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Mismanaging games since 2002

Santana’s Troubles Make Wild Bill Look Good

Rumblings have started to come out about Johan Santana’s arm. They’ve been quiet, under the surface since December, when people pointed out that his numbers were drastically down over the last six weeks of the season. Until yesterday, when Buster Olney mentioned that some evaluators have been saying that Santana’s velocity is down and that his mechanics are off — he’s short-arming the ball, indicative of shoulder problems. Today, Olney harnessed an explosion of reactions from scouts who agree wholeheartedly that something is wrong with Santana.

“The Mets were asking around about that in spring training, about what his true [velocity] baseline was,” said one talent evaluator. “They were concerned.”

Said an AL scout who has seen Santana this month: “His stuff isn’t even close to what it was [with the Twins].”

One explanation for his diminished numbers at the end of last season was that he didn’t care as much since he was playing for a non-contender. I didn’t buy it, of course, since Santana’s a competitor and would want to try to win no matter what, and the idea that he “didn’t care” about winning those games just doesn’t make sense to me. That said, I was a little dubious at that point that there was anything wrong with him.

That is, until he started demanding the 7 year mega-deal extension, as a stipulation of waiving his no-trade clause. He wanted free agent money even though he wasn’t a free agent — which hurt the Twins, but not as much as it would have hurt had we signed him to the rumored 5/$100M deal and he didn’t live up to it. The question I kept asking was: why is he demanding this contract now?

He was one year away from free agency. He would have been in a free agent market with CC Sabathia, with many teams desperate for a big time starter — notably all the big spenders. A big contract was going to be available after 2008 … so what was the rush? Why would he be so eager to forgo the inevitable bidding war?

The only explanation I could think of was that he knew something was wrong. The fact that the Mets were concerned about his velocity in Spring Training indicates that they were also concerned — albeit a little bit too late.

I had been against signing Santana to the mega-deal, and especially against increasing the deal to whatever it would have taken to sign him. That isn’t a popular opinion among Twins fans, of course, since everybody loves Santana and having the best pitcher in baseball is worth quite a bit. And it was worth a lot to the Twins to have him (.700 winning percentage when Santana starts, .500 or so when he doesn’t). But that contract would look like a pretty bad albatross if given to someone who was NOT the best pitcher in the game. And I thought it was pretty unlikely that Santana would be that good for another 4-5 years — his previous 4 years rank pretty well among the best 4 year peaks of the best pitchers in history … and there’s a reason they rank by 4 year peaks: pitchers can rarely keep it up past 4 years.

It’s starting to look like history will end up being right again. If Santana has significant wear and tear on his shoulder and continues his homer-happy ways (the most homers given up since the start of 2007), it’s going to be pretty bad for the Mets. And the Twins are going to end up looking pretty good in the deal, as Carlos Gomez improves from his “already-replacing-Torii-Hunter” status.

This serves as further evidence as to why it’s a bad idea to sign a starting pitcher to a long term contract (as if Barry Zito, Kevin Brown, and Mike Hampton hadn’t been enough); as vindication for those of us who’ve been vilified for being pro-Santana-trade; and as a major source of frustration for CC Sabathia, who may have just lost out on a LOT of money after the season.

And it makes the Twins’ front office under Wild Bill look pretty damn good.

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