Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Johan Santana Deluge (links edition).

None of this matters yet and we really won't know whether this was a good move or a bad move until several years from now. The sentiment is pretty consistent across the entire media galaxy - mainstream or other - the Twins got swindled. This to me seems like a knee-jerk analysis when it comes to this transaction because one club just traded away the best pitcher on the planet (ibid) for four prospects that weren't on your average fan's radar. What's more is that the reactions on Wednesday would have still been the same had the Twins swapped for Ellsbury, Hughes or Martinez. The fact of the matter is everyone will question if you got enough in return for the best pitcher on the planet (ibid).

Did Bill Smith stall too long, blink too quickly and fold? Here's what the others are saying:

  • Keith Law is lauding Mets GM Omar Minaya for holding on to his two best prospects, Fernando Martinez and Mike Pelfrey. Bill Smith, however, took a bit of a lashing:
In the abstract, it's hard to accept dealing your marquee player and top trading asset without getting your partner's top young player in return, and that's what the Twins did. They did get back significant economic value in four young players, each of whom has under one year of big-league service and two of whom aren't even on the Mets' 40-man roster yet, so the Twins will have each of them under control for six full years of service. That return in exchange for just one year of Santana's services is reasonable. But premium players should fetch premium prices, because there's value to a club in having so much production coming from a single roster spot. And in this case, Minnesota GM Bill Smith did not get a premium prospect in return.
  • Joe Posnanski details the nature of uncertainty regarding prospects and the inability, even for industry insiders, to agree on whether or not these are solid prospects.

But I think there’s something else — baseball is a brutally hard game to predict. And I think this trade proves it. Here you have a major trade involving five players, all with some sort of professional track record, and the opinions about it (again, just from the people I know) are all over the map. I would say there’s a bigger consensus among fans (and I include myself here) — most of think this was a pretty sorry trade for the Twins; based on reports, they might have gotten Jacoby Ellsbury or Joba Chamberlain or some other bigger name prospect. Of course, you never know about reports.

But here’s the thing: If Gomez develops as some think he will — Moises Alou — then he alone could make this a winning trade for the Twins. Remember, they only had one year of Santana left. If on top of that they get some help from those arms, if Guerra turns into a Francisco Liriano, if Mulvey or Humber win 15 in the next couple of years, then it could be a Twins steal, a franchise-making move. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but what do I know? What does anyone know? That’s why it’s a great game. Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round. Nobody knows nothing.

  • Jim Callis at Baseball America is completely befuddled. It would seem that when it comes to these trade parameters, the Twins obtained no prospect that is even flirting with certainty.

Minnesota might be better off if those talks collapse, giving new Twins GM Bill Smith a chance to find a better return for Santana. While he’s going to command possibly the richest contract ever given to a pitcher, Santana is the best pitcher in the game. And Smith didn’t get enough for him.

Guerra (No. 2), Gomez (No. 3), Mulvey (No. 4) and Humber (No. 7) all ranked prominently on our Mets Top 10 Prospects list. But there’s simply too much risk involved in this deal for Minnesota.

  • The Hardball Times contributors weighed in on the deal. The consensus seems to be that the Mets are the victors. Bryan Tsao is places the blame square on Billy Smith's shoulders, however Chris Constancio defended the choice by saying that the package of prospects will indeed pan out in the Twins's favor:

Bryan Tsao: I don't think you can let Twins general manager Bill Smith off the hook here. While it seems the Yankees and Red Sox weren't willing to deliver an acceptable package at this late date, I suspect that the Yankees' interest—and by extension Boston's—waned when potential replacement options in center field (guys like Torii Hunter or Mike Cameron) and in the back end of the rotation started to go off the market.

In the abstract it makes sense for a high payroll team like the Yankees to concentrate as much value as possible into as few roster spots as possible (roster spots being more scarce than money), in practice they would have needed to replace the rumored major league talent heading to the Twins for the move to make sense. Smith should have known that the deeper it got into the offseason, the less a deal would make sense to the Yankees.

The window to close a deal was clearly earlier in the offseason, and while Smith did a good job of drumming up interest, he didn't close. Instead, he clearly overplayed his hand here and got burned. He deserves some credit for cutting his losses and taking the best package possible, but his tenure as GM is not off to a promising start.

Chris Constancio: I actually think Humber and Mulvey are "sure things". They both have moderate upside, but both also have major league stuff (low 90s fastballs and at least one above-average breaking pitch), solid control, and are nearly ready for the major leagues. I don't see why one or both couldn't evolve into a useful middle-of-rotation arm in another year or two.

