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November 09, 2007

To Seek Johan Santana, Or Not?

From the Hartford Courant -

Though Twins GM Bill Smith told the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets his goal remains to re-sign Johan Santana, some baseball officials believe it is more likely the lefthander will be traded before the season, possibly during the winter meetings Dec. 3 in Nashville, Tenn.

"I think Santana will be moved for sure," Phillies GM Pat Gillick told USA Today.

Indications are the Twins will not offer Santana a five-year extension and probably will make a below-market offer, one Santana barely considers while waiting to hit the open market.

Santana also has a complete no-trade clause and any team that trades for him almost certainly would have to include a contract extension. Santana could command $150 million.

Who is Johan Santana? Well, he's not the next Pedro Martinez or Roger Clemens. Those two pitchers posted better numbers than Santana by the time they were his age.

Is Santana the next Juan Marichal? Or, is he the next Dave Steib?

Is Santana the next Mike Mussina? Or, is he the next Kevin Appier?

Is Santana the next Jim Palmer? Or, is he the next Tim Hudson?

After all, you can make a case that Marichal, Steib, Mussina, Appier, Palmer and Hudson produced, relatively speaking, to about the same pitching performance levels, by the same age (then), as Johan Santana has (to date).

Ten months ago, Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman said:

"Our thought process for the past two years has been to stockpile as many young pitchers as we can, so you don't have to go into the free agent market and do desperate things," Cashman said. "It's been proven again and again you can be slaughtered there, where all the pitchers are over-priced. Plus, our payroll simply couldn't go any higher than it was."

So, this begs the question on Johan Santana: Would he be "over-priced" at $20 million a season, or more, when you don't know for sure if he's going to continue on a Hall-of-Fame career path or if he's going to be another pitcher who was great, off-the-charts great, and then (for whatever reason) became more mortal as he neared or just passed age thirty?

Three months ago, I thought that was too much money to risk. And, today, I don't see myself moving past that position. Plus, if you have to give up a Hughes, Chamberlain or Kennedy to get Santana, it just makes the risk/reward ratio heavier on the risk side.

I know that pitching wins championships. And, I know that there's not a lot of quality pitching in the majors today. And, I also know that you sometimes have to take your best shot when a pitcher becomes available - as it ties back to the other first two points.

Yeah, sure, to many, at this time, going out and grabbing Johan Santana - cost be damned - seems like a no-brainer.

But, isn't that the way that many in Yankeeland felt about Javier Vazquez prior to 2004? Ditto Randy Johnson in 2005. And, to an extent, Jim Abbott prior to 1993. And, Jeff Weaver in 2002. Also, Don Gullett prior to 1977. Or, Britt Burns prior to 1986.

Sure, Johnson was older and guys like Abbott, Weaver, and Burns were not the same as Santana (in terms of their resumes) at the time they became available. But, the point is, at those times, getting those pitchers seemed like the can't miss and bright idea - and it did not work out, in the end, for the Yankees.

When you factor it all together, it does raise some concern for me - with respect to breaking the bank to get Johan Santana. I wonder if the Yankees have any doubts about this as well?

Posted by Steve Lombardi at November 9, 2007 09:40 AM


Lots of interesting points in that post. I agree with your general skepticism about the one pitcher as savior theory. Still, the names you listed as comparisons are not the best. Santana is not as good as Clemens or Pedro (respectively, the greatest career pitcher of all time and the greatest peak pitcher of all time), but he is better than every other pitcher you list here (with the possible exception of Marichal). The difference between Santana and these other pitchers is that Santana is a true strikeout pitcher and, barring injury, strikeout pitchers age better.

If I were the Yankees I would be entirely reasonable about this. Get the best possible projections for Santana and the players who would be traded for him, say Hughes. Ask if the difference between those two sets of projections is worth $20 million a year. Santana will take more than Hughes, though. So then you would compare the numbers of Santana and a replacement level OF from 2009-2013 with Hughes and, say, Jackson.

Posted by: jonm [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 9, 2007 10:57 AM

You don't give up Hughes or Joba for anyone. Not even Santana or Peavy (and yeah, I have a total man-crush on Peavy). Maybe I'm just a home-grown-player whore, but you don't give those two away.

If the Yankees can get Santana for anyone else -- the names are always Melky and Kennedy -- or sign him as a free agent after '08, yeah, he's worth the money -- even in his "down" year he was dominant (just on a bad team). Even if he slipped, he would still be the best pitcher the Yankees had since Mussina in '03. Which is the last time they had a truly dominant pitcher.

