The recent trade of Delmon Young to the Tigers for two low-upside pitchers marks yet another failed move on the part of Bill Smith. Aside from the Jim Thome signing in 2010, just about every significant transaction by Bill Smith has had negative results. And as you look more into the details, many of those transactions can be traced back to the Johan Santana trade prior to the 2008 season.
First, it must be stated that Bill Smith can’t be faulted for trading Santana, as there was no way Johan was going to sign a long term extension in Minnesota. Where things went sour for Bill was choosing the wrong offer. This choice has sent the Twins on downward spiral that may eventually set them back a few years. Here’s the reason.
After a drawn out period of trade negotiations lasting a couple months, the Twins eventually accepted the Mets offer of Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, and Phil Humber. At the time, those constituted the Mets’ #2, #3, #4, and #7 prospects, respectively, according to Baseball America. Gomez ended up spending two seasons with the Twins, playing great defense and not hitting much of anything. Humber and Mulvey both had short, unsuccessful cups of coffee with the Twins, while Guerra is still in the minors.
Now consider that prior to the Twins accepting the Mets offer, the Red Sox had created a package that centered around the Twins choosing between either Jon Lester or Jacoby Ellsbury. The Sox would also have included at least Justin Masterson and Jed Lowrie. But, Bill was greedy and wanted both Lester and Ellsbury in the deal. When the Sox continued to balk at that idea, the Twins chose the Mets offer. Imagine Lester fronting the Twins rotation or Ellsbury hitting in front of Denard Span and Joe Mauer. Instead, we have the start of the downward spiral.
To begin to give the spiral some value, let’s put some numbers behind the trade offers.
From 2008 to today, the WAR values of the two Boston proposals are:
- Proposal with Lester = 27.7 [Lester (14.6), Masterson (9.4), and Lowrie (3.7)]
- Proposal with Ellsbury (who missed most of 2010 with injury) = 22.0 [Ellsbury (8.9), Masterson (9.4), and Lowrie (3.7)]
Now, from 2008 to today, the Mets’ offer that the Twins accepted:
- WAR = 8.4 [Gomez (6.1), Humber (2.4), Mulvey (-0.1)]
You might look at those numbers and say “Wow, choosing the Mets offer over the Sox offer cost the Twins 13.6 wins (on the low end) and 18.6 wins (on the high end) since 2008.”But you’d be wrong. Those WAR values for Gomez, Humber, and Mulvey are for 2008 to today; the entire value cannot be contributed to the Twins as those three players had all left the Twins organization by 2010. If you just look at the WAR generated by those players while they were with the Twins, here’s what you get:
- WAR = 3.1 [Gomez (3.6), Humber (-0.4), Mulvey (-0.1)]
Now it looks like the Twins only got a return in WAR of 3.1. But that’s not the end of it…
After 2009 the Twins, tired of Gomez’s lack of growth at the plate, traded him to the Brewers for shortstop J.J. Hardy. Hardy was coming off a down year, but was a young, elite defender that previously had multiple seasons of 20+ homers. For the most part, the trade was welcomed by Twins fans, and for good reason.
Gomez continued to struggle at the plate with the Brewers while Hardy, though oft-injured last year, contributed solid defense and finished with a decent season for the Twins. The trade ended up in the Twins favor based upon the 2010 results, as Hardy finished with a WAR of 2.5 versus Gomez’s 0.8. So we continue tracing the WAR value and get:
- WAR upgrade = 1.7 [Hardy (2.5) – Gomez (0.8)]
Unfortunately for the Twins, it doesn’t end there. First, in a more minor move (at the time) the Twins let Phil Humber leave after the 2009. Humber bounced around and didn’t provide value until this year, where thus far he’s posted a 2.4 WAR with the White Sox. However, in fairness to the Twins, after they let him go he signed with both the Royals and the A’s, and neither saw value in Humber. So I’ll let this one slide.
The more egregious transaction was the trade of Hardy to the Orioles after 2010. With Ron Gardenhire’s desire to for the “speed game” the Twins traded Hardy to the Orioles for Jim Hoey, a middle reliever, and minor-leaguer Brett Jacobson.
Now, since Smith has moved Hardy, he needs a shortstop. Smith wins the bidding for Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka (a guy with speed) and signs him to a three year deal. Thus far, both Hoey (-0.6) and Nishioka (-1.3) have been a disaster for the Twins, while Hardy has regained some of his old form and currently has 23 home runs and a WAR of 2.5. So, the WAR calculation on this transaction is:
- WAR downgrade = -4.4 [Nishioka + Hoey (-1.9) - Hardy (2.5)]
Summing that all together, the total WAR the Twins have received from trading Johan Santana is:
- WAR from Players in Santana Trade and Subsequent Moves: 0.4
That’s right, the players received in the trade of Johan Santana, and the subsequent moves involving those players, has resulted in less than half a win in three-plus years.
So, in summary, the Twins could have traded Santana to the Red Sox for a group of players headed by Jon Lester that currently has a WAR of 27.7 since 2008. Or, they could have accepted a deal headed by Ellsbury with a WAR of 22.0. Instead, as it currently stands, the Twins essentially traded Johan Santana for Jim Hoey, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Deolis Guerra, and Brett Jacobson, with a 0.4 WAR in return. On the low end, that’s a difference of 21.6 wins over three years. On the high end, 27.3 wins over three years. And still counting.
To finish off the spiral, I can find no better quote than one from Theo Epstein in 2008 regarding the Santana rumours and the possibility of a trade:
“I think with some of the things we’re discussing, as an organization we all feel as if it’s a win-win,” Epstein said. “We’re in a great position regardless.
“I’ll issue the usual caveat, which I really believe in, that baseball is unpredictable and humbling. We might think we’re in a great position and five years from now we’ll look back and realize we were in a [bad] position and just didn’t know it.”
Unfortunately, it’s the Twins that are looking back.
*All WAR values from FanGraphs.com