Twins move on without their ace
News of Santana's departure arrives without surprise
MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins backup catcher Mike Redmond knew immediately on Tuesday afternoon that some sort of big news had happened."I sat down to watch a movie and right away my phone starting blowing up," Redmond said. "And the calls didn't stop." That's no surprise, considering that it was news regarding a trade of the club's two-time Cy Young Award winner. Reports that the Twins and Mets had agreed on a trade that would send Johan Santana to New York for four prospects traveled quickly. The deal won't be officially complete until the left-hander passes a physical and the Mets and Santana agree on a lengthy extension, which must be completed by 4 p.m. CT on Friday. But for the Twins players, Tuesday's news marked an end to what has been an offseason full of speculation surrounding Santana. "I think we were all prepared for this to happen," Redmond said. "I mean, I was in Minnesota for like seven days and there wasn't a day, or actually an hour, that didn't go by that we weren't asked about Johan Santana. "But now that it has happened, you're in a little bit of a state of shock because of how much he's meant to our team and to the organization." Many of the Twins players had gathered in Minnesota this past weekend for the club's annual fan fair, TwinsFest. Santana was noticeably absent during this year's event, though his name was never far from conversation. Most of the players had said during the event that they were prepared for a move that would leave them without their ace. Still the reality of the situation didn't really sink in until it actually happened. "It was a move that we were all expecting and waiting to happen, but at the same time anytime you lose the best pitcher in baseball it still hurts," first baseman Justin Morneau wrote in an e-mail. The prospect of losing Santana wasn't one that anyone had wanted to consider, especially during an offseason in which the club already had lost star center fielder Torii Hunter. But the trade gave the team some finality. The players felt the situation would have been worse if it had continued once they reported to Fort Myers, Fla., for Spring Training.
"The thing is if we walked into Spring Training with that kind of distraction, it would not have been good," infielder Nick Punto said. "Johan wouldn't have been happy. It just would have been too much of a distraction for everyone. The reality is that if we weren't going to re-sign Johan at the end of the season, then we definitely needed to get something for him. Now we can say goodbye and take the talent we have and move on for the '08 season."Exactly how the Twins will fare with their young talent in 2008 is as big a question as any. The Twins received four prospects in the deal from the Mets: outfielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey. Only two, Gomez and Humber, are likely to compete for spots on the roster this season. Gomez gives the Twins an option for the hole in center field and a likely candidate for the leadoff spot next season, but the club is now left with a very young pitching staff. Their two most experienced starters, Scott Baker and Boof Bonser, each have made a total of 48 career starts. Behind them will be an open competition between many of the club's young arms including Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn, among others. Humber could also factor into that equation, although Mulvey and especially Guerra, who will turn 19 in April, are considered not quite ready yet. "You can't really look at what we lost in Santana," closer Joe Nathan said. "You just hope we're better for all the moves they've made for us. And hope that they brought some guys over here that are going to help us this year." The immediate fan reaction to the trade was largely negative. Some questioned as to whether the Twins had received enough talent in return for their ace. All four prospects the Twins received were ranked among the Mets' top seven prospects by Baseball America, but many felt those players lacked the upside of the Major League-ready prospects included in other supposed offers from the Red Sox and the Yankees. Some Twins players, like Morneau, said they will have to wait some time before judging the deal. "I think it will be a few years before we can really see who got the better of the trade, but I do remember a trade of our starting catcher a few years ago for some players that not too many people knew and they ended up being three very good Major League players," Morneau said. Morneau was referring to the 2003 trade in which the Twins sent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to San Francisco in exchange for Liriano, Nathan and Bonser. At the time, none of the names were considered to be big draws, but the trade now ranks as perhaps one of the best in recent history. But before looking too far forward, the Twins players reflected a bit on losing not only their No. 1 pitcher but a guy considered to be one of the leaders in the clubhouse. "Personally, I really feel fortunate that I was able to catch a guy of his caliber," Redmond said. "Guys like that, throughout a career, they don't come around too often. He was the best pitcher and the best teammate. I feel blessed that I was able to go out there and catch him, to have some fun and be a part of some great games." The hope now for the Twins is that there will still be plenty of great games in '08. Past history has shown that after making a trade of this caliber, the Twins have endured at least one losing season before getting back to competing for division titles. Still some players are optimistic that this time could be different. "The rest of the guys are just going to have to step up and there are plenty of opportunities in spring for everyone," Morneau said. "I still believe we are young and talented and can make the playoffs."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.