Breaking the bank on Santana for the next few years seems like a no-brainer to me.

In a perfect world, the Yankees would be able to acquire Santana, keep Pettitte, and retain Joba and Hughes. In such a scenario, the Yankees might actually win the WS again... but that is a rather far-fetched dream...

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 9, 2007 12:20 PM

Looks like the Yankees may be willing to move one of the young three for Johan:


Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 9, 2007 12:53 PM

Sure you trade Hughes for Santana, if that is the only way. Why should the Twins accept Ian Kennedy? If they would, fine, but I doubt it. But you have to get Santana signed to an extension before a deal can be finalized.

The [stupid] Giants gave Zito 7/126. So what would Santana seek? His agent isn't named Bora$$, but the players 'association' (I always laugh at that farce) will put some pressure on them.

Posted by: Don [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 9, 2007 02:08 PM


I have to say that grabbing up Santana would be the right move. Here are some stats that back it up comparing Santana to the players you mentioned:

Santana: 7.3H/9-9.5K/9-3.8K:BB-2.5BB/9-1.0HR/9
Clemens: 7.6H/9-8.4K/9-3.4K:BB-2.5BB/9-0.6HR/9
Pedro M: 6.7H/9-10.4K/9-4.1K:BB-2.5BB/9-0.7HR/9
D.Stieb: 8.1H/9-5.2K/9-1.7K:BB-3.1BB/9-0.7HR/9
Mussina: 8.3H/9-6.5K/9-3.0K:BB-2.2BB/9-1.0HR/9
KAppier: 7.9H/9-7.4K/9-2.4K:BB-3.3BB/9-0.6HR/9
JPalmer: 7.4H/9-5.7K/9-1.7K:BB-3.3BB/9-0.6HR/9
THudson: 8.2H/9-6.5K/9-2.4K:BB-2.8BB/9-0.7HR/9
TSeaver: 7.1H/9-7.7K/9-3.4K:BB-2.3BB/9-0.7HR/9
Carlton: 8.1H/9-7.0K/9-2.3K:BB-3.1BB/9-0.7HR/9
SKoufax: 7.0H/9-9.2K/9-2.5K:BB-3.6BB/9-0.9HR/9
MarSoto: 6.9H/9-8.0K/9-2.3K:BB-3.4BB/9-0.8HR/9

I added in Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Sandy Koufax and Mario Soto because those are the top-4 comparisons for Santana according to PECOTA heading into the 2007 season.

At this age, Santana is actually better than everyone you mentioned outside of Pedro Martinez. As far as raw stuff alongside the PECOTA comps, only Seaver & Koufax come close to Santana and Seaver isn't nearly as powerful as Santana and Koufax doesn't have near the control as Santana does. Here is another interesting stat. Take a look at career innings for all the pitchers listed:

Hudson: 1240.7IP
Santana: 1308.7IP
Mussina: 1362.3IP
Appier: 1429.7IP
Soto: 1506.7IP
Martinez: 1576.3IP
Koufax: 1665.7IP
Marichal: 1722IP
Clemens: 1784.3IP
Stieb: 1859IP
Palmer: 1866.7IP
Carlton: 1904.7IP
Seaver: 1931IP

Outside of Hudson, Santana has the least wear & tear on his arm at the age of 28 and he doesn't have the injury history Hudson has with the hip problems. Pedro's shoulder has given out, but take a look at Santana's most favorable comps according to PECOTA and their career innings:

Seaver: 4782.7IP
Carlton: 5217.3IP
Koufax: 2324.3IP

Koufax retired after the best season of his career so there is no telling how long he could have kept pitching. Carlton & Seaver averaged 5,000IP between them and if Santana averages that many, then Santana has a lot of career left in him. I know IP aren't what they used to be, but both Greg Maddux & Roger Clemens are closing in on 5,000IP and Pedro will probably get to 3000IP before his career is over and if Santana averages just 220IP from this point forward until 3500IP for a career then he's got 11 more seasons left in him.

You can at least argue that Santana could be better off than all of them due to less wear on his arm than the others. Plus it's different than the blunders the Yankees have made in the past according to their free agent signings. Look at Pavano's & Wright's numbers thru the age of 28 compared to Santana's thru that age:

Santana: 7.3H/9-9.5K/9-3.8K:BB-2.5BB/9-1.0HR/9
CPavano: 9.5H/9-5.9K/9-2.3K:BB-2.6BB/9-0.9HR/9
JWright: 9.1H/9-6.8K/9-1.5K:BB-4.4BB/9-0.9HR/9

Not only were Pavano & Wright not even half the pitcher Santana is, but they showed massive injury risks before the Yankees signed on with them and Wright had always had massive control problems. The Yankees simply fell into the trap of signing bad players coming off career years and they've paid for it.

