By Taryn “the Coop” Cooper
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there were two trades that the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York conducted with the Twin Cities Baseball Club of Minnesota. The Metropolitans, the “Mets,” were on the receiving end of both trades of two separate top-flight pitchers. The Twin Cities, the “Twins,” received a bunch of prospects and higher-level players. A “mixed bag,” if you will.
The first trade, Frank Viola from the Twins to the Mets for a package of Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, David West, Jack Savage and Tim Drummond, was renowned as a good deal for the Mets at the time. In the effort of 20/20 hindsight though, the Mets got one good year out of Viola, while Aguilera went on to save 254 games for Minnesota in his tenure, and Tapani went on to have a quietly steady career. The other three, well, they were a wash. Yet it goes to the effect of analyzing a trade years later. Sometimes they work out. Sometimes, not so much. This one was good for one year of Sweet Music.
The second trade occurred in the offseason leading up to 2008. When I first heard the rumors, I didn’t believe them, and even if I did, I was against the idea of it. I wasn’t (and still am not) a big fan of trading away the “future” or any reinforcements for a guy who is already established. Especially a pitcher who was as successful as Johan Santana up till 2007. There was a chance he’d be as successful going forward. Or there was a chance he might not.
Regardless, when the trade actually did happen, I was happy. Hell, it was JOHAN FREAKING SANTANA who was going to be the ace of the Mets. Santana came to the Mets for a package of more young prospects, and this no real major league ready talent (unless you count Carlos Gomez of that caliber). Gomez was in that trade, so were Kevin Mulvey, Deolis Guerra and Philip Humber.
It’s funny how in Mets history, two trades for two top flight pitchers with tons of success in Minnesota come to the Mets in a trade for a nice package of players, and the Mets have learned absolutely nothing about history repeating itself. Of course, no one could have predicted Santana’s injuries over the years. Yet, Santana is on the books until 2015, and he’s been out of commission for one whole season, and bits of each season outside of his first one.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Mets have been paring down payroll and are projected to have around a $90 million payroll. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, this is around 2001 levels. Unless they plan to add someone else in the next few weeks, this represents a $52.1 million drop year-over-year. Johan Santana is due to earn $24mm in 2012, and along with Jason Bay and David Wright, their paychecks usurp around 63% of the payroll. If Johan Santana returns in 2012, which looks to be the case, there is no guarantee that he will be back to form especially with the type of surgery he had.
Out of the prospects traded for Santana, Philip Humber was the only one at the time of the trade that I had high hopes for, and last season, he had decent season for the Chicago White Sox, going 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA in 2011, starting out strong but puttering in the second half. This happens, as he’d nursed a few injuries in his career thus far, but also he’s progressing the way he should. While White Sox manager Robin Ventura says that Humber pretty much is his fifth starter for 2012, but Humber also has the determination to not take that for granted and still feels the need to prove himself.
One can almost interchange Humber with Santana for either team, as they both come back with something to prove: Humber the upstart determination to make the rotation, and Santana to prove that he can be the ace that this team is paying for. Unfortunately, the Mets are in an unenviable place. They desperately need starting pitching, they have a living see-saw with Mike Pelfrey, a young Jon Niese and Dillon Gee, and they had to let Chris Capuano walk because he wanted too much money. The same Chris Capuano who had been injured before signing with the Mets, proved himself durable, and went to the Dodgers for a 2 yr/$10mm contract. And now the Mets can hope to have Chris Young on the cheap.
It just makes me wonder what could have been. What could have been had Johan Santana been healthy his entire time. If he was, even if the Mets were still terrible, he could have been traded for prospects as a salary dump. Now, we’ll be lucky to get a Cascarino’s pizza delivered in return for a Johan Santana start.
We all wish we had the gift of 20/20 hindsight. We know what we would do all over again, and what is a pitfall when looking back. But the only prospect who worked out on a plus side in the Santana deal so far is Phil Humber, and he still has a high ceiling. Santana has not lived to his expectations but looking back, Omar Minaya would have been skinned alive had he not pulled off that trade, especially at the time it occurred (right after the 2007 collapse). Yet, I called it back in 2008 when I said this had the potential to be an other Frank Viola type of deal: one in which past performance was overvalued, and future performance was hardly considered of both sides of what was given and what was gotten in return.