Shea Hello: Mets Are Last Team Standing In Santana Derby

The Deal
Johan Santana asked the Twins to trade him by Tuesday, Jan. 29, or face losing his services for a pair of draft picks after the 2008 season, because he would invoke his no-trade clause during the season. Minnesota opted to trade their ace lefthander to the Mets for four of their top prospects: center fielder Carlos Gomez, who will be 22 next year, and righthanders Deolis Guerra, 19; Kevin Mulvey, 23; and Philip Humber, 25.
The Big Leaguers
Baseball’s best pitcher in the four years from 2004 to 2007, Santana went 70-32 (.686), 2.89 in that span with five times the number of strikeouts (939) as walks (198). He won two AL Cy Young awards—in 2004 and 2006—while finishing third and fifth the other two years. Santana’s command of a potent 92-95 mph fastball and fading, top-of-the-scale changeup make him practically unhittable when he’s at his best. He also throws a hard slider.

Santana will be 29 years old in 2008, but he’s shown few signs of slowing down. He went 15-13, 3.33 in 33 starts for the Twins last season with 235-52 K-BB in 219 innings. His mediocre won-lost record was largely the result of a poor Minnesota offense that outscored only AL Central cellar-dwellers the Royals and White Sox. Santana has shown an increased tendency to surrender home runs in recent years (he gave up an AL-leading 33 last year), but the few baserunners he allows mutes the effect. His new home (for this season at least), Shea Stadium, will help him avoid cheap home runs.

The Prospects
The best athlete and fastest runner in the Mets system prior to the trade, Gomez always has been younger than his competition. In fact, he skipped high Class A entirely when he jumped to Double-A in 2006, and he was the NL’s youngest player when he debuted in May. He wasn’t ready for the majors—as evidenced by .232/.288/.304 averages in 125 at-bats—but he did manage to hit .286/.363/.414 for Triple-A New Orleans with 17 steals in 21 attempts. Pacific Coast league observers were big fans of Gomez’ center-field defense and high-energy style, and he ranked as the league’s seventh-best prospect. Though he has plus-plus speed, the righthanded-hitting Gomez stands 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds and could hit for more power once he learns to identify pitches he can drive. He suffered a broken hamate bone in his left hand while checking his swing in June, but recovered quickly to play in September.

Guerra is all about projection. He touches the mid 90s with his fastball on occasion, but sits more comfortably in the 89-92 mph range with a plus changeup. His curveball is still developing, but when one considers that at age 17 he would have been a high school junior if he was born in the U.S. instead of Venezuela. A strapping 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, Guerra went 2-6, 4.01 with 66-25 K-BB in 90 innings for high Class A St. Lucie last season and represented the Mets in the Futures Game. Though they rushed Guerra to full-season ball, the Mets have worked Guerra under the strictest of pitch counts since he signed in 2005. He missed most of May with shoulder tendinitis.

The Mets first pick in the 2006 draft (second round, Villanova), Mulvey reached Double-A Binghamton in his first season and spent most of his second there. He went 11-10, 3.32 with 110-43 K-BB in 152 innings for the B-Mets last season, surrendering just four home runs. While he throws four pitches and locates them down in the zone, none of them grade as above-average—but that didn’t stop him from limiting righthanded batters to .224/.276/.278 averages. Mulvey was even better after a late-season promotion to New Orleans, where he delivered 13 scoreless, walk-less innings, including a playoff start. His 87-91 mph fastball features natural sink and run, while his two breaking balls (slider, curveball) are average, with his changeup approaching that status at times.

Humber recovered quickly from Tommy John surgery he had in July 2005 and he spent all of last season in New Orleans, going 11-9, 4.27 with 120-44 K-BB in 139 innings. While he pitches at 87-91 mph and touches an occasional 94, his velocity is down a few ticks from where it was at Rice, from where the Mets drafted him third overall in 2003. Humber’s calling card, his hard-biting curveball, remains effective, but he struggles at times to locate it because the break is so pronounced. Though he got rocked in his lone big league start last year (against Washington, no less), Humber is big league ready. His ceiling may not be as high as it was coming out of college, but he figures to be a serviceable back-of-the-rotation option right away.

Quick Take
While the Twins received no surefire future stars for Santana, they did get four solid prospects, none of whom has even a year of big league service time. Two of them don’t even need to be added to the 40-man roster. That the Mets were able to hold on to outfielder Fernando Martinez and righthander Mike Pelfrey, perhaps their two most promising unestablished talents, is either a credit to Mets general manager Omar Minaya’s sense of timing during the negotiating or a sign of Twins GM Bill Smith’s desperation to get a deal done.

The Mets tore up Santana’s previous contract—which was to pay him $13.25 million in 2008—and signed him to a six-year, $132 million deal. The contract includes a $25 million vesting option for 2014, which can be triggered with innings pitched or a high finish in the Cy Young voting—or a $5.5 million buyout. Santana also received a full no-trade clause, and his $22 million average annual salary is exceeded only by Alex Rodriguez’ $27.5 million. With his new deal, Santana also set the total-dollars benchmark for pitchers, eclipsing Barry Zito’s seven-year, $126 million deal from last offseason.

Even with the considerable outlay required to obtain Santana, the Mets upgraded their greatest area of weakness—a true frontline starter—without upsetting their 2008 core.

<< Trade Central 2008