Deolis Guerra and Carlos Gomez are each less of a sure thing, but both are very young and both have very good upside. Gomez was aggressively promoted to Triple-A in 2007, and the toolsy centerfielder held his own at the plate and improved his plate discipline until a hamate bone injury ended his season. There's plenty to like about his skillset, and in many ways he's similar to the much more hyped
Jacoby Ellsbury in the Boston organization.

Guerra was the youngest player in full-season baseball in 2006, and he followed that up with a solid showing against much older competition in the Florida State League last year. He improved his control while increasing velocity on his fastball in 2007, and he probably is the Twins best prospect now. They could send the 18-year-old (he doesn't turn 19 in April) to Double-A this year, but they might keep him at Class A and just try to keep him healthy for a full season.

  • Last December STATS, Inc did a WHIFF profile breakdown of Johan's three main pitches (fastball, change-up and slider). In 2007, Johan's change-up had a WHIFF rating of .399. In other words, when he threw his change-up, Johan made batters swing-and-miss nearly 40% of the time. The league average on this pitch was .277. My impression is that it wasn't so much the pitches themselves as it was the sequencing of them. There were reports last year that said he was relying more heavily on his fastball then he had in previous seasons.
    Santana's fastball averages 91.9mph, which is very good for a left-handed starter but only a 70th percentile MLB velocity. Yet, the fear of his changeup drips off his fastball WHIFF (.192), which ranks in the 87th percentile. Santana has a deceptive delivery as well, hiding the ball very well as he chicken-wings and shot-puts the ball to home plate. You don't see too many deliveries like Santana's. Besides short arm action, it's not exactly smooth or clean, but there's nothing problematic about his health or performance.
  • The same WHIFF profile said that his fastball was .192 - still better than the league average of .142 - but certainly not the dominatingly unhittable pitch as his change-up is. There is an old adage in baseball that says a good change-up adds 5 mph to your fastball. In a way this is true. Santana is having his best games when he is locating his fastball early in the count then peppering the batter with the change-up. Simply having the change-up in his arsenal can wreck havoc on a hitter. Look at this clip of Johan whiffing Jim Thome. It would appear that Thome is trying too hard to keep his wait back in anticipation of that change-up. Instead of the 82.6 mph change-up, Johan feeds him a 91.9 mph letter-high fastball to which Thome reacts tardy.

  • Voros McCracken has made note of something that really hasn't been discussed. Pundits like to say that the Twins have been good at analyzing and acquiring prospect talent in the past, only that was Terry Ryan's team and not Bill Smith's team. How do we feel about Smith's judgement to date?
    Now normally I’d give the Twins a ton of leeway when it comes to their evaluation of young talent, as their record the last decade has been impeccable (including a master stroke in trading for Santana in the first place). But those were Terry Ryan’s Twins, and as much as many of the same people are in place, it’s difficult for me to give full credit for the work done under Ryan to the new guy Bill Smith. I don’t despise this trade from the Twins point of view, but I sure don’t like it a lot. One problem is that the Mets system really doesn’t have anything spectacular in terms of prospects and so the Twins got more or less what there was to get. Compared to what the A’s got for Haren and Swisher, this looks pretty skimpy.
  • Bob Klapisch breaks down the anatomy of the deal. Sickeningly, he describes a scene during the trade negotiations that had Bill Smith operating "in a panic" and on Monday called the Yankees and told them Hughes was "no longer a prerequisite". And it gets worse. Like the scene in Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise realizes that he has been ousted by Bob Sugar.

Actually, it was a perfect storm of good fortune for the Mets. Not only did they exploit Smith's weakened bargaining position, but they benefited from the Yankees and Red Sox' synchronized caution. Talk about long shots. Who would've thought the AL East's two powerhouses would become so rational at the same time? Major league executives say Smith will rue the day he chose not to jump on the Yankees' offer of Hughes, Cabrera, Class AA right-hander Jeff Marquez and a prospect of their choosing. That was Dec. 2 and all Smith had to do was say yes.

Incredibly, he waffled. Within 24 hours, Pettitte told the Yankees he intended to pitch again in 2008, prompting the team to reconsider the deal for Santana. Suddenly, Hank Steinbrenner started listening to his brother Hal and Cashman, both of whom pleaded their case for financial restraint. Little by little, Hank Steinbrenner's craving for Santana diminished; the longer Smith held out, trying to leverage the Yankees and Red Sox against each other, the closer he came to dooming the best deal he could've made for Santana.