Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Johan Santana Saga

After their devastating collapse in 2007, it was apparent that the Mets needed to do something big to get an ace pitcher to lead the rotation. It soon became known that one of the best, Minnesota's Johan Santana, would be on the trading block because he was entering the final year of his contract and the Twins were unlikely to meet his deservedly astronomical salary demands.

Because the Mets were one of the few teams that could both afford and were probably willing to pay what it took to get Santana, Mets' fans and local writers speculated on what possible package the Mets could put together to offer for Santana. The first names that came to mind were Lastings Milledge, a talented young major league-ready outfielder, and Mike Pelfrey, a recently well-regarded potential staff ace who was disappointing in almost every chance the Mets gave him in 2007, with one exception, a dazzling win over the Braves that offered hope that he just might turn out to be good.

Milledge and Pelfrey probably wouldn't be enough so the names of almost every other player in the farm system who showed any potential was suggested by someone - Deolis Guerra, Hector Pellot, Francisco Pena, Mike Carp, etc. In the meantime, it seemed that the Twins were talking to both the RedSox and Yankees, who were able to offer some pretty good packages out of their farm system and probably be able to afford to throw a major leaguer or two into the deal as well.

Rumors were that the Mets wouldn't be a strong contender for Santana and should probably concentrate on one of the A's starters or maybe Baltimore's Erik Bedard. Then, out of nowhere the Mets traded Lastings Milledge to Washington for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. Seemingly, the best chip they had to obtain an ace was dealt away for a part-time outfielder and light-hitting catcher. Then, word spread that the Mets had found few takers for Milledge and neither the A's or Twins wanted him as the key player in a package.

Another name came to the forefront - Carlos Gomez. The young outfielder was pushed to the big leagues because of multiple injuries to the Mets' outfielders in 2007 and showed himself to be a potentially electrifying talent with dazzling speed and centerfield skills. But his hitting was unrefined, and just how it would develop remained in question. Plus with Beltran a fixture in centerfield, and Reyes providing base stealing speed at the top of the lineup, Gomez's talents were a little redundant for the Mets' needs. I still didn't see Gomez as the key to a Santana deal and I proposed that the Mets offer him to Minnesota for a well-regarded young pitcher, Matt Garza. Soon after that, the Twins traded Garza for one of the best young hitters in the game, Delmon Young. Clearly, Gomez wasn't enough to get Garza.

Then, Dan Haren, another of the Mets' targets was traded to Arizona for an imposing group of prospects that "experts" told us were far superior to anything the Mets might offer. Meanwhile, various Erik Bedard rumors, none of which seriously involved the Mets, began surfacing. It seemed that another potential target was going off the market.

We heard how the Mets were "close" to signing either Livan Hernandez or Kyle Lohse to fill the last spot in their rotation. There was apparently not going to be an ace coming to the Mets, just a seviceable innings-eater. Or so it seemed.

Then, talk of Santana got hot again. Apparently his agent wanted something to get done quickly after he rejected the Twins' "last best offer". We again heard the names of the Red Sox and Yankees bandied about. Which one woud cave in and toss in that additional player that would seal the deal ? Meanwhile, Omar Minaya and the Mets lurked in the background with their offer - Gomez, Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra, and Kevin Mulvey. With the Yankees and Red Sox not showing any great desire to increase or possibly even match what had been their best offers to that point, the Mets suddenly became a stronger possibility.

Now, the rumors said the Mets would have to toss in their very best prospect, Fernando Martinez, or perhaps a proven major leaguer like Ryan Church or Aaron Heilman to get the deal done. It looked like too much to give up and at the same time not enough to entice the Twins. I didn't think it was going to happen.

I recalled when the Mets traded away Tom Seaver in what to this day is still considered a disastrous trade for the Mets and yet at the time it seemed much better than what the Mets were offering for Santana. After all, the Mets got Pat Zachry, just off a Rookie of the Year season, Steve Henderson, one of the best hitters in AAA and considered major league ready, a potential starter at second or short named Doug Flynn, and a pretty good young power hitting prospect in Dan Norman. Did the Mets have anything comparable to offer for Santana ? I suggested that an equivalent deal might be John Maine, Gomez, Ruben Gotay, and since they didn't have anyone with Norman's credentials, maybe another young pitcher like Kevin Mulvey. I thought such a package would be appealing enough to make the deal, but the Mets absolutely could not afford to give up Maine. Yet, I thought ultimately they might do it and then sign someone like Livan or Lohse to fill Maine's spot.

As it turned out of course, the Mets didn't have to give up Maine, Martinez, Church, or Heilman. With the Yankees and Red Sox on the sidelines, Omar didn't have to sweeten his offer and Santana was a Met. Sure, they still had to sign him, but that was practically a foregone conclusion, because if it didn't get done, well I won't even speculate what kind of hit the Mets would have taken for that !