Santana deal not dead yet


Despite the Twins’ hesitation to pull the trigger, it still looks like the best offer on the table for Johan Santana belongs to Boston. The Star Tribune reports today that the package of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson and one other minor leaguer appears to be the most desirable to Bill Smith and Minnesota thus far. Theo and his team have agreed to an open dialogue with the Twins, allowing them to pursue other options, such as a deal with the Mets or the Angels, while this deal sits on the table.

I was pretty mad when the Twins walked away from the table at the Winter Meetings, but it seems that the press was making it sound more like a done deal than it really was. So after the anger has subsided, let’s look at this deal, and see if we are really giving up too much.

What we are getting

29-year old pitcher Johan Santana, perhaps the best lefty in the Major Leagues the past 5 seasons. He’s been healthy and consistent, without too much wear on his arm, despite well over 200 IP the last four seasons. Adding to his durability is that he’s not a pitcher who depends on velocity to be effective. Santana is a fastball/changeup/slider guy, and the secret to his success is the changeup. With good mechanics and control, these pitchers tend to age relatively gracefully (see Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Trevor Hoffman). Santana has been worth more than 100 pitcher runs above replacement the past four years, so even if he slips some, that means his WARP will be about 8 next season. He should be good for that much at least until age 30, if not 32. Figure a 5-year, $130M extension, and we’re talking projected numbers like this:

Year	WARP	Salary  
2008	8	13M
2009	8	26M
2010	7.5	26M
2011	7.5	26M
2012	7	26M
2013	7	26M
Total	45	143M

Let’s not be naive here; he’d be superman to stay healthy all those years, so let’s subtract out, say, 2011 due to injury. That leaves us at 37.5 WARP over 6 seasons, an average of 6.25. Some pitchers who were worth about that this season: Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Chien-Ming Wang, Joe Blanton. Not a bad list, and this is a fairly conservative estimate in my book. Considering we’d be pairing him with Josh Beckett and backing him up with Daisuke Matsuzaka (who will be better this year and beyond, BTW), Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, what kind of rotation do you think we’ll have? All of these guys are considered present or potential aces. And let’s not talk about who to leave out of the rotation in a short playoff series.

Do we trade Ellsbury?

This is a huge question. We really don’t know what Ellsbury will turn out to be. He’s shown that he can hit Major League pitching, and that he’s a confident, big game player. Right now he’s a plus centerfielder who has the skill to become a Gold Glover in time. He’s blazingly fast, and turns routine plays into impact plays. He’ll leg out so many squibbers and short doubles it’ll make your head spin. And he could probably steal upwards of 30-40 bases, if given the green light. But Ellsbury does have a weak throwing arm. He doesn’t have much power to speak of. And he’s got a couple of (fixable?) holes in his swing. If I had to give a ceiling for Ellsbury based on his minor league performance, I might say something like .300/.380/.430 with a lot of doubles and stolen bases. If he achieves that, he’ll be a great leadoff hitter. But he’ll be just 24 next season, and won’t likely reach that for three more years or so. I might expect something more like .270/.340/.390 next season, almost league average for an AL centerfielder (.272/.340/.414 in 2007).

If we trade Ellsbury, that means Coco Crisp will likely stay in centerfield for 2008. Despite his below average bat, Crisp still posted a WARP1 of 6.0, mostly on the strength of his defense. I can’t see Ellsbury surpassing that next season, though he probably will in two to three more years. Crisp may just play out his contract until prospect Ryan Kalish is ready. Kalish is a very similar player to Ellsbury (some think he has more upside), but will be just 20 years old next season. With such young players, it’s hard to tell what they will become. There’s also the prospect that Boston will be able to make a move for another centerfielder in the future, or draft a player out of college.

Is including Lowrie and Masterson too much?

Coming out of Stanford, Lowrie is a pretty heady player. Though likened to Dustin Pedroia by some, he is not the same; he is physically bigger, a switch-hitter with better gap power, and has a better throwing arm than Pedey. He probably will not be a Gold Glove shortstop, but he should be above average. He hits for average, and works counts very well, making him a potential #2 hitter. Losing this guy does hurt some, as the Sox don’t have a lot of Major League-ready middle infield farmhands. But with our pitching prospects, we can conceivably trade for for whatever we need.

