Clearance deals: Santana and others
History reveals blockbusters can turn the tide in either direction
The type of trade that on Tuesday tentatively delivered Johan Santana to the Mets has become routine business on the contemporary Ball Street.Clubs with a financial incentive to deal away established stars play the market, turning the veterans into investments in portfolios of youngsters. Swapped is today's sure thing for a package of promising futures. So, today's white flag could turn into tomorrow's pennant. Fans usually have a harder time shelving expectations as if they were jars of preserves. With their win-now clock always ticking, they aren't apt to reserve judgment. So, in Minnesota right now, Santana for Carlos Gomez, Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey looks pretty depressing. A 28-year-old two-time Cy Young Award winner for four guys with 125 Major League at-bats and nine big-league innings among them? Call a judge. But don't call in the jury -- yet. Its verdict is years down the road. Eventually, the light of judgment may shine totally differently on this deal. It has on such transactions in the past, which is our only teacher in such instances. The Twins themselves, in fact, previously aced an eerily similar test of wills nearly 20 years ago. Two years after pitching the Twins to a World Series title, and a year after pitching himself to a Cy Young Award, Frank Viola was the luxury Minnesota could not afford. Yes, Viola was a lefty. Yes, Viola was 29 (the age Santana turns before the start of the 2008 season). Yes, Viola was traded to the New York Mets, on July 31, 1989. Viola brought a five-pack of pitchers: Mets starter Rick Aguilera and four others (Jack Savage, David West, Kevin Tapani and Tim Drummond) with one big-league win and 47 innings among them. Two years later, Tapani won 16 and Aguilera saved 42 as the Twins captured another World Series. Just a few days ago, Aguilera was elected to the team's Hall of Fame.
That would not be the last time the Twins made out handsomely on the futures market. In fact, they have turned it into a tradition, one for current general manager Bill Smith to follow: Before the start of the 1998 season, they swapped second baseman Chuck Knoblauch to the New York Yankees for Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Brian Buchanan and Danny Mota. Milton won 53 games the next five seasons and he and shortstop Guzman were both instrumental in returning the Twins to the playoffs in 2002, after an 11-year absence. A month after the end of the 2003 season, Minnesota sent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to San Francisco for right-handers Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser and 20-year-old lefty Francisco Liriano. Nathan, alternately a failed starter and wasted in long relief by the Giants, has notched 160 saves in four seasons with the Twins. Neither Bonser nor Liriano had pitched above Double-A, and now they're both in the Minnesota rotation (although Liriano has to fight back from the Tommy John elbow-ligament replacement surgery that cost him all of 2007). No one has played the investment game as well, or as consistently, as Oakland general manager Billy Beane. He's been at it again this offseason, turning pitcher Danny Haren and outfielder Nick Swisher into a total of nine prospects from the D-backs and White Sox, respectively. For now, you can file those moves next to Santana. But we already have a read on this Beane transaction: On Dec. 18, 2004, he dealt lefty Mark Mulder to St. Louis for three prospects: Haren, Kiko Calero and 18-year-old first baseman Daric Barton. Haren won 43 games in three seasons and graduated to being an All-Star Game starter before being converted into the Arizona six-pack. Barton, following a fabulous debut at the end of the 2007 season, is penciled in as Bob Geren's starting first baseman. However, not all of Beane's clearances have worked out. Some times, his wizard hat slips, which only highlights the vagaries of the trade: Two days prior to the aforementioned Mulder swap, the A's had headed off Tim Hudson's free agency by trading him to Atlanta for three more prospects, right-handers Juan Cruz and Dan Meyer, and outfielder Charles Thomas.
The trio's Oakland production to date: an 0-5 pitching record, and a .109 average in 46 at-bats.Bartolo Colon owns the distinction of being the bait twice within 6 1/2 months, with contrasting results for the fishing team. On June 27, 2002, the Indians dealt him to the then-Montreal Expos for veteran first baseman Lee Stevens but three other players with zero big-league experience: infielder Brandon Phillips, outfielder Grady Sizemore and lefty Cliff Lee. Stevens finished out that season with 53 at-bats, then was finished. Phillips did little in Cleveland before being passed on to Cincinnati, where he has become a star. But the Tribe has done well with Lee (46-24 in 2004-06, before his '07 slump) and Sizemore, already a two-time All-Star. On Jan. 15, 2003, it was the Expos' turn to pass on someone beyond their payroll, sending Colon to the White Sox for right-handers Rocky Biddle, Jeff Leifer, Orlando Hernandez and cash. Presumably, the cash was good -- but Hernandez sat out that season before re-signing as a free agent with the Yankees, and neither Biddle nor Leifer made their presences felt in Quebec. A look at some other historical wholesale moves: Prior to the 2000 season, the Mariners shipped Ken Griffey Jr. home to Cincinnati for outfielder Mike Cameron, right-hander Brett Tomko, infielder Antonio Perez and Minor Leaguer Jake Meyer. Cameron matured into an AL All-Star in Seattle, but Tomko earned only 10 wins before being included in a trade package to San Diego and the two others never wore a Seattle uniform. A month before the trading deadline in 2004, the Royals divested themselves of Carlos Beltran in a three-team trade that brought them right-hander Mike Wood, infielder-outfielder Mark Teahen and catcher John Buck. Wood's 7 1/3 innings was the sum total of their big-league experience. Teahen, 27, has become an integral part of Kansas City's lineup and Buck is the team's No. 1 catcher, but Wood spent three unremarkable seasons in long relief. A couple of days after Thanksgiving 2003, Arizona dealt Curt Schilling to Boston for left-handers Casey Fossum and Jorge de la Rosa, righty Brandon Lyon and Minor Leaguer Michael Gross. Fossum and Lyon had each been knocking around the Majors for a couple of seasons with moderate success, while the other two had no big-league experience. Fossum went 4-15 in his one season before being dealt on to Tampa Bay by the D-backs, who never suited up de la Rosa or Gross. After dealing with several injuries, Lyon again is an important cog in the NL West champs' bullpen. And one reminder that, while more commonplace now, such deals certainly are not new: On June 4, 1953, the doormat and financially-strapped Pirates adjusted their sights from backwards to forward by swapping a package of four high-profile Major Leaguers to the Cubs for six younger players with less tread and no profiles. Ralph Kiner, Joe Garagiola, Catfish Metkovich and Howie Pollet -- all over 30 and with 34 cumulative Major League seasons under their belts -- went for Toby Atwell, Bob Schultz, Preston Ward, George Freese, Bob Addis, Gene Hermanski. By mid-1956, all of the new Pirates were ex-Pirates.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.