It’s time to be skeptical, because let’s face it, it’s what I do best.
This past weekend, the Minnesota Twins all but locked up closer Joe Nathan to a four-year extension, expected to be worth $11-12 million per. This has to be considered a surprising move for a mid-market team, especially in light of this winter’s extensions for both Justin Morneau (6 years, $80 million) and Michael Cuddyer (3 years, $23 million). When you factor in last winter’s extension of Joe Mauer and the removal of Torii Hunter from the payroll, you have to ask:
Why didn’t the Twins try harder to keep Johan Santana?
Sure, I realize that it’s hard to hold pitchers and position players in the same light, especially when discussing terms of contract. Even a healthy Johan Santana throwing cheese every five days isn’t nearly as valuable as Morneau going deep in three of them. But when you’ve got arguably the best pitcher in the game on your roster and he’s willing to negotiate, you have to wonder why they didn’t fight a little more for one of their own.
The entire process of the Mets signing Santana was based around so-called “future value” instead of the more realistic, “What have you done lately…” approach. Mets fans - still wincing from a memorable late-season collapse - got caught up in the hype and did their best to ignore Johan’s seemingly declining numbers.
Yes, I was most definitely one of those fans.
And given that Minnesota really showed no signs of being big spenders beyond Morneau (and to a much lesser extent, Cuddyer and Mauer) we just assumed that the Twins organization was done opening the wallet and was ready to cut their losses. We ignored the facts and looked forward to many amazing years with Santana at the helm of a young-ish pitching staff.
However, this Joe Nathan signing negates all of it. No, he’s not making $140 million over seven years like his former colleague, but for a good closer on an average team, the $11-12 million per is startling. Startling to a point where we have to wonder what might be wrong with the Mets’ new ace.
In 2007, Santana struggled. Point blank. His innings pitched were his lowest since 2003. His runs and earned runs were both career highs, and his home runs allowed were jarring. Don’t get me wrong, his 15 wins on a relatively weak team were good, as was his three and change ERA. But when we’re looking at $40 parking and $10 hot dogs at Citi Field because of his new contract, Minnesota may have just given up a huge tell.
Is Santana’s arm really ok? Is his dependence on the changeup more necessity than strategy? Will he eat the NL alive, or is that spring training gopherball to Juan Gonzalez more foreshadowing than coincidence?
This is a lot of questions to have entering a season, especially considering the last time the Mets did this, it was for a guy named Pedro who promised to be the ace of a title-bound team. So far, Petey’s biggest contributions to the team haven’t exactly come on the mound. Yeah, Martinez has had moments of brilliance in blue and orange, but he has largely been pedestrian or injured, and not even close to worth the paycheck he receives. When the Red Sox “let him go” in 2004, they downplayed his injuries and thanked him for his contributions. Since then, the Sox have dominated the AL East while the Mets continue to chase the carrot.
Is anyone sensing a little deja vu?
As I’ve said so many times before, I hope I’m sorely mistaken about this. But the skeptic in me refuses to let it go. I want to see Santana devour the NL East like ground pork. More importantly, I want to see the Mets make an investment that doesn’t blow up in their face like so many Saberhagens have before. But, now that the afterglow of the signing has worn off, and Opening Day is so close, we can no longer ignore these nagging little facts that just may haunt the Mets for years to come. In short, hope I’m wrong.
And Minnesota, I hope your Joe Nathan deal was based on Joe Nathan, and not Johan Santana.