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It's been a long time since the Mets traded for Santana, but it's hard to forget what that deal cost two organizations
Even years after they're fired, bad general managers never really go away. Their residue remains pasted to their former clubs for far too long after they are fired, like the stray superglue that invariably gets on your fingertips, impossible to wash off without large doses of turpentine. And so it is on this spring Tuesday, as Mets and Twins fans woke up with the crusty remnants of the Omar Minaya and Bill Smith eras all over their hands.
After 2007, the Twins were absolutely clear that they were not going to re-sign perennial Cy Young Award candidate Johan Santana to a contract extension, and resolved that they were going to get whatever they could for him on the trade market. Tasked with the job was Smith, a sparkling new general manager personally endorsed by the outgoing Terry Ryan to succeed him. Smith had already pulled off one trade that off-season, dealing Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to the Rays for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie.
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Omar Minaya was in his third off-season running the show for the Mets, after stewarding the demise of the Montreal Expos, and had made massive splashes each winter with his acquisitions of Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Billy Wagner, Carlos Delgado, and Moises Alou. Coming off of a second place finish in 2007, the Mets needed rotation help to offset the losses of Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez. So, Minaya turned to the Twins, who held perhaps the most valuable pitcher in baseball, and certainly the most available.
Smith tried to play the Red Sox and Yankees off against one another for most of the winter, with the clubs offering packages including name guys like Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Melky Cabrera. But Smith couldn't find a package that would net them everything they wanted (a top pitching prospect, a centerfielder, and either another infielder or another pitching prospect), and to which he felt entitled. And there was speculation that the Sox and Yankees were simply keeping their bids high to prevent each other from acquiring Santana, but not high enough to get the Twins to accept their offers.
Enter Omar Minaya. Minaya didn't have any infielders to offer, but he did have a ton of pitchers, and a very raw center fielder. After months as an afterthought in the Santana Sweepstakes, Minaya proposed to send Carlos Gomez (Baseball America's #52 prospect), Deolis Guerra (#35 prospect), Phil Humber (#73 prospect in 2007), and Kevin Mulvey to Minnesota for Santana, provided Johan would agree to a contract extension. Santana agreed to a then-record (for a pitcher) six-year, $137.5 million contract that would run through 2013, completing the trade. Frankly, while the Mets' proposal seemed light compared to what the Yankees and Red Sox reportedly had available, the talent the Twins got back seemed relatively fair.
On paper, anyway, as this deal didn't work out for anybody. Santana had a tremendous 2008 in which he led the NL in ERA and innings pitched and finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting. But his strikeouts were down and he would muddle through the next two years with diminished velocity before shoulder problems cost him all of 2011 and left him less than he should be in 2012. All told, Santana has missed 298 games while wearing a Mets' uniform, and has been injured in some capacity every season since he came to New York. This is part of why the Mets have not made the postseason since acquiring him and are, in fact, 32 games below .500 over his first five years with the club -- that's not likely to change after a sixth year, either. Santana was billed as the last piece of the puzzle, but as of this morning, he and the Mets are so disenchanted with each other that they aren't communicating.
Santana, who reportedly showed up to camp not ready to pitch, is furious with the Mets' leaking that news to the New York press and has been throwing unauthorized bullpen sessions. He seems destined to start the season on the disabled list, and there is no chance the Mets will pick up his $25 million option after the season -- they will still pay $5.5 million to get out from under that option, though.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Bill Smith's return for his ace has been a disaster. Carlos Gomez was unable to harness his incredible physical tools in Minnesota, and was sent to the Brewers, where he has been, of late, closer to the player the Twins hoped they were getting years ago. Kevin Mulvey proved to be cannon fodder. Phil Humber was anything but perfect in Minnesota and was waived, and is now in his third organization since then. And as of this moment, Deolis Guerra, still a promising bullpen prospect, is in intensive care in Florida with a blood clot in his shoulder, needs surgery, and is out for the next three months. All told, the Twins are going to wind up with barely over three wins above replacement from the four players they acquired. To add insult to injury, the Twins would have won the AL Central in 2008 if they'd just held on to Santana for the year and taken the then-two compensatory draft picks when he walked.
We like to talk about trades in terms of winners and losers. But that's not really applicable here. There is no doubt that this deal, which was supposed to be a tentpole supporting Omar Minaya's and Bill Smith's legacies, was an utter failure for both teams. There were no winners here, only losers, and those losses keep mounting six years later. Minaya was fired after 2010 and Bill Smith followed him out the door after 2011 (though he does remain within the uber-loyal Minnesota Twins organization as an assistant to the re-installed Terry Ryan). But reminders of their disastrous tenures at the helm keep popping up, and probably will for years to come.
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