In contrast, Santana's only been a starter for 4-years (ask any Twins fans and they'll say the Twins held him back WAY TOO LONG) and in those 4 seasons, Santana's averaged 34 startes and 228IP. In his last 5-years, Santana has averaged going 16-7 and has won 2 Cy Young awards.

I'm with everyone thinking the Yankees shouldn't give up the farm for Santana, but right now, it's hard to argue the guy isn't on his way to being an inner-circle Hall-of-Famer. I love Joba, Phil and Ian, but those guys at this point are unproven while Santana has proved his the best starting pitcher in the game of baseball. By going after Santana, the Yankees are positioning themselves to have the absolute best starting staff in baseball buttressed by an extremely powerful offense.

Something else to think about is Erik Bedard. Here is Bedard compared to Santana thru the age of 28

Santana: 7.3H/9-9.5K/9-3.8K:BB-2.5BB/9-1.0HR/9
EBedard: 8.8H/9-8.7K/9-2.5K:BB-3.5BB/9-0.8HR/9

It's not all that similiar but Bedard is another guy who's a strikeout pitcher who isn't happy in Baltimore and might be coming into his own. Look at the 2007 numbers between Santana & Bedard

Santana: 7.5H/9-9.66K/9-4.5K:BB-2.1BB/9-1.4HR/9
EBedard: 7.0H/9-10.9K/9-3.9K:BB-2.8BB/9-0.9HR/9

Bedard has some injury history and is risky, but it would seem that when Bedard comes up there is going to be a lot of talk about signing him long term and I wonder if the Yankees are going to go hard after somebody, it should be now with Santana instead of later with Bedard possibly. Both pitchers might get moved given the teams they are coming from.

Either way, if there is one pitcher I'd go after, I'd be hard pressed to think Santana is a bad deal no matter which one of the big 3 New York gives up to get him.

Posted by: Baseball Savant [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 9, 2007 02:19 PM

Baseball Savant - any concern over the fact that Johan's BR/9, HR allowed, BB/K rates have all been trending down over the last three years?

Yes, the rates are still good. But, at they $20 mill a year good? Three years ago, the rates were, probably...but, now? And, the year after that? And, the next one?

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 9, 2007 02:51 PM

Just another comment about Santana, here are the top-2 PECOTA comps for top young pitchers age-28 or less heading into 2007:

Johan Santana: Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton
Phil Hughes: Brad Penny, Jake Peavy
Brandon Webb: Rick Reuschel, Charles Nagy
Chuck James: Dan Schatzeder, Noah Lowry
Erik Bedard: Gary Peters, Bob Ojeda
Daniel Cabrera: JR Richard, Jose Deleon
Josh Beckett: Dan Wilson, Freddy Garcia
Clay Buchholz: Mark Brownson, Bobby Basham
Jon Lester: Les Cain, Jim O'Toole
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Kevin Appier, Jose Rijo
Jon Papelbon: Jose Valverde, Dan Plesac
Rich Hill: Dick Stigman, Jim Deshaies
Carlos Zambrano: Mark Gubicza, Kerry Wood
Mark Buehrle: Jerry Reuss, Jim Kaat
Jon Garland: Jeff Weaver, Brad Penny
Homer Bailey: Edwin Jackson, Rich Harden
Johnny Cueto: Juan Pena, Ian Snell
Fausto Carmona: Kevin Gross, Jaime Navarro
Adam Miller: Pete Munro, Mark Brownson
CC Sabathia: Andy Benes, Freddy Garcia
Jeff Francis: Joe Kennedy, John Smiley
Ubaldo Jiminez: Mike Meyers, Adam Johnson
Franklin Morales: Chi-Hueng Cheng, Jon Lester
Jeremy Bonderman: Bill Gullickson, Jose Rijo
Andrew Miller: Dave Cole, Dennis Blair
Justin Verlander: Bob Rush, Don Aase
Dontrelle Willis: Jim Abbott, Jim Kaat
Billy Buckner: Matt Albers, Matt Wright
Zack Greinke: Jin Ho Cho, John Hudgins
John Lackey: Bob Rush, Ben McDonald
Jered Weaver: Dennis Eckersley, Scott Elarton
Chad Billingsley: Richard Dotson, Ben Sheets
Clayton Kershaw: Yusmeiro Petit, Alan Webb
Yovani Gallardo: Kyle Davies, Chad Billingsley
Ben Sheets: Juan Marichal, Turk Farrell
Matt Garza: Dennis Tankersley, Kurt Ainsworth
Francisco Liriano: Dave Righetti, Don Newcombe
Glen Perkins: Brandon Clausen, Tom Gorzelanny
Tyler Clippard: Chin-Hui Tsao, Brandon Knight
Chien-Ming Wang: Dennis Lamp, Brian Lawrence
Joe Blanton: Bobby Jones, Danny Cox
Rich Harden: Ernie Broglio, Jim Maloney
Dan Haren: Frank Sullivan, Freddy Garcia
Cole Hamels: Dave Righetti, Dennis Bennett
Brett Myers: Freddy Garcia, Andy Benes
Tom Gorzelanny: Chris Capuano, Bob Knepper
Ian Snell: Wade Miller, Lynn McGlothen
Adam Wainwright: Randy Moffitt, Adrian Devine
Jake Peavy: Pedro Martinez, Don Sutton
Chris Young: Dennis Rasmussen, Ed Halicki
Matt Cain: John Smoltz, Jim Maloney
Tim Lincecum: Jose Deleon, Kerry Wood
Felix Hernandez: Bob Moose, Bert Blyleven
Scott Kazmir: Curt Simmons, Vida Blue
Dustin McGowan: Ryan Glynn, Wynn Hawkins

