Santana Return Not Enough For Twins

With a full no-trade clause and the right to walk away as a free agent after the 2008 season, Johan Santana was able to exert more control over his destiny than most players ever could dream of. After trade rumors swirled around him throughout the offseason, he wanted his situation resolved this week. The Twins risked getting nothing but two draft picks for the best pitcher of baseball if they stood pat for now and he decided to exercise his no-trade rights in the future.

The Yankees apparently took Phil Hughes off the table in their trade talks with Minnesota, and perhaps the Red Sox were happier to let Santana go to the National League rather than part with a considerable package of young talent to get him. That’s the best explanation as to why the Twins agreed on Tuesday to send Santana to the Mets for four young players: outfielder Carlos Gomez and righthanders Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey.

That deal hinges on New York’s ability to sign Santana to a long-term contract before a 5 p.m. ET deadline on Friday. Santana’s asking price is reportedly as high as $150 million over six years.

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 two best prospects in the trade, Guerra and Gomez, come with high ceilings but also lack a lot of polish and have a long ways to go to reach their potential. The odds that they both will do so are slim.

Guerra has an 89-94 mph fastball and a promising changeup and he’s only 18. But he also has a below-average breaking ball, has yet to pitch more than 90 innings in a season and while he has held his own, he hasn’t dominated. Gomez had the best package of tools in the Mets system, but his bat is still extemely raw as evidenced by his career .273/.331/.384 averages in the minors.

Mulvey has an arsenal of four average pitches and throws strikes. He’s not overpowering and he’s most likely a No. 4 starter. Since having Tommy John surgery in 2005, Humber hasn’t fully regained the stuff that made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 2004 draft. His curveball is his best pitch but his fastball now sits at 87-91 mph. He too projects as a No. 4 starter.

The Twins have traded Santana for two high-reward but also high-risk prospects, and two back-of-the-rotation starters. They didn’t get a prospect whose combination of ceiling and certainty approaches that of Hughes, whom the Yankees were willing to deal for Santana earlier in the winter. They didn’t get a package comparable to the ones the Red Sox reportedly offered earlier, fronted by either Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester and also containing two solid prospects nearly ready for the majors: righty Justin Masterson and shortstop Jed Lowrie.

By this point, however, the Yankees were no longer willing to part with Hughes and the Red Sox may have reduced their offers as well. But even if that left the Mets as the only serious bidders, the Twins should have insisted on New York’s top prospect, outfielder Fernando Martinez.

As it was, Minnesota’s return doesn’t compare favorably to the six-player package the Athletics extracted from the Diamondbacks for Dan Haren. The A’s also got two quality arms from the White Sox for Nick Swisher.

The Twins entered the offseason with three potential frontline starters on their big league roster. They since have traded Santana and Matt Garza, and they’re going to need Francisco Liriano to return to health and their offense to pick up an awful lot of slack.