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The Twins Worst Trades: Johan Santana

Twins fans got spoiled. For multiple seasons, the best pitcher on the planet was named Johan Santana and he happened to be wearing a Twins uniform. He may be one of the best Twins players not elected to the Hall of Fame. However, his departure from the team is one moment that many Twins fans would like to forget.
Image courtesy of © Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Smith was in a no-win situation. In late-2007, He became the fifth general manager in Twins history, and he was immediately tasked with trading away baseball’s best starting pitcher. Minnesota had tried to work out an extension with two-time Cy Young award winner, but those conversations had stalled. The Twins were still multiple years away from a new stadium and the increased revenues they hoped it would provide, so the club looked to deal away one of the best pitchers in team history.

During the offseason, there seemed to be three suitors for Santana’s services, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets. All three big market teams had the funds to meet Santana’s contract needs and they had the prospect capital to acquire a pitcher of his magnitude.

Twins fans hoped to acquire some of the top talent available from these organizations. Boston had big-name prospects like Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz. The Yankee’s system included Phil Hughes, Joba Chamerlain, Melky Cabrera, and Ian Kennedy. While some of the Mets top farm hands were Fernando Martinez, Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, and Phil Humber.

Rumors swirled for most of the offseason with many of the names mentioned above. Eventually, Minnesota settled on a package of players that included Gomez, Guerra, Mulvey, and Humber. Twins fans were disappointed, but maybe that was inevitable. Gomez, Guerra, and Humber had all been top-100 prospects during their professional careers, but it still didn’t feel like enough for the game’s best pitcher in the middle of his prime.

The Mets were coming off a 2007 season where they collapsed at season’s end and they needed a boost to get them over the top in the NL East. Santana was a franchise altering player that could help them clear that bar. New York agreed to trade for Santana if they could sign him to an extension. He’d ink a six-year, $137.5 million and the rest is history.

Santana’s first year in New York was his best as he led the league with over 234 innings pitched and a 2.53 ERA. He’d finish third in the Cy Young voting. In fact, his first three seasons were great for the Mets. He posted a 2.85 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP in 600 innings pitched, but injuries were starting to become a problem. Bone chips were removed from his elbow, he had rotator cuff surgery, and eventually shoulder injuries ended his career.

From Minnesota’s perspective, things went from bad to worse. Gomez was rushed to the big leagues and hit .248/.293/.352 over two seasons. He’d be dealt to Milwaukee as part of the JJ Hardy trade, another bad Twins trade, and he’d become a two-time All-Star with the Brewers. The pitchers acquired in the deal struggled even more than Gomez in a Twins uniform.

Guerra topped out at Triple-A in the Twins system and moved on to other organizations after 2014. He pitched in the big leagues last season with Philadelphia, but he has a career ERA of 4.81 with a 1.32 WHIP. Mulvey made two appearances with the Twins and allowed four earned runs in 1 1/3 innings. In 2009, he was sent to Arizona to complete the trade for Jon Rauch. Humber pitched in 13 games for the Twins with an ERA north of 6.00 and he was granted his free agency after two seasons. He’d go on to pitch for Kansas City, Chicago, and Houston and fans may remember his perfect game for the White Sox.

Just a few years after the trade, none of the players Minnesota acquired were still on the roster. Santana’s time in New York didn’t end well, but he was able to pitch three very good seasons for the Mets before injuries shortened his career. At the same time, Twins fans are left wondering if a better deal could have been made with the Red Sox or Yankees.

What are your thoughts after looking back at this trade? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES

Tom Brunansky

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24 Comments

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Doctor Gast
Jan 12 2021 05:31 AM

There is no doubt Santana was 1 of the best Twin that didn't make it to the HOF. IMO he was the best pitcher the Twins ever had in the short time he was a starter for them. The trade was regrettable but Twins were desperate. As things worked out it'd have been better if the Twins would have held onto Santana & wait for a better trade & if that wasn't possible keep him & let him become a free agent. 

