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Continued: Jim Souhan: Keeping this star wasn't an option

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 29, 2008 - 11:41 PM

David Ortiz. Randy Moss. Kevin Garnett. Torii Hunter. And now Johan Santana.

Minnesota continued to bolster the rationale for an East Coast sports bias Tuesday when the Twins agreed to send the best pitcher in baseball to the New York Mets for four prospects.

So it is time for Minnesotans to scream about the exodus of stars and decry the Twins' unwillingness to pay top talent? No, because in this case the facts get in the way.

Fact: The Twins spent $115 million on two players Friday, when they signed Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer. The Pohlads also have spent $15 million extra to cover excess ballpark expenses. A month ago, I would have been happy to criticize the Pohlads for cheapness, but they have proved willing to spend money when they feel they are getting fair value in return.

Fact: The Twins offered Hunter and Santana reasonable deals. They offered Hunter a three-year, $45 million contract, and the Angels blew it away, taking the risk even though Hunter might be a declining player three or four years from now. The Twins offered Santana a four-year extension worth $80 million and heard laughter.

Fact: Santana wanted out. I've been told by people who know him that he longs to pitch in New York, for more money, a large Latin American community and a team he feels is determined to win a World Series in the near future.

Fans love to delude themselves into believing that all of "our" athletes want to stay here, but "our" athletes grew up in other states or countries and view baseball teams the way we view companies in our chosen industry.

Santana was looking for a better deal, and when we learn of the contract he'll sign with the Mets, we will know that he found a better deal -- perhaps $130 million over six years.

The public debate today should not be over whether the Twins should have traded Santana; it should be over whether they chose the right place to trade Santana.

The Yankees offered highly regarded pitching prospect Phil Hughes and ready-to-roll center fielder Melky Cabrera, along with a third prospect. Hughes would have fit in near the top of the Twins' 2008 rotation and Cabrera would have been capable if unspectacular in center field. The Yankees deal would have made the most sense for 2008.

The Red Sox offered either magnetic center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury or estimable pitching prospect Jon Lester along with a few prospects who could have surfaced in the majors in the next year or two. The Red Sox deal offered a mixture of promise and immediate impact.

On Tuesday, there were numerous reports that both the Yankees and Red Sox had backed off their original offers.

The Mets offered four prospects, and that is the most intriguing aspect of this deal -- that rookie General Manager Bill Smith chose the riskiest deal available.

We can draw three conclusions from this:

1) The Twins think the Mets players will ultimately be better than the Yankees and Red Sox prospects, even if their prospects offer more immediate help.

2) No matter what they say publicly, the Twins are comfortable with building toward 2010, when they open their new stadium. The team they field in 2008 might be intriguing, but it will require 2006-style miracles to compete with Cleveland and Detroit, and it might be more realistically compared to Chicago and Kansas City.

3) The Twins study their own history.

When they traded another Cy Young winning lefthander, Frank Viola, in 1989, they dealt with a New York team (the Mets) and received a package of young players that hardly looked overwhelming -- Rick Aguilera, Tim Drummond, Jack Savage, Kevin Tapani and David West.

Three of those players were disappointments. Tapani and Aguilera helped the Twins win a World Series.

When the Twins traded their best player, Chuck Knoblauch, in 1998, they dealt with a New York team (the Yankees) and received a package of young players that hardly looked overwhelming -- Brian Buchanan, Cristian Guzman, Eric Milton and Daniel Mota. Guzman and Milton became All-Stars.

Seeing Santana leave is painful. His departure means Minnesota has lost another star.

In this case, the Twins didn't have much choice.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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