Patrick Reusse: Zito deal gives 126 million reasons to expect Santana will be gone

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 30, 2006 - 12:10 AM

The lefty's Giants contract means Johan Santana's price tag will be well out of reach of the Twins' budget.

The Twins' offseason officially became depressing on Thursday. This happened when Barry Zito, 28 and a winning lefthanded starter, agreed to a seven-year, $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.

We know now there's a possibility the Twins will have a Venezuelan with a first name pronounced Yo-haan in their rotation when the new ballpark opens in 2010, but he will not be the one to whom Minnesota fans are now attached.

Zito has signed for $18 million per year, and that means there is zero chance Johan Santana will be pitching for the Twins following the 2008 season.

Zito is excellent at what he does and has not missed a start in five seasons. His new contract is the largest ever given to a pitcher.

Santana became a full-time starter halfway through the 2003 season and has been baseball's best since then. He will turn 28 in March. If he continues that excellence through 2008 and then becomes a free agent, he will be the first $200 million pitcher.

Goodbye, Twins. Hello, New York City.

Earlier this week, the Star Tribune sports department selected the Twins as an organization as its Sports Person of the Year. This came in the aftermath of an improbable 96-victory season.

Come next winter, the smiles will be more difficult to find among Twins employees and fans.

Torii Hunter was the face of the Twins' revival that started in 2001. Santana replaced Torii in that role when he won his first Cy Young Award in 2004.

There was a feeling a couple of months ago that the Twins were being generous when they picked up Torii's 2007 option for $12 million.

Then Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells signed a contract that matched Zito's in value: $126 million. That deal will put a price tag on a Hunter extension -- say, four years, $60 million -- the Twins won't be able to consider.

There will be two options for General Manager Terry Ryan: A) Trade Hunter this summer, no matter where the Twins are in the standings; or B) keep him for a potential pennant race, then allow Torii to leave as a free agent.

If Ryan goes with B, that would create an anguished scene for Twins followers during the next offseason. Hunter would be signing elsewhere at the same time Ryan was taking offers for Santana.

You can let Hunter leave as a free agent and get away with it. You can't possibly do the same with Santana, perhaps the most valuable individual commodity in the game at the moment.

Johan will be dealt before the Twins report to spring training in 2008. That became a given when the Giants presented $18 million per year to Zito.

Depressing, yes, but there is hope for that other Yo-haan. This pitcher actually spells it with the Y: Yohan Pino, just turned 23, from Turmero, Venezuela, and righthanded.

Pino was 14-2 with a 1.91 ERA while pitching for Class A Beloit this summer. He made seven starts among his 42 appearances. He's also 5-0 with a 1.73 ERA as a reliever for Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League.

He's listed at 6-3 and 158 pounds, meaning the Twins will need to get some red meat in him to make him strong enough to be a starter. For now, the topprospectalert.com website has Pino listed No. 5 on its top 10 for Twins prospects.

There's another Venezuelan pitcher the Twins put on the 40-player protected list: Oswaldo Sosa, 21 and righthanded, who was a combined 13-8 with a 2.60 ERA in two Class A stops. As with Pino, he's 5-0 this winter for Aragua.

There's the latest wave of Twins pitching prospects that will be on display this spring in Fort Myers, Fla. Matt Garza, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey all will be in double digits in starts for the Twins before the 2007 schedule ends.

There also will be a requirement for a pitcher from the next wave of prospects -- Sosa, Pino, Anthony Swarzak, Kyle Waldrop -- to emerge within a couple of years, if the Twins are to remain contenders in the post-Santana era.

Wouldn't it be curious if Johan's replacement turned out to be Yohan?

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