This is overly simplistic. As we said back on the 18th, the Mets are giving up the high-end potential of six below-market years for four players, a total of twenty-four below market years, for one single below-market year of Johan Santana and the special privilege of giving him the largest contract ever given to pitcher.
Of course, you can say that Santana is worth any number of prospects. After all, he is The Best Pitcher in Baseball, and an opportunity to acquire TBPiB doesn't come along every day. Thus, the Mets were smart to snatch him up, and even smarter not to trade their best prospect, Fernando Martinez.
But why, then, did the Yankees and Red Sox compete with each other not to acquire Santana? Why did they fall over each other trying to hit the other one with the winner's curse? Why, as Bob Klapisch reports, did they turn aside even the meager packages the Twins requested at the end, before turning to the Mets?
This was late Monday night, about 12 hours before the Mets would pounce upon their most dramatic trade in recent history. Twins' general manager Bill Smith, in a panic to move Johan Santana, called the Yankees and admitted surrender: Phil Hughes was no longer a prerequisite, he said. Instead, the Twins asked for Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera and a top prospect. Would the Yankees still be interested, Smith wondered?Why? Because Santana, despite being TBPiB for now, does not provide enough marginal value to either the Yankees or the Red Sox to justify trading top prospects for one year of the pitcher and the right to sign him to a massive contract.
The Yankees considered the idea, but only briefly and not seriously. Their passion for Santana started waning as far back as December, when Andy Pettitte announced he was returning to the Bronx. The Yankees' internal straw vote was unanimous: The Twins had waited too long. On Tuesday Yankees' GM Brian Cashman told Smith he was passing on the deal, prompting the Twins to call the Red Sox. Equally devastating news awaited. Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester were unavailable.
The Red Sox, in lock step with the Yankees, had essentially backed out, too.
The Mets, though, as the story goes, could stand to gain a lot from Santana. Baseball Prospectus thinks "Santana’s WARP and VORP totals are essentially pure profit for the Mets, since some of the guys they were running out there last year were replacement level talents at best." But they never did have to use the Chan Ho Parks and Brian Lawrences of the world; they had Philip Humber and Mike Pelfrey, who while near-replacement in 2007, would stand to improve in 2008, especially with the previous major league experience the veteran-loving Mets denied them. In addition, with Pedro back for the full 2008, that replacement-level talent is no longer as necessary. Therefore, Santana is not replacing Jose Lima; he's replacing whoever of El Duque/Pelfrey/Humber would have occupied the fifth starter's spot.
Still, that's at least three wins, right? That would have been enough to push the Mets into the playoffs last year.
But other things would have put in the Mets in the playoffs last year, and none of them cost prospects or money. In fact, they would have saved the team some of both. These include: playing Lastings Milledge over Shawn Green the whole year, at least against left-handers; not exhuming the corpse of Jose Valentin and letting him play over far more deserving players just because he's old and friendly; staying away from Julio Franco; not treating Pedro Feliciano like a LOOGY; treating Scott Schoeneweis like the LOOGY he is; and starting young players with meaning to the organization instead of crappy old veterans in order to save face and look like you're trying.
In addition to all these things, if the Mets get a few inches here, a ball bouncing differently there, or a call going their way somewhere else, they make the playoffs. What the hell kind of faulty reasoning causes anyone to conclude that because they missed the playoffs by one game, they needed to make major changes? That's just stupid.
Of the deal, our friend epoc, even harsher than me about such things, wrote, "Is the actual increase [in chances of making the playoffs] meaningfully significant? I'd guess not. We easily had a 33% chance of winning the division before the trade. We probably have an 85% chance now, right? Something like that? Just assume our chances would be 1 in 8 if we got to the playoffs. Overall, that's about an increase in chances of winning the World Series from 4% to 10%. Is that significant enough to warrant the trade? Assume it also increases the chances for next year by the same amount. Does that justify it?"
Maybe it does. The thing is, the Mets aren't, and didn't have to be, in a "win now" mode. They don't have a lot of old players who better do it now or depart a loser. They have a strong core in place such that they do not need to make these high variance moves. What happens if Santana pitches as awesomely as we expect, but the Mets still fail to make the playoffs? Does everyone get fired? What if Santana blows out his arm next year, or the year after that? What if he just gets worse?
