January 30, 2008
The New Twins
Winter deals make for new rankings, so when a huge trade goes down, that means coming up with new rankings for a team that's involved, and their own article. With the much-rumored Johan Santana deal finally going down, the Twins' prospect rankings are transformed significantly, so let's take a look at where the system stands now.
So the Mets provide the Twins with their new top pair of prospects in the deal, but one of the big questions revolving around the deal is, why wasn't it three? How the Twins dealt Santana to an organization with a bad minor league system without getting their top prospect is beyond me. For now, however, let's focus on what the Twins did get in return, and where they fit into the team's future plans.
Gomez is the top prospect here, but most of his ability is still bottled up in projection, and while the Mets were forced to bring him up last year due to injuries, it was a disservice to his development, as his long-term future would have been much better served by a year of consistent playing time in the majors to continue working on the many raw aspects of his game. Gomez is now the best all-around athlete in the Twins system, surpassing Revere and outfielder Joe Benson, but what fans saw in New York was far more excitement than production. His ceiling is tremendous based solely on his athleticism. He's a plus-plus runner and an outstanding center fielder with a cannon arm. At the plate he should be a good hitter with gap power, but he needs to make significant changes in his approach in order to take advantage of his raw skills. The next problem here is that Gomez immediately enters the battle to fill Minnesota's wide-open center field job, actually bringing more experience and upside than other of the other prospect candidates-Jason Pridie and Denard Span-although Craig Monroe is on hand, in a box marked "break glass, in case of emergency." The good news is that Gomez instantly gives the Twins a new best candidate for the job. The bad news is that, once again, a full year in the minors would probably be best for him, especially in the long term.
Guerra is the pitching version of Gomez, only his age, level, and the fact that he's a pitcher create even more risk. Obviously, it takes a highly impressive talent to hold your own at High-A as a 18-year-old, but at the same time, Guerra was simply decent, not dominant. His low-90s fastball touches 95 mph and his body offers a ton of projection, but that's all Guerra really is-projection. His control and changeup are advanced for his age, but at the same time, he doesn't have a usable breaking ball yet, and he's had injury issues in each of his first two years, so he's yet to even throw 100 innings in a season. If he was an easy Top 50 prospect next year, I wouldn't be surprised-as you'll see tomorrow, he's on the bottom half of the Top 100 this year. On the other hand, if he was not even up for consideration on the list next year, I wouldn't be surprised by that either.
After making an impressive return from Tommy John surgery in 2006, Humber took a big step backwards last season, and nobody has a good explanation as to what happened. His fastball dropped from consistently in the low 90s to more of the 88-91 range, and his curveball went from a plus-plus pitch to merely above average. The third overall pick in the 2004 draft, scouts no longer see Humber as an above-average or even average starter in the big leagues anymore; he now projects more as a solid back-end piece in a big-league rotation, and he'll compete for that job in spring training now that the Twins rotation suddenly has another opening.
While Mulvey had an impressive full-season debut at Double-A, it's very difficult to find a scout who's anything more than lukewarm about his future. He has average velocity, an average slider, and average changeup and decent command. He's far more a guy who gets by on mixing his pitches, hitting his spots, depending on his defense, and keeping his team in the game more than anything else. His projection is similar to if not a little less than Humber's, and he's probably a year away from reaching it, likely beginning the year at Triple-A Rochester.
Let's talk about the trade itself for the moment, because I've convinced myself that the trade could possibly represent a watershed moment in the game, where an elite player is certainly worth more monetarily, but not as much in talent, as a very good player. Compare these two lists of players for a moment:
Look at those two lists, consider them each for at least one minute, and get back to me. Which one would you want to add to your team more-list one, or list two? It's pretty apparent that the second is the better package, and I've bounced this off of many people inside the game, and the general consensus is that I'm not crazy. Now, I could be totally wrong here as well; teams maintain their own prospect lists, and I'm quite certain that many teams have Gomez and Guerra ranked much higher than I do. However, based on their history of scouting, drafting and player development, which tends to favor skills and fundamentals over tools and athleticism, I doubt the Twins are one of those teams.
So what does this mean exactly? Did the Twins make a massive mistake here? Here are some takeaways I have from the deal. First, the supply and demand aspect of the Haren and Santana deals inflated Haren's value, and greatly reduced Santana's. Haren's availability drew interest from other teams in no small part because Haren's contract was manageable. Santana's availability could only bring interest from teams that could afford a record-breaking extension, and that subset was reduced even greater by the number of teams willing to provide such money to Santana. If you've ever been to an heavily-attended auction and a lightly-attended one, you know what the difference is. Fewer bidders means a lower price, so on the market a talent like Haren is now worth more than Santana, as illogical as that sounds, while on a purely monetary basis, Santana is worth more. It's a strange duality that could become more and more common as baseball's talent/money scale becomes even more unbalanced.
My second point is more of an indictment of my own industry, baseball journalism, which during late July and the winter meetings finds itself guilty all too often of running everything up the flagpole to see what draws a salute. I don't like the trade in the least from the Twins standpoint, but at the same time, I'm also pretty certain that General Manager Bill Smith is not an idiot-in fact, I'm quite sure of it. I'm far more sure that the rumored offers from the Yankees and/or Red Sox were not as good as we think they were.