First off I’d like to take a moment to thank someone. Well actually, it’s not so much a someone as it is a team of people. I’d like to thank the San Francisco Giants for single-handedly sinking any chance that my team, the Minnesota Twins, and all other small to mid-size market teams from re-signing their talented young pitchers from here on out. Thanks to the Giants, the chances of the Twins re-signing the best pitcher in baseball, Johan Santana, went from possible to virtually impossible.
Last month Oakland A’s pitcher Barry Zito hit the free agent market. Not only did he hit the free agent market, he hit it over the head, chopped it up into little pieces, and lit it on fire. The San Francisco Giants offered Zito the largest contract for a pitcher in the history of baseball. The 7year, $126 million contract set a new precedence in which starting pitchers will be paid.
As I stated in my article “2007 Free Agent Signings: The Good, The Iffy, & The Ugly”, I want to go on record as saying that I like Barry Zito as a pitcher. He’s been a very solid starter and has been very reliable. However, I also stated that over the past four seasons he has a combined record of 55-46. Granted he has an ERA below 4.00 which is very attractive for a starter nowadays, but I also wouldn’t put him in the upper echelon of pitchers at this point in his career. Putting aside the fact that the Giants made a HUGE mistake signing him to so many years, they also set off a chain reaction that will end up hurting every other team. In particular teams that don’t have endless payrolls unlike the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, and Cubs. The Giants are now financially stuck with an $18 million contract for the next seven years to one pitcher who’s far from the best in baseball. Ouch.
While the Giants weren’t the only team that was vastly overspending on pitching this winter (the Royals paid $55 million for Gil Meche and the Brewers paid $42 million for Jeff Suppan…and no I’m not kidding about either of those), they definitely were the ones that did the most damage to the free agent market, which brings me to why I’m writing this rant: Johan Santana.
As a Twins fan, I’ve become used to the fact that any time we ever were to develop anyone that had success, we would inevitably lose that player due to our low budget. Then the Twins struck it rich when they brought up left handed pitcher Johan Santana and slid him into the bullpen. While they knew they had something special, they never could have expected this. Without going into too much detail about the greatness that is Johan, we’ll just simply say he’s the best pitcher in baseball. Period.
So given the fact that Zito is now getting $18 million per year, how much is Santana worth in the open market? $25 million? 30 million? Whatever it is, it’s definitely out of reach for the Minnesota Twins. Back in 2005 when we extended his contract through 2008, we had high hopes that we could bring him back when it expired again. Of course that was before we developed two more superstars in the 2006 AL batting champion Joe Mauer and 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau and before the Giants threw a dump truck full of money at Zito. Now chances are slim to none.
That’s why as much as pains me to say it, I think the Twins will have to trade Santana before his current contract runs out. Despite the fact that I was just doubled over in pain at my desk after writing that, it will have to be done (now I’m in the fetal position). If the Twins don’t do it and he walks away, we get nothing (except maybe a consolation draft pick or two). And “nothing” is not an option for a small market team like us that lives and dies by the young talent it develops and brings up through its farm system.
The team that a lot of people mention is the New York Yankees. In fact they have been collecting a large group of prospects lately via trades (Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield) and could be stock piling them for when we need to sell. But I say, why the Yankees? Why should the Twins help out a team that a.) doesn’t need anymore help winning with their endless payroll and b.) is one of our biggest threats to make it to the World Series? Despite my general distain for the Yankees, it just doesn’t make sense to help put the best pitcher in baseball in pinstripes. So where then?
The move that would make the most sense for the Twins would be to ship him off to the National League. He could do the least amount of damage to them there aside from interleague play and the World Series. There are plenty of teams that would love to have a chance to have the best pitcher in baseball on their roster and I’m sure we could get some great young talent in return. This is the best case scenario if the Twins do not re-sign him.
Now I know that the Giants are only so much to blame as if they didn’t do this eventually someone else would have, but the bottom line is that baseball contracts are continuing to grow more and more out of control. Eventually these contracts are going to build to the point that no one can afford them other than maybe the Yankees. I’m afraid that as the Twins are soon to find out, we’re closer to that point than we think.