Commentary

Cockcroft: Johan to the Mets, and back in the top five?

Updated: February 7, 2008, 10:45 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Perhaps the most publicly discussed trade story of the century apparently reached its conclusion on Tuesday. After more than two months of rumors, Johan Santana was apparently traded, but not to the Red Sox or the Yankees. After all is said and done, the Mets are the likely winners in the Santana sweepstakes.

I say "likely," of course, because mere news that a trade agreement has been reached doesn't guarantee a deal will actually go down. Presumably, the Mets will need to agree to a long-term contract extension with Santana before he waives his no-trade clause, and the left-hander will also need to pass a physical.

Most likely, though, those are mere formalities. In exchange for the two-time Cy Young winner and fantasy ace from 2004 to 2007, the Twins will receive a package of young players: outfielder Carlos Gomez and minor league right-handers Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey. That's four of the Mets' top seven prospects, according to Baseball America, but it doesn't include the team's No. 1 name, Fernando Martinez.

Maybe Red Sox or Yankees fans, or fantasy owners, were itching for Santana to land with one of the two American League East rivals, assuming the boost in run support would help him in the win category. But in the end, Santana might have landed in the best situation possible for him, statistically speaking. He's now in the more pitching-rich National League, a pitching-friendly ballpark in Shea Stadium, at least for 2008, and the Mets didn't lose any of their key offensive cogs in the deal.

Johan Santana, 2004-2007

Johan Santana won 20 games in 2004, his first year as a full-time starter, and has been fantasy's No. 1 pitcher ever since.

Year
IP
W
K
ERA
WHIP
2004
228
20
265
2.61
.921
2005
231 2/3
16
238
2.88
.971
2006
233 2/3
19
245
2.77
.997
2007
219
15
235
3.33
1.073
Wasn't it two short months ago we were hearing reports that no Mets deal for Santana could be completed without Jose Reyes being included? So much for that. Reyes remains in New York, and since Gomez was the only hitter the Mets lost, and he had a .594 OPS in 2007 anyway, there's little doubt this team is only slightly less potent offensively than the Red Sox and Yankees. The 2007 Mets scored 4.96 runs per game, 10th in baseball, which is a lot better than the Twins' 4.43 (or their 4.91 in 2006, 4.25 in 2005 or 4.81 in 2004, for that matter). This could easily be the best offensive team Santana has ever played for, giving him an excellent chance at returning to his 20-win form of 2004.

As for ERA and WHIP, here's something else to consider: In 16 starts during interleague play from 2004 to 2007, when Santana has been at his peak, he's 10-3 with a 2.16 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, .184 batting average allowed and 9.18 strikeouts per nine innings. His performance against NL foes has been nothing short of dominating, an indication he should have no problem returning to his sub-three ERA and sub-one WHIP he managed from 2004 to 2006. Is there a stronger candidate to lead baseball in both categories?

Add it up and you're talking -- without much doubt -- still the No. 1 pitcher in fantasy baseball, and perhaps an even stronger such bet for that spot following his trade. Santana is a certain first-rounder in any draft, and one can make the case he's again a top-5 pick. I'd still take Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Hanley Ramirez and Reyes before him, but Santana easily belongs in the next bracket, a group that includes names like Miguel Cabrera, Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.

What's interesting about the trade on the Twins' side, meanwhile, is that they didn't acquire a single player considered an elite, absolute blue-chip prospect. Or, at least they didn't land one any scout would place alongside the Red Sox's Jacoby Ellsbury or Yankees' Phil Hughes, considered the centerpieces of any deal on their sides.

Gomez should get a chance to play regularly, probably as the Twins' everyday center fielder, helping plug that problem area. He's a speedy kid and the team seems likely to be patient with him, but his aforementioned OPS in limited time with the Mets demonstrates how it'll take time for him to adapt as a hitter. Be prepared for inconsistency from him, most likely in batting average, but 30-plus steals shouldn't be a problem. Think of him as a steals source, and little more, for 2008. Mixed-league owners can gamble on him as a sleeper if he posts a strong spring, but more likely, he'll be a third/fourth outfielder type for AL-only owners.

Guerra, the Mets' No. 2 prospect as judged by Baseball America, is perhaps the most notable name headed the Twins' way. Of course, he's 18 years old, so there's as much a chance he'll wind up a back-of-the-rotation type than a future ace. He'll be a prospect to track the next couple of seasons, perhaps reaching Minnesota as soon as late 2009, but we're talking a prospect with all the tools but few actual results thus far as a pro. Long-term keeper-league owners should take a chance on him, but that's about it.

Humber and Mulvey could each get long looks as rotation candidates this spring, with Humber a bit stronger bet to break camp with the team after he made 25 starts for Triple-A New Orleans and managed a respectable 4.27 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. Both pitchers are likely No. 3/4 starters at the big league level, though, and remember, those are often the types that take time to adapt to the highest level of competition.

For instance, Humber's weakness is the fact he lost some zip on his pitches following 2005 Tommy John surgery, while Mulvey's is his lack of an out pitch against left-handers. Both are noticeable issues, the kind that make both at best matchup types should they win rotation spots this spring. Keep an eye on them, but barring standout exhibition seasons, we're talking late-round AL-only picks, and little more.

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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