Those are all pitchers 28 and under heading into 2007. I don't have the comps for either Chamberlein or Kennedy because the 2007 Baseball Prospectus annual didn't profile either player, but when you take a look at that list, the only pitchers with 2 really good comps are Santana, Hughes, Peavy and possibly Matt Cain. And NOBODY comes even remotely close to a top-3 comps Santana has in Seaver, Carlton and Sandy Koufax.

Nothing is a done deal, but Santana has WOW written all over him. I would have loved to have seen him throw more than 219IP in 2007, but that 15-13 record is deceiving. How many wins would Santana rack up playing in front of the NYY offense? Even if you had to trade Chamberlein or Hughes in a deal with Santana, the rotation is looking like:

Santana, Wang, Pettitte, Kennedy, Hughes/Joba.

That assumes Pettitte comes back, but even if he doesn't, the front 4 looks pretty strong and now New York has a decided advantage with Santana getting to be the Game 1 starter in ALDS/ALCS/WS if the Yankees get there.

Posted by: Baseball Savant [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 9, 2007 02:55 PM


Sorry I didn't see that comment between my two posts. So is Santana trending downwards to the point of not being worth what the Yankees would have to pay him? Here are some other trends since he became a full time starter in 2004:

2004: 6.7IP/GS, 100.6 pit/GS, 65 avg game score
2005: 7.0IP/GS, 101 pit/GS, 63 avg game score
2006: 6.9IP/GS, 101.5 pit/GS, 62 avg game score
2007: 6.6IP/GS, 101.2 pit/GS, 59 avg game score

He won the Cy Young in 2004 & 2006. I think you can discount the differences in pitches/GS because they are all right there so that leaves average game scores and IP/GS. The IP/GS to me seem neglible. The 6.6IP/GS in 2007 is practically idential to the 6.7IP/GS he had in 2004 when he won the Cy Young. Either way, you are talking about a 1-out difference and given the 101 pit/GS, Santana can make that up by throwing another 5-6 pitches and all of a sudden things seem pretty even.

As to the $$$, it's hard to tell. Santana's only been a starter for 4-years and in those 4 years he's won 2 Cy Young and is pretty much considered the best pitcher in baseball. Are those trends going down in 4-years? Sure, it is enough evidence to base a decision to say he's trending downwards? I don't know if I'd go that far.

Even in an off year like 2007 by his own standards, he won 15 games, and had an ERA+ of 130. Santana led the league in WHIP, was 3rd in H/9, 3rd in K/9, 2nd in K. He was 3IP away from being in the top-5 in IP 1 start away from tying the AL for most starts. If that's an OFF year then it still is one of the best 5 pitching seasons of 2007 in the AL and maybe higher. Santana ranked 5th in the AL in pitching VORP, just 0.9 points behind Josh Beckett who is likely going to win the Cy Young.

