Revisiting the Johan Santana Trade

It’s been almost a year since the Minnesota Twins traded ace Johan Santana to the New York Mets for a collection of prospects. The trade probably hasn’t gone as well as the Twins had hoped it would go. Only one prospect, out of four, has had any kind of impact in Minnesota: Carlos Gomez. The 23-year-old outfielder hit .258/.296/.360 with 33 stolen bases in 153 games in 2008.

Beyond Gomez’ contribution, though, the Twins organization has received less-than-expected results from Deolis Guerra and Phil Humber, while Kevin Mulvey showed modest improvements. Guerra was the key prospect in the deal and had an encouraging season in High-A ball in 2007 at the age of 19 for the Mets. He repeated that same level in 2008 and regressed by posting a 5.47 ERA and allowing 138 hits in 130 innings. His command and control also collapsed and he allowed 71 walks and 71 strikeouts. The right-hander’s stuff also lacked its former life. Guerra will likely be back in High-A ball for a third shot in 2009.

Both Humber and Mulvey were advanced pitching prospects and were expected to contribute significantly at the Major League level in 2008. Humber, though, regressed like Guerra. After allowing 129 hits in 139 Triple-A innings in 2007, he allowed 145 hits in 136.1 innings at the same level. His ERA rose from 4.27 to 4.56 and his K/BB ratio dropped from 2.73 to 2.16. On the plus side, Humber improved each month in 2008 after a rough first two months of the year. The right-hander is 26 entering 2009 and has no clear opportunity with the Twins in 2009 unless he makes a move to the bullpen.

Mulvey, 23, appears to have the most present potential of the three pitching prospects at this point. He spent 2007 in Double-A and allowed 145 hits in 151.2 innings with rates of 2.55 BB/9 and 6.53 K/9. The right-hander spent 2008 in Triple-A and allowed 152 hits in 148 innings of work. Mulvey posted rates of 2.92 BB/9 and 7.26 K/9. Barring injuries, the pitching depth in Minnesota will likely keep the right-hander in Triple-A for a second straight season but youth is on his side. The CHONE projection system predicts a 5.21 ERA for Mulvey in 2009, with 130 hits allowed in 114 innings and rates of 3.47 BB/9 and 6.00 K/9.

When you have to trade the best pitcher in baseball, it’s hard to outright win the deal. Although the players obtained from New York have not set the world on fire, Gomez had an encouraging first season in the Majors at a very young age. Guerra is still quite young and has a lot of time to rediscover his stuff, or learn to succeed without it. Humber could provide some innings out of the bullpen in 2009 and Mulvey will be just a phone call away if injuries strike the Minnesota rotation.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

11 Responses to “Revisiting the Johan Santana Trade”

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  1. centris says:

    When assessing the deal it is also important to note that Gomez played exceptional defense at a premium position. All the the value below replacement, and more, he gave up with his bat he made up for with his glove.

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  2. Yazdog8 says:

    One thing not discussed is that the Twins more than likely would have been better off keeping him (he was the difference between them making and not making the playoffs) and getting a first rounder/sammie pick as opposed to the floatsam and jetsam the Mets unloaded.

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    • Jervill says:

      I don’t believe Johan Santana was the reason the Twins didn’t make the playoffs; it was bullpen woes that cost them the season; the young starters performed well. (After getting rid of Livan Hernandez, at least.)

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      • Jason T says:

        Yeah, but if you replace the worst Twins’ starter with Santana, they win that division outright; bullpen woes or not.

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  3. Adam Peterson says:

    Speaking from a Twins fan’s perspective, I think we come out on the plus side of this trade, potentially as early as next year.

    From a value wins perspective, three of the players involved in the trade saw time in the majors last year:

    Johan Santana: +4.8 value wins

    Carlos Gomez: +2.4 value wins
    Phil Humber: -0.1 value wins

    Santana was going to be a free agent after 2008, so we’d have a +4.8 win value plus two draft picks to show for him had we held on. Yes, I believe that we would have made the playoffs last year with Santana, but remember that CF was highly uncertain before last year started. Most viewed Denard Span as a bust, and Jason Pridie was a prospect and we didn’t really know what we had there either. Even if we made the playoffs last year, with the way Liriano and Morneau faded down the stretch, I doubt we would have made it past Tampa Bay in the first round. Of course, the playoffs are a crapshoot, but Minnesota was not at its strongest in September.

    Looking forward to 2009, I have to believe Gomez will provide at least the +2.4 value wins he gave us in 2008. Of course, it’s more valuable to get the value wins in one year versus spread over two, but I also think Humber and Mulvey will provide value next year (I’m guessing +0.5 to +1.0 value wins combined) at the major league level.

    Even if you consider Gomez’ 2008 as a baseline and he doesn’t improve over the next three years, I would rather have +2.4 value wins from my center fielder over the next four years, plus three prospects, over one year of +4.8 wins.

    Of course, I would have preferred to make a more serious run at extending Santana before the 2007 season than waiting until after the season. At that point, he was as good as gone. Here’s hoping the Twins don’t make the same mistake with Joe Mauer.

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  4. Rich says:

    Smith sought more from the Yankees and Sox than he did from the Mets and is paying the price.

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  5. John says:

    I don’t know what the Red Sox really offered and so its hard to say for sure the Twins should have traded Santana there. The Yankees offer was basically Phil Hughes, and how would that look now? I still like Hughes, but pitchers are risky.

    The Twins would have been better off keeping Santana for ’08. But they probably didn’t expect to contend, and only really did so thanks to fluky hitting with RISP.

    It will be a while before the trade that did happen can be weighed. Does Gomez turn into a decent hitter? Does Guerra get back on track? Is Mulvey more of a 3 or more of a 5? We’ll see.

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  6. Rich says:

    Wait. Just because Hughes was hurt last year, the trade would look bad? That’s a pretty short-sighted p.o.v., and it’s rebutted by the reality that the Twins clearly made the trade with the long view as the priority.

    My point was with regard to what the Twins requested (we don’t know that the Yankees actually offered Hughes). As such, it doesn’t matter what the Sox offered. According to numerous media reports, the Twins wanted Lester or Ellsbury included in any package. Obviously, Lester had a breakout season, but even if the trade had been centered around Ellsbury, who had a very disappointing 2008 season, it would have been a better trade for the Twins than the deal the Mets offered because Ellsbury will likely be a significantly better player than Gomez.

    (The reported supplemental assets that were requested from the Yankees and Sox were also better than those included in the Mets’ deal.)

    It seems apparent that the Twins took less from the Mets because they wanted Santana out of the AL.

    The Twins should have kept Santana, but that’s a separate issue.

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  7. aaron says:

    ellsbury is two years older than gomez though and was only more valuable last year because of his defensive versatility. i’d rather have gomez going forward myself. he could surpass ellsbury in value next year if his offense improves even incrementally.

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  8. Rich says:

    Ellsbury’s mL OPS was .816, Gomez’s was .735.

    Ellsbury’s mL ISO D was .076., Gomez’s was .058.

    Elllsbury has more power and more plate discipline. I think Ellsbury will have a far better career.

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