In Johan Santana, the Minnesota Twins had the best pitcher in all of baseball. Period.
Santana won the AL Cy Young in 2004 and 2006 and has never seen his ERA climb above 3.50 in a year in which he has thrown more than 100 innings. He will turn 29 in March and will continue to be an elite pitcher well into his 30s.
With all this in mind, the Twins landed who for Santana?
Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, and Philip Humber from the New York Mets.
Let's take a look at these prospects.
Carlos Gomez is the centerpiece of this deal, according to most analysts. Gomez has the potential to be a five-tool player, possibly in the Carlos Beltran mold. The key word there is potential.
In 58 games with the Mets last year, Gomez played more like Rey Sanchez than Carlos Beltran, hitting .232 with just 2 home runs and three doubles while striking out 27 times compared to just eight walks, good for a .288 on-base percentage. Those numbers hardly seem like those of a stud prospect, but everybody has their growing pains and Gomez was just 21 at the time.
However, Gomez's stats at the minor league level lead me to believe he may not be the top talent the Twins needed in a Santana trade. Gomez hit .286 last year in 36 games for AAA Norfolk, but only registered two home runs. He did steal 17 of 21 bases (along with 12 of 15 at the MLB level), but on the whole, Gomez's stats lead me to believe he'll pan out to be a good, solid, major league lead-off hitter. His K/BB ratio would worry me, but he'll still get on base and do his job well.
OK, so the Twins aren't getting completely shafted in Gomez. Right?
Well, consider this: Rumors have it that the offer Boston was making to Minnesota was centered around Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is two years older than Gomez, but that's about where the advantages for Gomez end. Ellsbury hit a ridiculous .353 in the regular season for the Red Sox last year. OK that's impressive. But now compare that to his .438 (7/16) showing in the grandest stage of them all—the World Series.
Ellsbury will go into the 2008 season as one of the best lead-off hitters in the game, unlike Gomez who has the potential to be one of the best lead-off (if they decide to put him there) hitters in the game.
Next up in the deal is Deolis Guerra. First of all, Guerra is freakin' younger than I am. I've never seen him pitch, but apparently people in the Twins organization think enough of his potential to include him in the deal.
Now, I'm a big proponent of young "project" pitchers (which is why I was so incensed when Kenny Williams gave away Fautino De Los Santos in the Nick Swisher trade), but when you're trading a star pitcher like Santana, I would think you'd rather get some sort of top-tier, major-league ready pitcher in return. It'll be interesting to watch as Guerra progresses, but he's still 18 and a whole lot could go wrong before he reaches the major leagues.
The third player included in the deal is Kevin Mulvey, the 62nd overall pick in the 2006 draft out of Villanova. Mulvey moved fast through the Mets organization, beginning his first full season at AA Binghamton. Mulvey posted good numbers with Binghamton—a 3.32 ERA with 110 strikeouts compared to 43 walks in 151.2 innings. He even started a game with AAA Norfolk, going six innings while allowing no runs or walks with three strikeouts.
With a good showing in AAA-ball this summer, Mulvey could enter the rotation late in the year at the earliest, but most likely he'll compete for a spot in 2009. He doesn't project to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he should be at least a quality arm in the Twins rotation down the road.
The final piece of the puzzle is Philip Humber, a former third-overall pick out of Rice who the Mets were once very, very high on. Humber passed up rookie and low-A ball and began his pro career at high-A ball for the Mets, where he struggled to keep his ERA below five. The Mets, still high (if I just stopped the sentence here, it might explain this) on Humber, even gave him a shot at AA ball that year, where he struggled in four innings of work.
The next spring, Humber found himself back in rookie ball for one start before splitting time between high-A and AA ball, finding success in both leagues. Humber moved up to AAA ball in 2007 and was essentially mediocre, posting a 4.27 ERA in 139 innings.
Something that jumped out at me on the stats page was Humber's 21 home runs allowed in those 139 innings, or about one every six and 2/3 innings. That's an alarmingly high rate, and Humber won't make it in the majors if he's giving up a home run every start. He'll likely compete for a back-of-the-rotation spot in Spring Training this year, but I'd wager he'll end up in AAA Rochester for the Twins when they head north in late March.
There's a good chance these four players will all pan out to be quality, major-league players. But that's what should really irk Twins fans. Quality. Not great. Quality.
That's quality when the Twins could have had Jacoby Ellsbury plus other decent prospects from Boston that likely could end up with the same career paths as Humber and Mulvey.
That's quality when the Twins could have had one stud pitcher in Phil Hughes from the Yankees (again, if the rumors were true) plus other decent prospects from New York that likely could end up with the same career paths as Humber and Mulvey.
So why didn't the Twins take the offer that essentially guarantees them one major-league star player (I rarely use the word "guarantee" to describe a prospect, but Ellsbury and Hughes both appear ready enough for me to use the G-word) along with other hit-and-miss prospects than one that might yield a solid lead-off hitter and a couple of middle-to-back-of-the-rotation starters?
Were the Twins really that concerned with trading Santana in their league? Because, I got news for you, Twins fans:
Your team won't be seeing October, let alone the World Series, anytime soon.