Masterson is a good prospect, and his sinker projects well to the Major Leagues. He will be a fairly good pitcher, if not a very good one. But the Sox rotation is overflowing as it is, and realistically, it will not hurt us that much to lose him.

A good offer

In conclusion, it’s still worth it to get Santana. And this deal is worthwhile for the Twins, too. Even though they wanted Jon Lester too, Boston is offering a leadoff and #2 hitter to Minnesota for their ace, and Masterson could join their rotation in a year or two. Only Ellsbury has any Major League service time, so the Twins will get a lot of mileage from these three players; it is a good deal for them. If you ask me, pitching is not their big need right now. They free up salary to extend Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, maybe sign a big bat, and they can be competitive for some time. The Sox will likely have to include one other low-level prospect from A-ball, and that is acceptable to obtain Santana.

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9 Responses to Santana deal not dead yet

  1. Pat says:

    I don’t understand how the Yankees would allow that to happen. They have the resources to take Santana and keep him from us.

    The Sox offense has many reasons to project a little better next year than in ’07. The only question mark is whether the bullpen would be as good as in ’07. The Yankees would be facing a much better Red Sox team in ’08 and beyond. It doesn’t make sense.

    The idea of getting Santana for Ellsbury, Masterson, and Lowrie just gets me giddy, but out of context it seems so far fetched.

    So I’m skeptical, but I would love to be wrong, and see Santana come our way. Especially because he and Ortiz are Bros, and I would expect monkey business between the two in the dugout.

  2. redsoxtalk says:

    The Yankees could trade Hughes, Cabrera and Kennedy for Santana, but there is a growing sentiment within the organization that overpaying for every veteran is not the best approach. Plus there’s some pride involved with Hank Steinbrenner, since he came out and said that he wouldn’t do it. Brian Cashman is trying desperately to keep the three young pitchers together, and it’s a game of chicken between the Yankees, Red Sox and Twins to see who blinks first. Out of the three teams, we’re the LEAST desperate to do this trade, so I like our position. We’ll be fine, whatever happens with Santana. The Yankees need an ace, and the Twins need to get what they can get for Johan.

    I agree, the Sox should be very tough to beat if we land Santana without disturbing our major league club much. That’s the beauty of how well Theo has drafted the past few seasons. It’s really paying dividends. How many clubs can give away two or three top prospects and be just fine on the farm???

  3. Alan Hull says:

    Honestly, for exclusive negotiating rights with Johan and the chance to lock up the ace off of the open market, I think the Red Sox are getting him cheap.

    I like your projection on Ellsbury, but I think he’s become overrated in Boston because he did so well down the stretch and in the play-offs but his lack of power makes him expendable.

    Lowrie is tight but Boston will be unstoppable with Johan. Hell, they might even decline Wakefield’s option next season.

  4. Mike D says:

    Crazy… Would be nice to pick him up so we dont have to play against him next year

  5. redsoxtalk says:

    No offense, I love Tim Wakefield and all he’s done for the team, but if we can’t do better than him by 2009, that means a lot of our pitching prospects have flunked out; I’d like to avoid that scenario…

  6. Coach(Lets Go Braves In 2008) says:

    Being a Braves fan , here is my take on the Santana situation.

    Theo Epstein is dealing with a very astute , smart and savvy GM in Bill Smith. The man worked side by side with Terry Ryan for sixteen years and has been with Twins organization in various jobs and capacities since 1986.

    Johan Santana is only considered the best pitcher in the game and barring a career ending injury , a mortal lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Bill Smith is in the drivers seat and he knows it. The closer it gets to April 1st , the more leverage the Twins will have. The Twins know that with the Tigers , Indians , Red Sox , Angels and Yankees ahead of them , they have zero chance at making the playoffs. They want and need prospects , as many as they can get their hands on.

    Santana could start the season as a Twin and they would simply wait until the July 31st trading deadline when every single team still in contention for a playoff spot would be slobbering all over themselves and willing to trade a number of prospects for the chance to have Santana for the last two months of the season.

    That is a scenario the Yankees , Red Sox and Mets don’t want to see happen. The contract extension and money that Santana is wanting should not be an issue. After all , even if he makes it to free agency , somebody is still going to pay him anyway , just a year later in 2009.

    All this leads me to believe the Twins are wanting five to six players ( two who are already in the majors and four more top prospects).

