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November 30, 2007 at 9:58 AM

Santana, Bedard

More confirmation this morning, in case you didn’t read our story in the Times, that the Mariners are indeed asking the Twins about Johan Santana. The Star Tribune in Minneapolis says much the same thing, from the same reporter who broke the intitial Delmon Young-Matt Garza trade story. Does this surprise me? Not in the least. Leave the cost of a Santana extension out of the equation for a moment. We’re talking about a guy who has arguably been the AL’s best pitcher for the past four seasons. And about teaming him with the guy, Felix Hernandez, who many feel could become the AL’s top pitcher over the next few years.
The potential? Just look at what the Minnesota Twins of 2006 did with a very similar situation. They had Santana and newcomer Francisco Liriano in the rotation for about half a season. When Liriano made his first start on May 19 of that year, the Twins were 17-24 and headed nowhere.
Liriano won that night and the Twins embarked on a 42-17 run from there, anchored by the Santana-Liriano combo. Yes, the Twins had Brad Radke as well, who equated to a slighty better than Miguel Batista (circa 2007) No. 3 starter. But you get the point. The one-two punch was devastating. It was greater than simply having an “ace” and a bunch of middle rotation starters after that. Plenty of average teams have “aces”. But it’s the combo of a No. 1 and a No. 1 (a) that can often make the difference. Think C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona for the Cleveland Indians.
It was after that 42-17 run by the Twins, in late July of 2006, that Liriano went eight innings in a no decision against the Tigers and felt tightness in his forearm afterwards. He’s pitched in only two games since and later had reconstructive surgery on his elbow — sidelining him all of 2007. Even after Liriano went down, Santana and a worn-out Radke held things together long enough for the Twins to beat out eventual World Series finalist Detroit for the AL Central title. The Twins were bounced soon after that. With a healthy Liriano, who knows? But the playoffs are often a crapshoot. Just ask the Colorado Rockies of 2007, or the St. Louis Cardianls of 2006.
If sure the M’s would be very pleased to make the post-season in 2008 and take their chances in a short series with Santana, Hernandez and Batista starting the first three games.
Are the Mariners that different from the 2006 Twins? Heck, Minnesota still had Tony Batista playing third base by the time Liriano was in the rotation. I knew Batista in Toronto years earlier and used to tell him — to his face — that he was the only player I’d ever seen do 150 sit-ups before every game and appear to get chubbier as he was doing it. I like Seattle’s left side of the infield with Adrian Beltre at third and Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop much better. Are the M’s perfect defensively? Heck no. They have to do something at second base unless Jose Lopez is frightened into taking his game to another level.
Their outfield defense needs work in the corners. If they deal Adam Jones, it will need work in two corners. One corner, I could live with if it meant having Santana-Hernandez in the rotation. The other corner could be manned by a free-agent signing.
I’ve seen many arguments on this blog and others — including Dave over at USS Mariner this morning — that state the M’s are not one Santana away from the post-season. I partially agree with that. As stated, the M’s need an upgrade at second base and a rebound season from Richie Sexson or whoever plays first base. That and some possible minor tweaking in the bullpen — or improvement from the guys already there — and I’d really like this team’s pitching staff and feel the offense could be adequate. Defensively? Very few teams are going to be the 1999 or 2000 New York Mets. You’re not going to be defensively perfect at all nine positions. Let’s not forget that Santana has pitched his entire career mainly in a hitter’s ballpark at the Metrodome. His home numbers were worse than his road ones last season and he gave up more homers overall. I’d be very interested in seeing how many of those home run balls die on the Safeco Field warning track as I’ve seen happen with plenty of Seattle pitchers here already.
Nothing is guaranteed. But I think the M’s chances of competing in the pitching-rich AL West would be greatly improved by adding arguably the top starter in the game. The cost? Tremendous. But the M’s do have a new long-term TV deal with FSN, new MLB.com revenue and a cash cow in Safeco Field that means we should all spend less time worrying about money and start thinking of this team as the larger market club it truly is. The fact is, the M’s do have the resources to take a run at Santana. They proved it last year with that offer to Barry Zito before the FSN deal was in-place.
Yes, the price of Jones is costly. But do you honestly think the Boston Red Sox regret shipping top prospects Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez to Florida for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell? Only if the goal in major league baseball is something other than a World Series. In my book, making the playoffs and winning it all is every team’s ultimate goal. It’s not about building the perfect, theoretical fantasy team for 2010 or 2012.
Whether it’s Santana, or somebody else, I’ll state here that this club needs to make a splash on the pitching front if it’s going to keep pace with the AL’s playoff teams. Maybe Hiroki Kuroda is the answer. I doubt it, but if he comes here and wins 20 games with a sub-.3.00 ERA, then the M’s won’t need Santana — at least not in 2008.
Some of you have mentioned Erik Bedard of the Orioles and I agree that he is a promising young starter who could be a very Santana-like superstar one day soon. But that’s one day. So far, he’s not there yet.
This blog item in the Baltimore Sun talks about the asking price for Bedard. Here’s my favorite line:
“I’m also not going to put Bedard in Johan Santana’s company. Check the 19- and 20-win seasons, the All-Star berths, the Cy Young Awards. Saying Bedard is just as good is a tad premature. He could be heading in that direction, but he’s not there yet.”
Exactly. Trouble is, the O’s want Santana-like returns for Bedard. While he is a much-cheaper option at this stage — with two years remaining before free-agency — as I’ve said, money is not my problem or yours. It’s the returns I care about. And I would not be prepared to pay the price of Jones for as uncertain an entity as the injury-challenged Bedard. Santana is about as certain as you’ll ever get in a trade. For him, I pay the price and take my chances.
And maybe it doesn’t all work out in Year 1. Maybe, as with the Red Sox, you have to wait a year, fine-tune and then get into the playoffs. Let’s remember how the Red Sox built their outfield defense. They signed a free-agent right fielder and traded for a center fielder who’s been impressive at times, underwhelming at others. Yeah, they have Manny in left, but the M’s have Ichiro in center. So, yes, I agree the M’s may be a few players away, but it’s hardly Mission Impossible if you go out and seriously upgrade your starting staff. And I’d like their chances of post-season contention better with at least four years of Santana-Hernandez than with Jones bopping home runs and chasing down a few more line drives yielded by a mediocre starting staff four days out of every five.
Can the M’s get this deal done? I doubt it, but miracles do happen. It’s the argument that they should not even try to take this franchise to the next level that tends to confuse me. What is the goal here? In my view, it should be a playoff berth. After that, you take your best shot. Some of the alternative scenarios to a Santana deal that I’ve seen floated around appear to blow off any shot at the playoffs for at least two years, maybe more.
I just don’t see that as viable. Not in this day and age. Fans have to have hope. Realistic hope. Teams with payrolls of over $100 million honestly should not be offering them anything less.

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