Please, calm down.
I’m not at all saying Berríos is, today, similar to what Santana was when the Mets acquired him from Minnesota. Nor that he will be nearly as good as the Venezuelan. But bear with me, while I look at what those two deals have in common.
Their role in the Twins
After the 2007 season, Santana was already one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, if not the best one. Mentioning his accolades up until that moment has no use here. They couldn’t afford him, so they found themselves forced to trade him. Berríos, right now, may not be the ace Johan was, but he is certainly one of baseball’s most reliable arms. Especially, you know, health-wise. So far in his career, Berríos hasn’t had any serious injury that cost him relevant playing time. His injury history is immaculate. Minus 2016, the year he got called up for the first time, and 2020, the 60-game season, Berríos has logged at least 145 innings in each season of his career.
He’s having career numbers this year, which indicates that he’s only getting better. So he may not be as talented as Santana, but he’s a solid piece of this rotation. A player who could easily be a number three starter for the vast majority of MLB teams. And, at 27, which is two years younger than Santana when he was dealt, you just have to assume he’s just entering his prime.
What if they stayed?
My main point here is this. What could’ve happened if the Twins could afford Santana and signed him to an extension? And what may happen if they decide to hold on to José now? Everything from now on will be hypothetical, so get ready for many ‘what ifs.’ When Minnesota traded Santana, they knowingly gave up on a two-time Cy Young Award winner, the best starter they had since… Blyleven? Viola in ‘91? Or the best one ever? You decide. If he had stayed, he would’ve made that phenomenal Twins team even better.
After a disappointing 79-83 record in 2007, Minnesota went on to win at least 87 games in each of the following three seasons, including a 94-win season in 2010, capping a second consecutive AL Central title. However good they were, those teams could never get past the Yankees in their trips to the ALDS.
How much closer to winning a World Series would that particular team be, had Santana stayed? No one will ever know. But I think it’s fair to assume they would have much, much better odds. In conclusion, trading away Johan, even though it was the only logical solution given the club’s financial reality at that point, undeniably made the Twins a worse team.
With that being said, let’s shift to Berríos’ case now. Realistically speaking, the Twins are a much better team with him around. No pitcher within the organization brings to the table, today, the same productivity from Berríos. Kenta Maeda bounced back very nicely, but there’s no way he’s had a better season than José so far.
If you’re not looking at the prospect of a two or three-year rebuilding process, there’s no way you trade Berríos now. Minnesota’s chances of having a competitive rotation in 2022 are not better at all with the absence of Berríos. Unless, of course, they pull a huge free agent signing during the winter, which is very unlikely.
Let me repeat myself: Berríos is no ace (yet), and he doesn’t bring to the table the same as Santana 13 years ago. But if you keep him, adding one or two good free agent arms during the winter could turn this rotation around next year. If you don’t, you’re considerably further along.
What is the big difference?
Like I said before, the Twins had no alternatives but to trade Santana. Revenue wasn’t the same, so it’s understandable. What you can question is how bad the return for Santana was. That deal turned out to be one of the worst in club history. But, yeah, trading him was a must.
On the other hand, that certainly doesn’t seem to be the same case with Berríos now. First, a contract extension to José wouldn’t be nearly as expensive. Twins Daily’s Ted Schwerzler believes that a Berríos contract would look similar to those of Luis Severino, Aaron Nola, and Lance McCullers, ranging around the $12-15M AAV and going for four or five years. We don’t know the complete picture of Minnesota’s financial reality, but that doesn’t seem like a very expensive ask.
While the return for Santana was suboptimal, sadly, the remainder of Santana’s career was severely affected by injuries. While still a fine pitcher and pitching an amazing 2008 season, he needed to go through two season-ending surgeries in 2009 and 2010, the latter one also removing him from the entirety of 2011.
Again turning to hypotheticals, if he had been healthy in New York, watching him pitch at a high level for a different team could be somewhat similar to watch David Ortiz slug his way into the Hall of Fame in a Red Sox uniform. What aggravates Ortiz’s case is the fact that no one saw that coming, unlike Santana. Still, it wouldn’t feel nice.
Thinking about the comparison with Berríos, how frustrating would it be to see him actually become an ace for a different team? Many Twins fans don’t consider him ace material up until now. But are you willing to bet money that this will never change? How certain are you that he won’t be one of the league’s top starters two or three years from now?
Offering a more optimistic perspective: how amazing would it be if Berríos actually becomes an ace and the Twins had already locked him up long-term with a ‘bargain’ of $15M AAV? He would not only be the cornerstone of the Twins rotation, but he would also serve as a mentor to all the exciting arms coming up from the farm. Just picture, three years from now, a rotation containing Berríos and names like Josh Winder, Jordan Balazovic, Griffin Jax, and Bailey Ober.
Assuming the financial aspect isn’t an issue, the only thing standing between Berríos and a future with the Twins is whether the club wants him around or not – unlike Santana. A haul in exchange for him would obviously look nice. But keeping him may potentially be even more profitable.