Even if none of those things happen, Pedro Martinez and Oliver Perez will be free agents next year, and even if they aren't, the Mets will sign them to costly extensions. Two of the best options to replace them, before this trade? Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey. After the trade? It's Mike Pelfrey or bust (free agency).
Not only does this deal cost the Mets in the dollars they will pay Santana, it will also cost them in the dollars they pay Martinez, Perez, or their replacements. It will also cost them in the money they pay Moises Alou's replacement, who could have been Carlos Gomez.
Meanwhile, Minnesota has four cost-controlled players who may or may not contribute significantly in the major leagues. But odds are, they will get more than one solitary cost-controlled year, and whatever they get, all together, will be worth more than the extra 3-5 wins Santana gives the Mets at about 1/2 value in 2008.
What bothers us is that you will hear, "This is great for the Mets! This is the kind of move the Mets should make! Not my Indians, mind you-- I mean, it's a terrible risk to give a six year, $150 million contract to a pitcher-- but for the Mets, sure!" Why, we ask, do the Mets have to be the team that is always looking only one or two years in the future? Can't our Mets get on board with the rest of the game, and start thinking long-term? Succeeding now and building for the future aren't mutually exclusive, as the Diamondbacks, Red Sox and Indians, among others, have shown us.
Does everyone just accept that in the New York media environment, such planning and foresight is impossible? That with the crushing impatience of the fans and the pressure of the newspapers, we just can't possibly give a 22-year old Lastings Milledge a year or two to blossom, so we have to constantly bring in stopgaps, forced to cheer loudly when that stopgap is under 30 and a year or two shy of free agency?
The Mets are playing a high-variance game. If something happens to Santana, they're screwed. If they don't make the playoffs next year, they're screwed. But with Santana, they have an excellent shot for at least the next two years. High risk, high reward.
Even with Santana, the Mets are not a lock to win their division, nor are they unquestionably the best team in the National League. They're certainly in the top five, with Arizona, Chicago, San Diego and Atlanta, but head-and-shoulders above the rest? No.
If you've made it this far without giving up in disgust at a Mets fan who can't even celebrate unequivocally the day after his team acquires The Best Pitcher in Baseball, know this: we're happy, we're excited, we're pleased. But we're also disappointed.
We'll celebrate along with everyone else. But we're also going to be thinking of how the Mets just threw away $24 million on an easily replaceable Luis Castillo, who will be de-optimizing the Mets' lineup all year long by hitting second while announcers and writers proclaim the opposite: that Castillo, who can take a pitch and go the other way and still has some speed, is a perfect fit in the two-hole.
We'll also be remembering Lastings Milledge, watching him play the Mets more than a dozen times, as he possibly outperforms Ryan Church, the older and more experienced outfielder he was traded for. While the Mets rack up wins from Johan and Pedro, we'll remember "Bend Ya Knees" long after everyone else has forgotten what soured the Mets on this outstanding player.
We'll also watch Brian Schneider, universally praised as "One of the Better Defensive Catchers in the League," OPS at around .650, while Ramon Castro, "too shaky to play every day," takes his powerful home run stroke to the bench, where his talent will be wasted putting gum bubbles on the hat of Jose Valentin, who will surely "earn" a spot on the roster.
And whether or not the Mets win the division, make the playoffs, or win the World Series, we'll still remember The Collapse; we won't forget it, it will not be rubbed out of our minds by the flashy acquisition of Johan Santana. We'll remember the suffering and the disappointment, and we'll remember why it happened.
Because Mr. Met is a man of deep feelings. He carries pain inside of himself, entrenched sorrow, and disappointment. That's who Mr. Met is, no matter how wide they make him smile.
We won't forget a thing. We will not be forced into optimism. And we will never give up hope that one day, the Mets will be an organization that develops young players and gives them starting jobs in the major leagues. As great as Santana is, his acquisition is a blow in that regard.
Welcome, Santana. Don't disappoint us.