Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Smooth

There's a part of me - the part that savors a well-pitched 2-1 ballgame, the part that appreciates a Bugs Bunny changeup that instantly turns a slugger from ferocious to feeble - that was thrilled about the prospect of Johan Santana pitching for the Boston Red Sox in 2008 and beyond. In that sense, it's a small disappointment that his immense talent and admirable approach to the game will be some other fanbase's treat for the next few seasons, provided his left elbow remains sound.

So much for that daydream of a Josh Beckett-Santana 1-2 punch. But you know what? It's better this way. No, Santana's not a Red Sox. But he's not a Yankee, either, thank goodness. He's out of the AL, and the way it all played out is the best possible outcome for the reigning World Series champs.

That's not to say Minnesota made the correct trade, however. Perhaps time will prove me wrong here, but my immediate impression is that Minnesota whiffed like Trot Nixon against a lefty. New GM Bill Smith made a classic rookie mistake. He got reasonable, if not overwhelming, offers from the Red Sox and the Yankees around the time of the winter meetings, decided neither proposal was enough in exchange for the best pitcher of this decade, waited too long for more . . . and ended up getting less. Much less.

Minnesota received (or should I say will receive, for the deal isn't official until Santana signs an extension) four of the Mets' top seven prospects according to Baseball America: outfielder Carlos Gomez, and pitchers Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra. But what they didn't get - and what they absolutely had to receive in exchange for a 29-year-old two-time Cy Young award winner - was an elite prospect, someone whom they could show their fans and say, Yes, we traded the best pitcher of this decade. But we think we just acquired our signature star of the next generation. Be patient. There's hope.

Instead, Twins fans are left lamenting the departure of yet another iconic athlete in exchange for what looks suspiciously like a handful of magic beans. As one commenter put it on Twins blogger extraordinaire Aaron Gleeman's site:

The only thing that could have made this better is if the Mets had somehow thrown in Herschel Walker.

Turns out bitter sports sarcasm isn't solely the domain of New Englanders.

By all accounts, the one player the Twins coveted - and the one they should have demanded - was outfielder Fernando Martinez, a slugger-in-waiting who made a good impression in Double A this past season at the age of 18. I don't think much of Omar Minaya as a GM - sometimes it seems like his mission is to reassemble the 1999 Caribbean Winter League All-Star team in Flushing - but he deserves a tip of the ball cap for getting Santana without giving up his most prized prospect.

In retrospect, Smith should have taken the Yankees offer a month ago. I'm on record as a believer in Phil Hughes, who I think will turn out to be a more accomplished player than anyone mentioned in these rumors, Jacoby Ellsbury included. No Sox fan wanted to see Santana end up in the Bronx, of course, but is it of mild concern that the Yankees took the - gasp! - prudent, big-picture approach here. You know if Hank "The Tank" Steinbrenner had his druthers, they'd have given up Hughes and Ian Kennedy without a moment's hesitation. He's got to be furious about Santana ending up with their back-page rival. I bet he stayed up all night in the official Steinbrenner Lair, chain-smoking Camels, cursing that prospect-hoarding know-nothing Brian Cashman, and scouring the internet for NSFW photos of Jennifer Love Hewitt.

The Yankees made the best offer, in my humble opinion, and based on what we think we know, the Sox made the second-best, at least up until Jon Lester was recently taken off the table. Yet despite the fair proposal, I'm still not convinced Theo Epstein's interest was entirely sincere. The cost - not only in dollars on Santana's extension, but in terms of prospects - had to gnaw at the Sox GM. I imagine he's entirely satisfied with the outcome today. Santana's a Met, the Yankees still desperately need a No. 1 starter, and the Sox remain the AL East favorite while retaining Ellsbury, Lester, Jed Lowrie, and Justin Masterson, prized graduates of the Player Development Machine.

Sure, the thought of Santana as a Red Sox was lovely one. But like the GM, we're attached to the kids, too, and even the Pink Hats know that Ellsbury and Lester have already contributed to one World Championship. Funny thing is, after today's developments, there's a decent chance they'll have to beat the Mets and their new ace to contribute to another one.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Basketball Card:


I can't believe he hasn't bailed out on the Heat yet. Save for Dwyane Wade, that's one reprehensible basketball team right now.

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