    • LewFordLives likes this

The J.J. Hardy for Gomez trade was not such a bad trade.In the seven years following the trade, Hardy put up 17.3 WAR and Gomez put up 19.8 WAR of which 12.8 was in the 2 years of 2013 and 2014.Over his career Hardy had slightly better WAR 27 to Gomez's 24.All data is from fangraphs.

 

The problem was trading after one year Hardy and Brendon Harris to Baltimore for and Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson.

    • gil4, Dantes929, adjacent and 13 others like this

I always kind of felt like Denard Span was partly to "blame" (please note the quotes, blame isn't exactly the right word). He was the heir apparent to Torii in center but he had seemingly stalled out a bit in the minors, so the Twins felt like whatever they got for Santana had to include a CF. 

 

On the flip side, the trade seemed to light a fire under Span's butt and he was a much better player after the Twins got Gomez. 

 

Also, don't forget the impact of Terry Ryan leaving Bill Smith to hold the bag that offseason. 

    • TopGunn#22 likes this

If I remember correctly the reason why the Twins could not work out a contract extension with Santana was because they traded away Luis Castillo, a good teammate and buddy of Johan's. He was upset that the Twins were not adding pieces to get better and losing Castillo indicated to Johan that the Twins weren't committed to winning. Revenue might have been the deciding factor but Johan also wanted to play for a team willing and able to acquire the necessary pieces to win.

    • adjacent, h2oface, TopGunn#22 and 3 others like this

I was hoping for a trade with the RedSox. I wanted Ellsbury.

    • gil4 and SkyBlueWaters like this

Thanks for bringing up this salty open sore in Twins history CODY!!!

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LewFordLives
Jan 12 2021 08:31 AM

I felt at the time that if the package wasn't right, the Twins should have held onto him and then taken the extra draft pick when he walked at the end of the year. It would have been one thing if the Twins were rebuilding at that time, but they weren't. They ended up losing the division by one game in 2008 and missed the playoffs. Santana would have made all the difference.

 

Smith was dealt a bad hand, but I can't think of one trade that didn't blow up in his face. 

    • gil4, TopGunn#22, mikelink45 and 3 others like this

I liked the rumored packages from the Yankees and the Red Sox better than the Mets by a lot, so I will always wonder what was really out there. It felt like at the time the Twins were afraid to trade with the Yankees for some public relations reasons and that the rumors about the Red Sox interest weren't that solid (i.e., they weren't really "in" just trying to raise the price for the Yankees).

 

Go-Go was incredibly fun to watch in the outfield, but he was just helpless at the plate as a Twin. Would things have gone better if he'd had better/more development time? It seems likely, since he never set the world on fire as a hitter in the minors and had been an awful hitter in the majors for the Mets. Defensively, he was ready but offensively he needed more work. But buy, his D was great until he started losing that incredible speed.

 

I recall Guerra being talked about as the guy with big upside, and it's a reminder that a-ball guys in trades are often just lottery tickets and will bust out much more often that blow up.

 

Humber & Mulvey were over-valued by the Twins because they were "close" to being MLB ready, I think. No way does the current office make that mistake today.

    • TopGunn#22 and DocBauer like this
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Harrison Greeley III
Jan 12 2021 08:51 AM

If they did nothing and just let him walk in free agency, they'd likely have won the AL Central in 2008 by 3 or 4 games instead of losing that game 163 in Chicago. 

It was odd how letting him walk was never an option on the table at the time discussed publicly (and isn't even discussed in this article). But sometimes doing nothing is the best move. 

    • adjacent, LewFordLives, DocBauer and 2 others like this

I look at the package we got and find it depressing.Your essay needs to be wrapped in a black ribbon.

    • DocBauer and jrod23 like this

 

If they did nothing and just let him walk in free agency, they'd likely have won the AL Central in 2008 by 3 or 4 games instead of losing that game 163 in Chicago. 

It was odd how letting him walk was never an option on the table at the time discussed publicly (and isn't even discussed in this article). But sometimes doing nothing is the best move. 

 

This is a good point. Keeping a final-year star rather than trading for prospects is just like trading prospects for such a person without the likelihood of a re-signing. You end up with one year of the star but fewer prospects.

