Thursday, February 14, 2008

File This Under "It's About Time..."

Johan Santana was FINALLY traded from the Minnesota Twins to the New York Mets. In return for Santana, and the 72 hour negotiating window, Minnesota received 4 prospects from the Mets depleted farm system. The Twins received perceived centerpiece Carlos Gomez, Phillip Humber, Deolis Guerra, and Kevin Mulvey. I particularly like this deal from the Mets perspective as they get the best pitcher on the planet for 4 of their top prospects, but keep in mind that being a top prospect for the Mets is kind of like being the youngest person at a retirement home (excepting all individuals named Fernando Martinez). Maybe you're the best around, but it doesn't mean you're anything special.

The Deal:

Mets Get: Johan Santana

Twins Get: Carlos Gomez, Phillip Humber (AAA), Deolis Guerra(Hi A) and Kevin Mulvey (AAA)

New York: In Johan Santana the Mets receive the best pitcher in baseball over the last several years. He was not his usual dominant self in 2007, he was still one of the 5 best pitchers in the American League in my opinion (along with C.C. Sabathia, Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Fausto Carmona). He gave up a career high 33 home runs, while compiling 219 innings pitched, his lowest since 2003. He especially tired at the end of the season, posting a 4.94 era in the month of September. This has some people thinking that he was injured at the end of the season, but I believe that he had a consistently large workload that caused him to tire out at the end of this season. If he conditions himself properly, and throws fewer high pressure innings he will more than likely be fine this season. It is a bit of an oxymoron that we have in baseball right now in that the ability to throw many innings is highly valued, but too much mileage on a pitchers arm causes teams to be weary, however I think that while Santana is not immune to such things as wear and tear, he does condition himself appropriately, and takes good care of his body. Additionally, Santana should feast on the bottom of National League lineups, and this should save some wear and tear on his arm as it should be significantly easier to go through the less talented, less imposing NL East lineups, compared to those of the AL Central. Furthermore, I expect him to increase his already gaudy strikeout numbers, as he moves to an easier league, division and is still on the good side of 30. But enough about Santana, we've heard about him ad nauseum the last few years. Let's move on to the unknowns.

Minnesota: Carlos Gomez appears to be the headliner in this deal, although I have an inkling that he won't be the most valuable property when it's all said and done. Gomez is a potential five-tool player, but he is quite raw at the moment. He does possess plus-plus speed, and an above average arm. His bat speed is excellent which helps his power to project to be average at least. It is not all roses for Gomez though, as his hitting tool will likely be the last to develop, and his plate discipline leaves much to be desired. As much as I like toolsy prospects, I do not see Gomez reaching his ceiling because he has not refined his approach at the plate, and while he improved last year, it came at the expense of his power. Additionally, he has never hit above .281 at any stop in the minors, and while his OBP rose to .355 in limited time in the minors last year, his SLG dipped under .400. Overall in the minors he has never had an OPS of over .800, which doesn't bode well for his future. I understand he is not destined to become a power hitter, but unless he can raise his OBP, I don't think he will be the type of hitter everyone is projecting him to be. And while he has played in the majors, he is still quite quite raw, and I think it would serve him well to play another half season at least in Triple-A.

Phillip Humber comes to the Twins with a bit of the luster off of his star. He signed with the Mets as a first round pick out of Rice, but quickly hit the operating room, needing Tommy John surgery after only 15 professional starts. While he has rebounded some from TJ, like most pitchers he has regained his velocity, but still lacks the control he once displayed. While he has regained much of his velocity, he cannot reach the 94-95 mph he pitched at when at Rice, and generally settles in the high 80's and low 90's. He has refined his curveball, and is now able to throw it for quality strikes when he needs to. He no longer projects to be at the front end of the rotation, but could still be a serviceable back end starter in the Major Leagues. He is likely ready to pitch now, but the Twins have a plethora of young arms to sort out at the back of their rotation.

Deolis Guerra is the furthest away from the Major Leagues, and is the youngest and most raw player of the bunch. However, I believe he will be the best player when it's all said and done. This is a risky prediction to make, however, by the time we determine if I am right or wrong, it's likely that no one will recall I made it. Guerra will be 19 years old in mid-April, and he has only thrown 179 professional innings at this point in his career, which makes him is essentially pure projection at this point, but at 6-5, 200 lbs, he provides plenty of it. He already commands to above average pitches in his fastball, which had a spike in velocity (touching 96) late in the season. His best pitch is a change up that has the chance to become an out pitch at the major league level, due to his fantastic arm speed. I think he is the key to this deal, and considering the Twins ability to scout other organizations for talent (Liriano, Bonser, Nathan, Santana, and even going back to Appier) I trust their judgement.

Mulvey is the last player in this deal, and his ceiling is akin to that of Humber's although he goes about it in a completely different manner. Mulvey's value comes from his ability to keep the ball down in the zone, while controlling four different pitches. He was a second round draft pick in 2006(the highest the Mets had that year) out of Villanova. His top pitch is currently a fastball with lots of sink and run, and his slider has the potential to be an out pitch. He also features a change-up, and an 11-5 curveball. He is extremely hard on righties limiting them to a .224 batting average, but has struggled against lefties because of his inability to pitch inside to them. Like Humber, Mulvey projects as a middle to back end of the rotation starter. He could potentially break camp with the Twins, but again, they have a stable of young starters with limited ceilings, so while he will be in that mix, there's no guarantee he won't start in the minors.

Again, overall I think this was a win for the Mets despite the record contract they signed Santana to. While that contract is a lot to pay for a pitcher, and pitchers are always loaded with risk, the Mets desperately needed a front of the rotation starter to slide everyone back a slot in their rotation, and they acquired the best pitch around for far less than he was thought to go for. While I don't blame the Twins for waiting out for the best deal, they did end up overplaying their hand and settling for less than they could have received. I think the Mets easily got the better of the deal in the short term, but it will take years until the Twins see if their investments pan out or not.

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