Friday, February 1, 2008

Dealing in Uncertainty

Of all the things former Twins GM Terry Ryan taught his successor Bill Smith one of them was clearly not the ability to be a shrewd negotiator.

After dangling the game's most dominant pitcher in front of both the Yankees and Red Sox for several months and successfully pitting them against one another in a bidding war of sorts, Smith didn't just drop the ball, he threw it over the fence with the scary dog on the other side.

Instead of capitalizing on the opportunity to add ready-right-now young stars like Phil Hughes or Jacoby Ellsbury, Smith decided to hold out for a better offer and in the meantime allowed both the Yankees and Red Sox to reconsider letting their most prized prospects go.

What Smith was left with was the other New York team, the Mets, and an offer that somehow did not include their top prospect Fernando Martinez. Staring straight in the face of losing Johan Santana for nothing more than two first round draft picks, Smith pulled the trigger on a deal that according to the experts was no better than the fourth best deal he could have gotten for his 28-year-old ace.

That of course is the bad news.

The good news is that in return for Santana the Twins were able to add four youngsters, each with the potential to be pretty good players. 22-year-old center fielder Carlos Gomez would have to be considered the "centerpiece" of the deal and gives the Twins a potential legit replacement for the departed Torii Hunter.

The three pitchers in the deal vary in potential stardom, but all ranked among the Mets' top 10 prospects and two of them project as #2 or #3 starters.

Like any deal of this nature, where one team gives up a bona fide superstar in return for prospects who have little to no big league experience, no one can say for sure that the Twins in this case got the short end of the deal.

But lets face facts here, on the surface the Twins not only got the short end of the deal, they should be ashamed of themselves for either not doing more to keep the best pitcher in baseball or getting at least one reasonably sure thing back in return.

Forget what the Minnesota spin doctors are going to tell you over the next weeks and months, this was not a good deal for the Twins. At best, by 2010 each of the four players the Twins got for Santana will be in the big leagues and two of them will be very good. Not great like the player they gave up, but very good.

They're going to try and sell you on the signings of Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer as well as the acquisition of star-to-be Delmon Young. All nice moves to be sure, but the reality of the situation is that even with the money being spent on those guys the Twins payroll will actually go down in 2008.

To me that reality, especially with a brand new ballpark opening up, is just not good enough for a fan base that is as loyal and deserving of a winning baseball team as the one here in the Twin Cities.

What the Twins basically did was tell their fans that they have no intention of competing until 2010 at the absolute earliest and most likely it'll be longer than that in a division as stacked as the AL Central.

By most accounts the best deal the Twins had the opportunity to jump on was a deal with the Yankees that would have included the 21-year-old Hughes and 23-year-old Melky Cabrera and a lineup that could have looked like this:

SS Adam Everett, CF Melky Cabrera, C Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau, RF Michael Cuddyer, LF Delmon Young, DH Jason Kubel/Craig Monroe, 3B Mike Lamb and 2B Brendan Harris

And a starting pitching rotation like this:

Francisco Liriano, Phil Hughes, Scott Baker, Boof Bonser and Kevin Slowey

Combine that with a very solid bullpen anchored by closer Joe Nathan (who could also be gone sooner rather than later) and you have a team that in my opinion could at least compete in the AL Central and is still young enough to be good when the new park opens in 2010.

Instead the Twins will have to try several options in center field including Gomez, Denard Span and Jason Pridie, none of which are proven big league players like Cabrera.

The rotation also takes a hit without a top flight, big league ready talent like Hughes and most likely will have to depend on one of several Triple-A graduates or a low-level free agent like Josh Fogg.

Don't get me wrong here, the Twins are my favorite American League team to be sure, but I can't get behind this trade and am truly disappointed the Twins didn't do better for themselves and their fans.

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