 

The prospects we got didn't turn out very well. And sometimes the prospects we don't give up in a trade for a Lindor, say, don't work out either. But at least we have much better information about our own prospects than about those we get in trades.

I think it is important to remember that Johan had no trade or limited trade clause that really tied the Twins hands.
    • Dantes929 and TopGunn#22 like this

The beauty of paying a full-time DH is that you aren't wasting the additional money that it costs to acquire a player who also has a decent glove, for the one spot in the batting order where the glove is idle. Has to be the right guy, of course - the bat must be stellar, and so an offer to Nelson comes down to your forecast for production at his age and with whatever medical information the team has. For me it also matters whether another team will guarantee that second year fully - someone may, I would not.

 

Ozuna's asking price pretty much presumes he's a starter in the outfield. He's not enough better than Rosario to justify having non-tendered Eddie only to go and sign Marcell. Hard pass from me.

You had to look at the trade in one other way. The Twins saved $120+ million. Then the question comes, what did they do with that money instead of keeping one of the best players ever that pitched in Minnesota as part of the team for years and years.

 

I also seemed to remember that Mike Pelfrey's name was bandied around in the Mets package.

 

Yeah, what was the main Yankee package: Hughes, Cabrera, Kennedy, Chamberlain. I'm not sure what was the tell on that trade. The Twins didn't want Caberra?

 

I liked the throw-ins of Lowrie and Bowden at the time. It was just what starting arm (Bucholz or Lester, Ellsbury or Crisp). Remember Ellsbury was still an unproven at that point.

 

    • TopGunn#22 and Eris like this

 

I always kind of felt like Denard Span was partly to "blame" (please note the quotes, blame isn't exactly the right word). He was the heir apparent to Torii in center but he had seemingly stalled out a bit in the minors, so the Twins felt like whatever they got for Santana had to include a CF. 

 

On the flip side, the trade seemed to light a fire under Span's butt and he was a much better player after the Twins got Gomez. 

 

Also, don't forget the impact of Terry Ryan leaving Bill Smith to hold the bag that offseason. 

^^ That!!! Specifically Ryan leaving and giving Bill Smith the job of dealing with Johan.That was a straight garbage move. 

At the time I thought the Santana deal was ridiculously bad for the Twins and time has proven that to be true. Bill Smith just wasn't up to the task and was taken advantage of by the Mets. If he had a bit more backbone he would have just kept Santana and gone all in for a playoff run. Getting 200 innings from Santana plus at least a couple playoff starts would have been significantly more valuable than the crap package they got back.

 

At the time I thought the Santana deal was ridiculously bad for the Twins and time has proven that to be true. Bill Smith just wasn't up to the task and was taken advantage of by the Mets. If he had a bit more backbone he would have just kept Santana and gone all in for a playoff run. Getting 200 innings from Santana plus at least a couple playoff starts would have been significantly more valuable than the crap package they got back.

 

Feels like Billy Smith tried to play the Yankees and Red Sox against each other and get them in a bidding war and then both of them bailed out completely and he went to the 3rd place team out of desperation and convinced himself their prospects were worth it.

    • Longdistancetwins likes this

Clearly a trade with Boston would have worked out better, based on the three names mentioned and how they did, assuming they would have done similar things in MN, no evidence they would have.The NY guys were all ehhh with big spikes in their careers but nothing super.  

 

I would not say the trade of Gomez for Hardy was bad, as Hardy was a good SS for years, just not with the Twins because we gave him to Baltimore for basically nothing.Had we stuck with Hardy and he was similar to what he did in Baltimore that would have been a fine trade.  

 

Really, the whole thing showed how bad Smith was.He did make some good international signings, but his trades were mostly very bad.He also made some bad international signings as well.He should go down as worst GM in Twins history.

    • Eris likes this
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Andrew Bryzgornia
Jan 13 2021 09:54 AM

What I recall is that Smith wanted both Ellsbury and Lester from the Red Sox, but they said the Twins could only have one of them in the package for Santana.

