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Sometimes the best trades . . .

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  May 24, 2008 01:46 AM

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Interesting note from Buster Olney on his essential ESPN.com blog Thursday. (I'd link to it, but you need to be a subscriber to Insider):

Heard this from a couple of evaluators: Johan Santana's velocity is down 3-4 mph from a couple of years ago. He is short-arming the ball more than he has in the past -- and this is after some red flags appeared in the physical examination he underwent before signing with the Mets. Sources say his shoulder showed some wear and tear, which is not unusual for a pitcher of Santana's age. This is not to say Santana is not an effective pitcher now, but all of this information makes you wonder how effective he will remain during the course of his multiyear deal.

Then, Olney a day later:

After the item on Johan Santana's diminished velocity was posted here yesterday, some scouts from other teams chimed in, indicating through e-mails and phone calls that they were seeing the same thing. "The Mets were asking around about that in spring training, about what his true [velocity] baseline was," one talent evaluator said. "They were concerned."

Said an AL scout who has seen Santana this month: "His stuff isn't even close to what it was [with the Twins]."

Now, I'm not here to gloat - okay, maybe just a little bit - and I do agree with Olney's assertion later in Friday's piece that a slightly less effective Santana is better than, oh, 95 percent of the pitchers in the major leagues. But I can't help but note that I was concerned about Santana as far back as November, when I wrote this in my late, not-so-great FOXSports column:

Now that the Twins appear on the verge of at least listening to offers for two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, here's a question that must be asked: Is it possible that the Twins would be trading him at the perfect time? The numbers make the argument that the 28-year-old lefthander wasn't nearly as dominating last season as he had been in the previous three: his ERA (3.33) and ERA+ (130) were his worst since 2001, he allowed an AL-high 33 home runs, and his WHIP (1.073) was his highest since '03. Yet his down year, if one can even call it that, would be considered a career season for every pitcher in baseball save for Josh Beckett and a dozen or so others, and it's hard to imagine his market value would be affected. But given the ransom the Twins will demand — and undoubtedly receive — should they officially put him on the market, his potential suitors had better be certain his slight regression last season was an aberration, and not the subtle beginning of his decline.

I'll admit that once the Santana-to-Boston rumors started over the winter, I was as intrigued as anyone with the Hot Stove daydream of a Beckett-Santana 1-2 punch at the front of the Red Sox rotation. But I never could talk myself into believing it was best for the longterm future of the ballclub, and ultimately I was relieved when neither the Sox nor the Yankees ended up with him. That was absolutely the best-case scenario, and I think that was probably the consensus viewpoint from clear-eyed Sox fans at the time.

And now? Now I thank the heavens that Theo Epstein resisted paying Minnesota the bounty it wanted. Consider what the Red Sox were reported to be giving up in their initial offer for Santana: Jacoby Ellsbury, a Rookie of the Year frontrunner who possesses the talent and charisma to be a franchise icon; No-hit kid Jon Lester, who delivered the feel-good moment of the season so far and who looks like the budding the 15-game winner pitching coach John Farrell swears he can be; Justin Masterson, who has allowed two earned runs in 12.1 major league innings and who almost certainly will play a significant role in the bullpen in the season's second half; and Jed Lowrie, who hit .310 in 42 at-bats in sort of a superutility role while Mike Lowell and Alex Cora were injured early in the season.

Given the good-to-great things we've already seen from these kids - and given what we suspect is happening to Santana, who seems to be morphing into Ron Guidry circa 1980 - I think we can safely file this one under Sometimes The Best Trades Are The Ones You Don't Make, at least for now.

However, I'm going to assume Hank Steinbrenner may not quite agree with that cliched old sentiment.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Young Lou wishes you *$*#*$*@*#**#** a happy and safe Memorial Day. As do I. But without the cursing and cigarette breath.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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