    Remember when Theo Epstein tried to dump Manny Ramirez by putting him on waivers after the 2003 season. Nobody claimed him and look what has happened since.

    This looks like another of his brainfart’s about to happen if Johan Santana gets away because Epstein could not swallow his pride and pull the trigger. What if Santana ends up on a team that knocks the Red Sox out of the playoffs or even beats them in the World Series ? It’s something to consider.

  7. redsoxtalk says:

    Hi, thanks for your comments; I agree that after watching Bill Smith this offseason, he does appear to be a very good GM. Definitely more like Ryan than say, Ed Wade. I like most of the moves the Twins have made thus far, though I have to say that I’m not terribly impressed with the left side of their infield right now…

    I agree with everything you said about Santana, but I think it should be mentioned that it is almost certain that he does not continue to perform at the same level in his post-prime years. My projection above has him as NOT going to be worth $20M per season after 2010.

    As far as the Red Sox go, I think they are in the driver’s seat with regard to Santana, and not Smith. They don’t NEED to do this deal in order to compete, and the value they would be giving up with 6 players, as you suggest, would be a terrible move, given Santana’s reasonable value in future seasons. A team like the Yankees, who are in need of an ace, are a lot more desperate, so Smith has an edge over them. But remember that pitchers are the most prone players when it comes to injuries and performance drop-offs (ahem, Barry Zito, anyone?). Long-term pitcher deals don’t often pan out.

    Smith is the one who needs to dump Santana for a ton of prospects. At minimum, he has to require two A-list prospects plus someone else, because he could get two compensation picks just by letting him play out his contract. But he’s dealing away just one year of Santana at $13.5M, and that only gets shorter. He will not get much value back for the extension, which requires overpaying Santana anyway.

    Epstein was trying to clear what he thought was a bad contract at the time, but he is a lot more experienced than he was in 2003. Five offseasons later, he knows that he has the best offer right now, and no one is matching it right now. He is not going to blink, no matter how long Smith waits. Most analysts say that Santana’s trade value is higher right now than in July; plus, Smith takes the chance that he gets hurt, then he can’t trade him at all. Smith will deal him before Opening Day, he almost has to. At this point, the only way to get maximum value is to keep Santana to start the season and pray for an injury to one of the Yankees, Red Sox or other big market team’s rotations. But that requires things to fall in exactly the right way, and it’s a risk.

  8. Coach(Lets Go Braves In 2008) says:

    Well , in that light , it appears we have two GM’s in Bill Smith and Theo Epstein who both think that they have the upper hand. No wonder this deal can’t get done.

    As fas as the number of prospects , if Nick Swisher is worth three and Dan Haren was traded for six players , what is Santana worth ?

    Compromise is the only answer to this problem. If I were Bill Smith , I would drop Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury from the discussion. Put Coco Crisp as the one major leaguer in the trade and ask Theo Epstein for a list of the top twenty Red Sox prospects available. Choose two from the top of the list , three from the bottom and package those five players along with Coco Crisp for Santana.

    Six for one should get it done. Does that sound reasonable ?

  9. redsoxtalk says:

    Yes, I agree that maybe both GMs feel like they’re in the driver’s seat somewhat. It is a game of chicken, so it’s up to the Yankees or Mets to step up and break the deadlock, or else we go to Spring Training when someone finally blinks.

    The problem with Smith dropping his demand for Jacoby is that he’s projected to be so much better and cheaper than Coco Crisp. Minnesota needs that money elsewhere in 2009 and 2010. So unless Crisp rebounds to .300/.340/.450 status, it’s really not ideal for them.

    The value calculation is different for Santana versus Haren and Swisher because of his contract situation. Not everyone can afford an extension of 7 years and $140M, so that takes a lot of bidders out from the get go. Then you’re only getting one year of Santana, versus 3 years of Dan Haren at a bargain price or 4-5 years of Swisher at a very good price tag.

    Your proposal would look something like this: Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson, Jason Place, Dustin Richardson, Michael Almanzar. The Twins would get a pretty decent CF, a cheap, serviceable SS and some specs. It’s questionable whether this is better than the offer the Sox currently have on the table, I think.

    I’m still of the opinion that paying $153M for 8 years of a post-peak Santana (okay, he might be peak for a couple more years) PLUS 6 young players is just too much. I’d feel very differently if Johan had a cost-controlled contract like Haren’s, of course.

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