I guess you could argue that Beckett at his best in his entire career is still just the same as Santana in his worst year as a starter. That's pretty amazing when you say it out loud.

If the Yankees trade for him, is he going to be worth the $20 million for years to come? You'd think probably not, but here is question for you. You know the Yankees a whole lot better than a youngster like myself! The Yankees had what, about $189 million in payroll in 2007? If A-Rod is off the books and they have the extra money from Clemens not being there. If Pettitte doesn't come back that's another $16 million off, are the Yankees all of a sudden going to go back to being a $120 million dollar payroll team?

Giambi comes off what after 2009? That's another $20 million off the books. Abreu maybe comes off after 2008 so that's another $15 or so million. If the Yankees are really looking to homegrow talent, then say they have to part ways with Hughes for Santana.

Then they still have Santana, Chamberlein and Kennedy plus Wang if they keep him around. That's still a tremendous foundation which allows Cashman and company to figure out the rest. The Yankees still have holes at 1B, C, and 3B (right now with no Posada) and the OF outside of Cabrera is pretty old.

So in light of the Yankees sort of coming up with money due to people getting old or coming to their end, does Santana make more sense even if the Yankees don't get total value at the back-end of his contract? I'm with you in thinking that way especially given New York's recent history, but Santana seems like such a different animal even with the slight trend down in the past 3-years or so. Sure it's a trend down, but relatively speaking, it's a trend that took him from completely unhittable to just one of the top-3 starters in the AL. A top-3 that I'd list him as #1.

It's a great question and I don't know if I have the answer, but with the resources, what about the gamble? Do you make it?

Posted by: Baseball Savant [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 9, 2007 03:21 PM

~~~It's a great question and I don't know if I have the answer, but with the resources, what about the gamble? Do you make it?~~~

There's just something about putting that much money in one guy, esp. a starting pitcher, that tells me it's too much of a gamble - even if you have room in the budget for it.

Think of it this way: You have ten dollars in your pocket that you need to spend. Do you spend it on ten one-dollar coins...so that you know you'll get your money's worth, for sure? Or, do you spend it on two one-dollar coins and a $7 ticket to a million dollar lotto where you have just as much a chance to lose as win? Sorta seems like pissing away some of your money to chance, no?

I'm not saying the Yankees should not spend their money. I'm just saying it's better to spend it on sure things. And, when it comes to pitching, you just can't tell the sure thing.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 9, 2007 03:31 PM

i agree with bailey. although a very strong case can (and has) be made for Santana, i still dont want to give up Hughes or Joba. they just showed too much this year, true ACE ability. giving up kennedy, etc. i'm fine with.

Posted by: Travis G. [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 9, 2007 03:56 PM

~~~~~There's just something about putting that much money in one guy, esp. a starting pitcher, that tells me it's too much of a gamble - even if you have room in the budget for it.

Think of it this way: You have ten dollars in your pocket that you need to spend. Do you spend it on ten one-dollar coins...so that you know you'll get your money's worth, for sure? Or, do you spend it on two one-dollar coins and a $7 ticket to a million dollar lotto where you have just as much a chance to lose as win? Sorta seems like pissing away some of your money to chance, no?

I'm not saying the Yankees should not spend their money. I'm just saying it's better to spend it on sure things. And, when it comes to pitching, you just can't tell the sure thing.~~~~~

Well, It's tough because if you have room in the budget for it, I'm not sure I see the downside for the Yankees. I think it's tough because of recent history so I can easiliy see where Yankee fans don't want to spend money on starting pitching especially with the young crop you have in place right now with Wang, Hughes, Chamberlein and Kennedy.

On the other hand, I think the whole "Sure thing" possibility exists for the young trio in NY as it does for Santana except for the fact that Santana is only 29-years old and has already won 2 Cy Young awards. In Santana's first 1309IP in his major league career, he's got a 141ERA+ and is 93-44 in his career while averaging 9.5 K/9IP.

His top 3 comps according to PECOTA are Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton and Sandy Koufax. Those are just WOW numbers. Santana has been healthy his entire career so I can't see that being a big deal so what we're really talking about is value over the last 1-3 years of his deal. On the other hand, how much of the value is made up if the Yankees win a World Series?

Sure there is nothing "sure" about pitching, but Santana seems like the safest bet you could possibly make.

Posted by: Baseball Savant [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 10, 2007 04:03 PM

FWIW, I'm not the only one wondering about JS -


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.


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.

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 12, 2007 12:03 PM