Friday, December 7, 2007

Who Wants Johan Santana?

Minnesota Twins' pitcher Johan Santana (right) is still up for grabs now that negotiations between the Red Sox and Twins have reportedly fallen apart. If Santana, one of baseball's best and most-respected hurlers, doesn't go to the Red Sox (like they need more top line pitching), who is going to get the 28-year-old lefty? According to various sources including manager Willie Randolph, the Mets are very interested, as are the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners. Also getting back into the mix are the New York Yankees, who made overtures to Minnesota earlier in the fall to no avail. The Yankees are in dire need of a front-line pitcher, since Roger Clemens is unlikely to come back at age 46, and the staff of Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, CC Wang and Carl Pavano (if healthy) is still in search of a number one. Santana would fit right in, but a Yankee deal might still be predicated on what comes of the Alex Rodriguez deal. The Yanks and A-Rod have agreed in principle, though terms of the contract have yet to be worked out. On Dec. 2nd, the Yankees offer arbitration to A-Rod, but he's not likely to go that route. If A-Rod is as wise as he is powerful at the plate, he'll defer some salary to make room for Santana on the roster. The lefty would be good for 20-25 quality starts and is a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium. As for the Mets, they've got the dough and the desire. After last season's September swoon, they could use a guy who routinely lasts into the 7th inning and can handcuff opposing hitters. Last year, Santana was one of baseball's hardest-luck starters, going 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA, 235 Ks and only 52 walks in 219 innings. Five times he lasted 6 innings or more, allowed 2 runs or less and either received no decision or took a loss. But in the National League, he could be one of the most devastating pitchers of this or any century. His strikeout total would likely approach 300, and with the right team behind him, 20 wins would be a no-brainer. With a solid bullpen, 25 wins would be possible. Whether or not the Mets are the proper fit is questionable, however. The team will have plenty of contention in the NL East in 2008 from the Phillies and Braves, and the bullpen was rocky at best last year. Of course, the Twins could keep him, though he's going to be an expensive commodity, but Minnesota has a tremendous amount of raw pitching talent, much of it making its way through AAA Rochester in 2006 and 2007. Of course, Matt Garza has already been dealt to Tampa Bay, but Francisco Liriano will be back from elbow surgery and Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, Boof Bonser and Scott Baker are already on the 40-man roster. Of those, Blackburn is one to watch. He strung together 41 innings in which he did not allow an earned run last season in Rochester, and has a devastating fastball to go with some wicked off-speed stuff. With a healthy Liriano and Santana, Blackburn, Baker and either Slowey or Bonser, the Twins might end up with the best starting five in the division. Whether the Twins keep Santana or not, they're in a good spot because they'll likely get a solid center fielder to replace Torii Hunter, cash and/or draft choices. The stakes are high. Let the bidding commence.