Breaking Down the Santana Trade

I was going to pass, given that I’ve already commented on the Santana situation, but who am I to buck the will of the people. Also, there have clearly been new developments. Thus, by popular demand (read: two of you), a breakdown of my thoughts on the Santana to the Mets trade.

Q: First, the important question: how should a Red Sox fan feel?
A: A bit let down, maybe, given that Santana’s a hell of a pitcher. But nothing more than that, I’d argue. While I’d love to be able to throw Beckett/Santana at the Hernandez/Bedard combination the Mariners may end up fielding, we were truly dealing from a position of strength here. With Beckett, Matsuzaka, Schilling, Wakefield, Lester, Buchholz, and even Tavarez, we’re not short in the starting pitching department. True, the kids will likely be on innings caps, and all three of Beckett/Schilling/Wake are candidates for at least one DL trip. But we’re one of the few teams in the league that could legitimately say we didn’t need the innings and the numbers; we just wanted them.

If he was going to be traded, however, and not to us, the Mets are the best possible alternative. Had the Yankees acquired him, it would have been a problem. Our lineup collectively gets on base at a mere .305 clip against him, and that only because Tek owns him (.500 OBP in 18 ABs).

Q: Why didn’t we end up with him?
A: Presumably because we decided not to offer what an acceptable package to the Twins. From all reports – most notably Peter Gammons (video warning) – both the Red Sox and Yankees had backed off following the Winter Meetings. The sought after Boston/New York bidding war simply never emerged, possibly because both Cashman and Epstein recognize the economic value of the kids and the lack of a gaping hole in their respective rotations.

Q: But don’t the Yankees have a real need for a pitcher of Santana’s caliber?
A: You could make the argument that they don’t have a proven ace, but the Yankee’s sadly have the making of an excellent rotation. Wang, Pettite, Hughes, Mussina, Chamberlain, Kennedy is not a bad looking starting pitching corps any way you cut it. Granted, like us, they’re likely to have issues with innings caps, but with six candidates for five spots, they can finesse the kids’ workloads. Assuming Mussina holds up, which is an open question given how he performed for long stretches of last season.

And if you’re still of the opinion that the Yankees lack of an ace will come back to haunt them, think back to ’03. Beckett was not exactly a proven commodity, but he sure looked good kicking the Yankees teeth in. Are you that sure one of the current crop of kids couldn’t step up? Because I’m not.

Q: Could the Red Sox have realistically acquired Santana? Wouldn’t they have to tear up Beckett’s contract and juggle egos in the clubhouse?
A: Beckett was on record as saying he didn’t care what they paid Santana as long as he was the one starting on opening day.

Q: So how did the Mets come up with Santana? I thought their prospects were considered below the caliber of that offered by the other clubs?
A: Well, we don’t really know who was on and off the table, or even what clubs were in it at the end, definitively. And more to the point, a couple of folks – Keith Law in particular – were of the opinion that the Mets prospects were being unfairly written off in the court of public opinion that is trade rumors.

That said, even Law allowed that Twins GM Bill Smith had traded a premium asset without getting a premium prospect in return.

Q: No premium prospect?
A: No. The Mets kept their best positional prospect, Fernando Martinez, and their best pitching prospect, Mike Pelfrey. Here’s how Baseball America’s Jim Callis put it:

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.

Avert your eyes, Twins fans.

Q: So who did the Twins get?
A: Four kids. Law’s got the breakdown for you in the link above. The two closest to the majors are Philip Humber, a fastball/curveball/changeup guy who’s plus hook didn’t survive Tommy John surgery, and Kevin Mulvey, owner of an undistinguished three pitch arsenal that he commands well. Deolis Guerra is the the third pitcher in the deal, and Law describes his best asset as an “above-average changeup.” Lastly, the Twins pick up a potential center field candidate in Carlos Gomez, whom Law compared to “a Coco Crisp who could throw the ball to the catcher without 15 hops,” and who can make decent contact but isn’t likely to hit the ball with real authority.

Q: And who are the Mets getting?
A: Statistically speaking, nothing short of the best pitcher in baseball. Also a pitcher who projects well in future because his delivery, a lighter workload early in his career, and the nature of his approach. As good as he’s been, however, there are questions about his health, given his performance down the stretch last season (September numbers: 4.94 ERA in 5 starts, including a 6 run outing in his second to last start; he did strike out a ton of guys, however).

Q: Are there any projections available for Santana?
A: There certainly are. Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus served up his PECOTA for Santana following the trade. PECOTA sees a 2.94 ERA with 239K’s/60BB’s in 225 innings over in the quadruple A NL. If he’d remained in Minnesota, the anticipated line was 3.32 / 230/62 / 227. In either park, then, he’s borderline inhuman.

Q: Is there anything that could queer the deal at this point?
A: Yup. Santana has to pass a physical, and reportedly has to be signed to an extension within a 72 hour window to approve the deal – he has full no trade protection.

Q: What does losing out on Santana mean for the Sox? What’s next for the Boston front office?
A: As Allen Chace at Over the Monster suggests, hopefully some resolution to the fates of both Coco Crisp and Julian Tavarez. While the latter was not involved – as far as we know – in any permutations of the trade discussion as was the former, it has appeared that the Sox have to some extent been preoccupied with the possibility of obtaining Santana. With that possibility behind us, in all probability, we can move forward in determining how to tweak the last few aspects of the roster. Crisp’s fate, in turn, may impact that of Bobby Kielty or – in my perfect world – Trot Nixon. Ok, the latter’s unlikely, but Kielty is on the record as stating that his return would hinge on Crisp’s future.

Q: Who are the winners and losers from this deal?
A: The Mets are clearly winners in this one, as the addition of Santana makes them the clear favorite in their division. By extension, then, the Braves and Phillies are losers. The Twins also appear to have lost here, having been forced to settle – either by the pitcher or by circumstance – for what some reports are calling the fourth best deal offered. It’s too early to write the Twins off, as their reputation for talent acquisition is generally excellent, [1] but the early returns are poor.

It may be a stretch, but I’ll call the Red Sox winners from this deal as well. First and most obviously because he didn’t go to the Yankees, but also because they retain the service time and low cost years of several potential major leaguers.

Q: What happens if the Red Sox were to meet the Mets in the World Series?
A: After last season, I’ll take my chances with Beckett, thanks.

[1] Yes, they let David Ortiz go, but Santana himself was traded for after being a Rule 5 pick of the Marlins, and they got Boof Bonser, Joe Nathan, and Francisco Liriano for AJ Pierzynski.