise in his homerun rate. However, I would expect that homerun rate to drop back to his normal levels next season. First, while more baseballs went over the wall, he didn't allow too many more flyballs than usual, although he did allow slightly more outfield flies (as opposed to infield popups). Pitchers don't seem to have a lot of control over how many of their outfield flies go over the wall, and Johan's 2007 total of 13.1% was probably a little unlucky (10-11% is normal). Finally, Shea's winds and dimensions should help him a little more.

In short, Johan's "decline" shouldn't worry anyone much.

But perhaps most importantly, this trade has made the team exciting again. Between the Collapse and the Milledge trade, most of my enthusiasm for baseball had been sapped. But in one fell swoop, Omar Minaya has turned that all around. The fanbase can't wait for Opening Day, just a day or two after a feeling of near indifference.

Over at MetsGeek, I compared this trade to the Mike Piazza deal, back in 1998. Piazza was dealt for a trio of prospects, and while few doubted the quality of the prospects involved (Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz), no one doubted that Piazza was worth the expense. It immediately made the Mets true contenders and signaled to Mets fans everywhere that the Mets' losing ways from most of the 90's were definitely behind them.

From a fan's perspective, after last September, a move like this was just what the doctor ordered. Not only because it brings a great player over, a new face to faun over and a new talent to marvel at, but also what it means for your confidence in the team's management. Omar Minaya patiently waited this one out and found a bargain. After a season where many of his moves looked questionable, it's comforting to have confidence in the decision-makers again.

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