It's a ritual Minnesota sports fans are acutely familiar with. We watch a youngster grow up in front of our eyes, evolving from prospect to promise to premier. Then he breaks our hearts as we watch helplessly when he moves on to greener (as in cash) pastures.
The trade of pitcher Johan Santana to the New York Mets comes as no surprise. As he quickly became the best pitcher in baseball, it was almost a given that the Minnesota Twins wouldn't be able to afford him, just as they couldn't afford center fielder Torii Hunter. That's the way it is Minnesota: Our best players move on to win championships elsewhere.
At first blush, the trade certainly seems lopsided in favor of the team from Queens -- the top player at his position in the game traded for four prospects, none of them sure things. But we'll give Twins GM Bill Smith the benefit of the doubt and hold off grading it until we see what center fielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey can do.
For Twins fans who feel the team didn't do enough to keep Santana, it's time to take a step back and breathe. Chew on this: There are reports that Minnesota offered Santana a five-year, $100 million contract extension before trading him -- on the heels of dropping a total of $104 million on first baseman Justin Morneau and right fielder Michael Cuddyer. So it's a reach to blame the loss of Santana on everybody's whipping boy, billionaire owner Carl Pohlad. The economics of the game are out of control. There was a reason that the only teams with a declared interest in committing more than $139 million to Santana over six years were the New York Yankees, the Mets and the Boston Red Sox, the drunken sailors of Major League Baseball.
None of this lets Pohlad or the Twins off the hook, though. Hennepin County is ponying up millions for the new ballpark going up in downtown Minneapolis. The Twins argued that, to be competitive, they needed it. They got it, and fans should expect the team to spend what it takes to improve in the years ahead.
There's a real possibility Santana will win more Cy Young Awards. He may even carry the Mets to the World Series while the Twins are developing one of the youngest starting-pitcher staffs in baseball. But we've still got a lot to look forward to come 2010.