Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
There will be no revisionist history here. In the aftermath of the disappointing 2007 season. I took a position that can be easily tracked down on the Internet that the Twins should break their business model -- whatever it was back then -- to sign Johan to a long-term contract. Kind of the Malcolm X "by any means necessary" school of economics.
Not long after Santana was traded to the Mets, I was watching a hockey game with someone who doesn't work for the Twins but has good ties to the organization.
He knew my position and he disagreed.
Johan, basically, would not an elite pitcher for the duration of his fat contract with the Mets, I was told.
I was skeptical -- and all the more after his first year with the Mets, when he went 16-7, 2.53 and finished third in the National League All-Star balloting. Even last season wasn't so bad.
Saturday was bad. The Twins banged Johan around the Mets' pretty nice ballpark with four runs during a 41-pitch first inning and cruised thereafter. Carl Pavano pitched his second straight complete game and made a strong case to be considered an All-Star, which will be a fine postscript for the next editions of the Joe Torre and John Feinstein books in which Pavano gets whipped extensively for his "American Idle" seasons with the Yankees.
ESPN and Bert were all about explaining Johan's current problems. ESPN compared his delivery from the 2006 Cy Young season to the current .500 season, complete with marking up the screen to show arm angles and pitch trajectories. The 94 mph fastball of the Metrodome years is now down to 89, which means his change-up is only about 10 mph slower than the fastball. That's all the more problem when the ball doesn't break down and away from right-handed batters. Lefties have always hit Santana better than righties -- a trait more exaggerated this season -- so it was a good day for the full contingent to be in the batting order. (Playing AL rules, I wonder if Gardy would have sneaked in Thome, too.)
Michael Cuddyer was at third base, but the way Pavano pitched, Telly Hughes could have played third without incident -- and maybe get interviewed after the game by Carlos Gomez. (Yes, I just needed an excuse to share this video again.)
After the game, the Mets were reduced to talking about some adjustments that Johan made after that nasty first inning, adjustments that will supposedly help him during his next start. Such chatter is first cousin to talk about a pitcher finding his stuff during a bullpen session -- and typically is little more than wishful thinking and a way to give something to people who need something to placate the fans.
Whether Johan is simply having a tough go recovering from elbow surgery or is in decline with 3 1/2 years left on his contract remains to be seen.
Here, of course, we need to add the golf course segue. I will resist the temptation to write something snarky. You know, like maybe Johan's mind was on the golf course rather than the pitcher's mound Saturday after details of his off-season extramarital liaison became public. Bert opined that it's a private matter, but that's a naive jock-protecting-jock argument that holds no more merit than if a presidential candidate or a clergyperson of profile had done something similar.
So here's the deal: With the benefit of hindsight, I took the wrong position on Johan. Yeah, I wish the Twins could have done a better job of getting more in return. But we were fooling ourselves back when we thought -- as one of the local columnists did -- that Johan could fetch Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera from the Yankees. And the Twins were never going to get Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury from the Red Sox. And, with the ripening and spoilage in the trade's aftermath, the deal has become Santana (currently a .500 pitcher on a team that's 10 games over .500) for Jon Rauch, J.J. Hardy and the interesting prospect Deolis Guerra.
Today, I'll take that.
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