Twins Show Santana a Lack of Faith, Committment

What would you do with the opportunity to lock up the best young pitcher in baseball to a long-term deal? Would you throw as much money as you could at him or would you do almost everything possible to make sure he leaves via free agency?

If you were the Minnesota Twins, the second option sounds surprisingly appealing, and it’s exactly how they’ve handled their efforts at securing the services of 25-year-old Johan Santana for the next few seasons and beyond. This is, however, nothing new in the way the team has handled Santana as he has developed into a Cy Young winner and one of the best lefty arms in the Bigs.

Going back to 2002, the Twins used Santana, who had pitched in just 45 games in his career, primarily out of the bullpen. That season, he struck out 137 in 108.1 innings while putting together a 2.99 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. As he gave up 24 fewer hits than innings pitched, it was clear that the Twins had something special.

When Spring Training 2003 rolled around, Twins fans assumed that Santana would earn his rightful place in the rotation. When Eric Milton went down with a knee injury, it became even more likely that Johan would be one of Minnesota’s starting five. But the Twins saw things differently, and they signed Kenny Rogers to fill the gap. Santana was quoted as feeling “screwed? by the team. I don’t blame him. I don’t know anyone who would pick Kenny Rogers over Johan Santana.

That season, Santana pitched his way into the rotation. After dominating as a reliever for a few months, he finished the year 12-3. He struck out 169 in 158.1 innings while pitching to an ERA of 3.07.

In 2004, the Twins didn’t even consider using Santana out of the bullpen, and the rest, as they say, is history. Santana, 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA, became only the sixth American League pitcher to win the Cy Young unanimously. He struck out 265 while walking just 54 in 228 innings and gave up an amazing 76 fewer hits than innings pitched. Opponents managed just a .192 batting average against Santana. After a few years of fighting to earn his spot in the rotation, Santana had finally blossomed into one of the game’s elite starters.

Now, the Twins are doing their best to ensure that Santana walks when he becomes a free agent after the 2006 season. The latest rounds of insults started this off-season when Santana’s contract status for next season came into question. Before the arbitration deadline, Santana and the Twins were unable to come to any sort of agreement. So Santana submitted an offer for $6.8 million while the Twins countered with one for $5 million. Over the past few weeks, the Twins have tried to find a way to avoid this arbitration hearing. However, not only have their efforts been in vain, but they’ve probably shot themselves in the foot too.

The Twins have made two offers to Santana. The first one, which the young lefty basically laughed off the table, was a three-year, $19.5-million offer. The second one was a three-year, $25-million offer. In an off-season in which Carl Pavano signed a contract averaging $10 million a season and Kris Benson inked a deal worth $22.5 million over three years, the Twins offer looks incredibly stingy. Santana stands head and shoulders above Pavano, Benson and the other free agent pitchers who landed big deals this winter. With a VORP of 88.8, Santana was by far the number one pitcher in the Majors. The next best hurler was Randy Johnson with a VORP of 72.9. At number five, Pavano’s value was 62.4. Not to take away from Pavano’s performance, but Santana was much better. Considering that he’s three years younger than Pavano, Santana should get at least the initial offer that Pavano received.

To make matters worse, the Twins’ owner Carl Pohlad isn’t exactly poor. Worth approximately $2.3 billion, Pohlad is the 92nd richest American, according to Forbes magazine. He has however continually decried the Twins as a losing property. He has chosen to invest little in his team, a perennial contender in the AL Central. Maybe a well-timed free agent signing would be enough to push the Twins over the top. They could further wrap up a weak division year after year while drawing more fans. Santana is exactly the type of player around which Minnesota could build a franchise if only Pohlad were willing to open his wallet.

The Twins have already blown it this off-season. While Santana and agent Peter Greenberg were somewhat willing to consider the $25-million offer, they declined the offer yesterday. Greenberg and Santana are now committed to going to arbitration, and either way, it’s lose-lose for the Twins. They’ll have to pay $6.8 million for the most dominant 25-year-old or they’ll pay $5 million and deal with a disgruntled ace.

Most teams in the Twins’ position would try to mend relationships after a tumultuous and failed negotiation period. The Twins however have burned yet another bridge. While their offers to Santana were on the table, the Twins named Brad Radke as their Opening Day pitcher. The Opening Day honor generally a symbolic show of faith. The pitcher who gets the ball is the one the team relies on to deliver in tight spots and turn in a solid performance start after start. Instead of entrusting this to the reigning Cy Young winner who went 13-0 in his final 16 starts, the Twins have turned to Radke.

If this wasn’t enough of an insult, both Gardenhire and Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said it took them all of two seconds to make the decision. This move speaks volumes about the way the Twins view Santana. They simply don’t have faith in him. Santana took the decision in stride, but that’s because he has to spend two more years in a Twins’ uniform. However, those two years may be his last in the Twin Cities.

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1 Response to “Twins Show Santana a Lack of Faith, Committment”


  1. 1 pete October 3, 2006 at 2:07 am

    Santana is signed through 2008. If I’m not mistaken, he’s in the middle of a 4-year, $40 million deal.


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