Like everybody else, I’ve been glued to all of the baseball sites on the internet, hoping that today will be the day that the ESPN.com headline reads “Mets trade for pitcher Santana.” As have most Mets fans, I have felt slight pangs of disappointment when that isn’t the headline of the day, where the news and rumor sites still read “Mets front-runners for Santana” or “Mets lead Santana race” or whatever stock car analogy has the Mets in the pole position of a non-existant race. Nothing has changed; Santana remains a Twin, the Mets remain the “front-runner,” and the Yankees and Red Sox continue to lurk.
But what does it mean to be the front-runner? Does it really mean anything? It just means that right now, the Mets currently have the best offer on the table. However good that offer may be, though, it clearly isn’t good enough for the Twins to say “We have to take this.” It’s good enough to be better than the Red Sox or Yankees, but it’s not good enough to get the trade done. If it was, Santana would be wearing blue and orange right now and the Mets would have a perennial Cy Young Award candidate at the front of their rotation.
From how I’m seeing things, it looks like there is posturing on both sides of this negotiation. On the Twins’ side, the Mets’ name in the paper as the “front runner” is clearly a ploy to get the Red Sox and Yankees to ante up a little bit more to get Santana. Problem is, it’s hard to say how badly both sides want Santana. The Red Sox are pretty clearly only involved to either drive the cost up for the Yankees to get him, or to prevent him from going to the Yankees at all. The Yankees, on some level, probably do want Santana, because they’re the Yankees – they want the best at every position. But for them, acquiring Santana would cost them like $30 million a season including luxury tax costs and what have you – even the Yankees have a limit. Factor in that the pitchers the Twins are looking for (specifically Phil Hughes) are considered high ceiling prospects, and it’s easy to see why the Yankees may be reluctant to trade here. But then again – they are the Yankees and Red Sox, and the cold war between both teams means that they will always be in play for the very best players in baseball.
On the Mets’ side, the posturing centers around Fernando Martinez. Thus far, the Mets have been reluctant to put Martinez in any trade, and I understand that; hell, before the off-season started, I was firmly in that camp. The Mets see that the Yankees and Red Sox aren’t anteing up, and that the Twins are going to “need” to trade Santana (because they can’t sign him), and that as front-runners, they don’t have to do anything special to acquire him. The package, even without Martinez, is quite enticing; Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, Delois Garcia, and Phil Humber, which represents the Mets’ 2nd best hitting prospect and their top three current pitching prospects. The Twins, though, by trying to pump up the Red Sox and Yankees here, can not only get the players they really want (who are by and large Red Sox and Yankees), but they can try to force the Mets’ hand and get them to include Martinez to the deal. It’s a circular process here, a game of cat and mouse between the Mets, Twins, and peripherally, the Red Sox and Yankees.
Where that leaves us is the Mets are putting up a good offer, but not one that is particularly better than the Red Sox or Yankees. The difference here is, the Yankees and Red Sox don’t have a pressing need for Santana. They are involved in the negotiations because they need to keep him away from the other team, and because the AL East race remains highly competitive. The Mets have a far more pressing need for Santana. Besides the PR boost following last year’s collapse, besides the idea of bringing a marquee pitching star in his prime to New York before they open a brand new stadium next year, they have a specific need for an ace starting pitcher, a 200 IP+ workhorse. No matter how you slice it, the Mets need Johan Santana. Standing pat is not enough to win the NL East; the Mets stood pat last year, coming off of a much better season, and they couldn’t repeat. This year, coming off one of the worst regular-season collapses in the history of modern baseball, it’s simply unacceptable.
Which is why I believe it’s time for the Mets to stop fooling around here, and it’s time to put their best offer on the table, whether or not they want to part with Fernando Martinez. I don’t want to trade him either; he has potential to be a real star corner OF. But they aren’t trading him for a second-tier ace; they are trading him for the best pitcher in baseball. The more they avoid making their best offer, the more likely it becomes that the Red Sox or Yankees will swoop in and grab Santana from underneath them. Then what are they left with? Signing Livan Hernandez to fill out a rotation with two big injury question marks. For a team built to win now, this isn’t enough. It’s time for the Mets to crap or get off the pot, or else they are just setting up the Mets’ fanbase for another disappointment, and after the way 2007 ended, I’m not ready for another disappointment this soon.