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Preemptive Strike: Trading Johan Santana

"The tough thing with being in a Minnesota and Oakland market is when you hit bottom, you hit with a thud. And you usually don't bounce.  So you've got to do some things that are preemptive, as opposed to reactive. For us it was, we need to do this now, even if it's a year early, otherwise we're going to steamroll and hit the bottom."                   -Billy Beane

There's really no good way to say this, so I'm just going to jump in head first:  I think it's best if the Twins trade Johan Santana.  After taking into account Minnesota's general history in the two following categories, it became quite obvious to me:

  •  Payroll constraints:  The inability to financially afford to keep individuals who give you the best chance to win now, after graduating from arbitration.
  •  Organizational structure:  Strength remains in pitching at all levels, while position player depth has promise in the lower levels and a small number of high-quality players at the major league level.
It's in the nature of the Twins organization that "The Future" is just as much of a priority as the present.  Lower payroll-echelon teams have the mission of trying to win now; rolling with the punches of rebuilding and still trying to field a team competetive enough to draw fans.  They need to draw themselves out of the basement sooner rather than later, or the problem just gets worse.  Upper echelon teams with nearly unlimited payrolls also have the mission of trying to win now; the money is available to make payroll as flexible as it needs to be:  there isn't an excuse to build for the future, you have every resource to help you win in the present--and that will remain the goal year after year.  It's the competetive teams with limited funds that are playing a delicate balancing act, and because personnel is predicated by the mighty dollar it's not a wise business strategy to ignore how decisions made today can affect your success five years down the road.

Signing Johan Santana to a contract extension is a risk on a number of fronts.  First, alotting better than 20% of your payroll to any single player (pitcher or position player) is, in the economic reality of this franchise, constraining to say the least.  If Santana's extension pays him $17 MM in year one with an $80 MM payroll, that's better than 21%...with generous numbers on both sides.  Second, there are a number of players who will be seeing regular increases in salary over the next six years.  By 2010 when all the "additional revenue" allows for an expanded payroll, that extra cash will be largely spent on talent already in-house, making adding legitimate talent to the roster just as difficult as it was in the pre-2010 years.  Third, I hate to play this card, but what if Johan would get hurt?  That contract handcuffs the franchise with a serious injury; a franchise that will be handcuffed regardless of Santana's health in the first place.

I can list on two hands the reasons trading Johan would be bad for the Twins.  But if I want to be an honest analyst, I have to say that none of them can negate what the trade could bring the team:  economic breathing room, high-end and inexpensive and young talent, an answer at third base, the freedom to make the team better as a whole and the reality of putting the team in a better position to compete in the future.

With that blasphemy out of the way, let's run down the short list of teams who are potential suitors for Johan Santana's services.  The requirements are few.  One, the team(s) must have the financial freedom to take on what a contract extension is likely to cost.  Two, the team(s) must have the players available that will make trading Johan worth the tears.  Let's go to work.

New York Yankees

Saw this one coming.  Tuesday it came out (to nobody's dismay) that Brian Cashman and one of the Steinbrenner boys had already been in contact with Bill Smith.  Smith insists Minnesota's number one priority is to extend the Venzuelan southpaw, but we all know the Damn Yankees have what it takes.  Here's what it should cost them.

RHP Joba Chamberlain, Born 09/23/1985

Split    IP    ERA   WHIP   K/9   BB/9
Minors  88.1  2.45   1.01  13.79  2.76
Majors  24.0  0.38   0.75  12.75  2.25

Throws heat in the upper 90's along with a plus slider/slurve, an average change and a work-in-progress curve.  Somehow in just 2007, Chamberlain went from relative unknown to phenom pitcher-come-mosquito attraction.  He projects as a starter, but at just 21 was being bred through the bullpen.  There's a lot of room for both growth and attrition due to scouting, but the proof is in the numbers:  Joba can pitch.

RHP Ian Kennedy, Born 12/19/1984

Split      IP    ERA   WHIP   K/9   BB/9
Minors  149.0   1.87   0.97  9.97   3.14
Majors   19.0   1.89   1.16  7.11   4.26

Like Chamberlain, Kennedy was drafted in '06.  Fastball in the low-90's, change, curve and a slider.  Jaba got all the attention last fall, but Kennedy isn't far behind in terms of development.  He'll be 23 by the time spring training rolls around.

RHP Philip Hughes, Born 06/24/1986

Split       IP    ERA   WHIP    K/9   BB/9
Minors   275.0   2.03   0.86  10.18   2.16
Majors    72.2   4.46   1.28   7.18   3.59

The pup of the pitching crop was drafted two years ealier, and has some pretty impressive numbers of his own.  Mid-90's fastball, upper-80's two-seam, a knuckle curve and a change.  In college he used to throw a slider, which could be a developing pitch.

3B/SS Mitch Hilligoss (L/R), Born 06/17/1985

Split    AB  2B  HR  SB  BB  SO   Avg   Obp   Slg
Purdue  150   5   2   6  14  18  .327  .391  .413
Purdue  228  16   4  25   8  18  .404  .429  .535
Purdue  228  16   6  18  23  21  .386  .453  .579
Minors  195  44   6  47  57 112  .305  .354  .397

Hilligoss was drafted in '06, and after playing part of the fall competed a full season with the Yankees A-ball affiliate.  He's fast, has good control of the plate and has a strong arm.  While the lack of power could leave a team powerless at the corner, a scout once called him "the best pure hitter I've ever seen".  Obviously, this scout hasn't seen Joe Mauer har har har.

OF Jose Tabata (R/R), Born 08/12/1988

Split     AB  2B  HR  SB  BB  SO   Avg   Obp   Slg
'05-Rk   156   5   3  25  15  14  .314  .382  .417
'06-A    319  22   5  15  30  66  .298  .377  .420
'07-A+   411  16   5  15  33  70  .307  .371  .392

Even though he's just 18, Tabata has become more of a curiosity to me.  Initially I was very excited about him, and while for the time being I don't want to say it looks as though he's plateaued, it does look like he might need some time to adjust to better pitching.  He's facing players his age now, and as a player with no power will need to develop other tools to keep him the on-base machine that he is today.  I'd still like to see him in our system.

Yankee Wrap:  This is the Yankees, the team with the highest payroll in the game and the team with funds seemingly available at their will.  For this reason they're probably getting the steepest of offers, because they can afford it.  Package Offer #1:  All five.  Package Offer #2:  One of the pitchers, Robinson Cano and the two position players.  Coal-raking?  Yes.  Likely?  Probably not, but that's okay because there will be better offers from elsewhere.

Frankly, this is the kind of offer I believe the Twins need to receive in order to trade Johan. An offer that makes you think "Hmmm, I guess this is okay" isn't good enough. Each team in play is going to be willing to give up quite a bit to earn Santana, and one of those teams will have to do something to make the Twins lean in their direction. This is the kind of player whose winning offer should blow your socks off, bottom line.

Additionally, the Twins don't NEED to trade Johan at this juncture. There's always the possibility of an extension and trade down the line. And because Minneosta doesn't NEED to trade Johan now, there's is absolutely no reason to get screwed and no reason to not get the best out of the bargain.

That's enough research for one night.  Digest this, and we'll get into the what kind of de-pantsing I'll be doing of Santana's other suitors tomorrow (Dodgers, Rangers, Angels, Mets, etc).  Have a good Wednesday.