 

I don't recall what happened with the Yankees, but like JLease said, it sure felt like Smith was trying to pit the Red Sox and Yankees against each other and instead it blew up in his face. Perhaps Smith was telling the Yankees the Sox were offering Ellsbury and Lester, then the Yanks talked to the Sox and found out that wasn't the case. 

 

Also, I would never say the Gomez/Hardy trade was bad. The Twins got a league-average shortstop for one year and they gave up an (at the time) underperforming CF. It just looked bad because both Gomez and Hardy flourished after leaving the Twins, but even the Brewers needed some time to unlock Gomez's potential. 

 

Also also, I will never forgive Gardy and the Twins for mishandling Hardy. He hurt his wrist, still had an average season offensively for a shortstop while playing good defense, the Twins decided Hardy was a disappointment and shipped him off for Hoey/Jacobsen and sign Nishioka, and then Hardy's wrist received better treatment while with the Orioles and he returned to being a top shortstop. It's no wonder that "total system failure" resulted. 

    • TopGunn#22 likes this

 

 

Also also, I will never forgive Gardy and the Twins for mishandling Hardy. He hurt his wrist, still had an average season offensively for a shortstop while playing good defense, the Twins decided Hardy was a disappointment and shipped him off for Hoey/Jacobsen and sign Nishioka, and then Hardy's wrist received better treatment while with the Orioles and he returned to being a top shortstop. It's no wonder that "total system failure" resulted. 

 

I think it's way worse. I believe Gardy's treatment of Hardy, the trade, and putting Nishioka on the field lost him the clubhouse. And a championship caliber team turned into doormats for almost a decade.

 

    • TopGunn#22 likes this

 

I think it is important to remember that Johan had no trade or limited trade clause that really tied the Twins hands.

That is important and though Santana made it clear he would not consent to a trade mid season I would have called his bluff. If the Twins were out of it and he could have been traded to a contender I am guessing he would have jumped at it.I would have gone for the Lester trade even up but what I remember was arguing for keeping him for the year if they didn't get an amazing deal. So often fans balk at the idea of paying gigantic amounts for multiple years to free agent pitchers because of the risk and I am one of them so the idea that we had to get rid of him because we couldn't keep him long term was just silly to me. If Santana was on the free market for 11mil for one year anyone would jump at it but because we already had him the idea of keeping for that year at that price wasn't appealing? Just seemed silly to me. Very likely cost us a playoff spot. Conceivably cost us a shot at a WS.

    • Litdus and SkyBlueWaters like this

 

 

Yeah, what was the main Yankee package: Hughes, Cabrera, Kennedy, Chamberlain. I'm not sure what was the tell on that trade. The Twins didn't want Caberra?

 

I liked the throw-ins of Lowrie and Bowden at the time. It was just what starting arm (Bucholz or Lester, Ellsbury or Crisp). Remember Ellsbury was still an unproven at that point.

 

I recall that although the Yankee offer was originally reported as Hughes AND Kennedy, it became Hughes OR Kennedy.Not sure in the Yankees changed their minds or that the original details were incorrectly reported.

 

Jon Lester had, in the latter part of 2006, been diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.At the time of trade it was not clear that he would remain in remission ( in young men non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has a 5 year survival of about 84%) . Therefore the Twins had wanted more than Jon Lester. (In 2007 Lester appeared in 11 games with an ERA of 4.57 and an FIP of 5.24

 

I am a little confused about the link below as they are reporting Lester's cancer to be both a lymphoma and a blood cancer.I don't really understand that.

http://archive.bosto...ed_with_cancer/

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SkyBlueWaters
Jan 20 2021 07:38 AM

 

... though Santana made it clear he would not consent to a trade mid season I would have called his bluff. If the Twins were out of it and he could have been traded to a contender I am guessing he would have jumped at it.... 

 

I completely agree. Teams are desperate for pitching mid-season. Teams are desperate for pitching while they are trying to keep their arms healthy and their bullpen from getting worn out.

 

Teams are desperate to deal when they want to put the best arm they can out on the mound to start games.

 

I don't know that the Twins got the best package possible for Santana during the off-season. 

 


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