Mailbag: Johan Santana

Open Thread: AFC Title Game
Fan Confidence Poll: January 23rd, 2011
(AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr)

Darl asks: Any chance Johan Santana goes on the trading block? 31 year old with some injury trouble making $20MM. Mets likely will get blasted in NL East. New management will want to rebuild. He is under contact through 2014.

I think you answered your own question. A 31-year-old with injury trouble making $20M a year is ALWAYS on the trade block. The problem is that no one is going to bite. Remember, Santana is currently rehabbing from major shoulder surgery and isn’t expected to be ready until midseason. And it’s not just the shoulder either. His 2009 season came to an end in August because he had elbow surgery, so that’s two arm operations in as many years. In fact, Johan has not finished even one of his three seasons with the Mets healthy. In ’08 it was his knee.

We were adamantly against trading for Johan three years ago, and that’s when he was healthy and on the top of the game. Now that he’s on the wrong side of 30 and has been dealing with some serious injury issues, we’re even more against it, regardless of his availability and the cost. The injury concerns are very real, and are even more troubling since the last two involve his prized left arm.

Not only would the Yankees have to worry about injury-related decline, but at age 31 (32 in March), age-related decline becomes an issue as well. A case could be made that a healthy Johan Santana won’t be worth his contract for the next four years, especially since his peripheral stats have been declining since before he won his second Cy Young Award…

The injuries are just the most obvious of the red flags. Johan’s fastball velocity has been declining while his changeup velo remains unchanged, so it’s not much of a surprise that the latter’s effectiveness has slipped in recent years. There’s not the same kind of separation on the pitch anymore. His swinging strike rate has been falling for about four years now, and he’s gone from a guy that gets 40%+ ground balls to the mid-30’s. Naturally, his homerun rate has shot up despite the move to the easier league.

Don’t get me wrong, the Yankees definitely need pitching and there’s nothing wrong with taking fliers on injury rehab starters, but there’s a limit. It’s okay to go after those guys on cheap one-year deals when they’re free agents, but absorbing four years and $80-something million of a contract and giving up talent for that kind of guy is a backwards move, regardless of how talented the pitcher is. Johan is drawing ever closer to the cliff, and no one should want the Yankees to be on the hook for his contract whenever he decides to tumble off.

Anyway, it’s not going to happen, but I figured it was worth addressing since quite a few people ask each week. Santana was a devastating pitcher at his peak, a high-strikeout lefty that walked next to no one, but he’s no fewer than two seasons removed from that peak. He’s more name than production and reliability now, and that’s exactly the opposite of what the Yankees need.

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Open Thread: AFC Title Game
Fan Confidence Poll: January 23rd, 2011
  • mbonzo

    Assuming Johan comes back in June and is effective for a handful of starts, I wouldn’t mind seeing a trade if the Mets ate 35-40% of the contract.

    • Ted Nelson

      Exactly… I don’t know why Mike assumes the Yankees would be on the hook for his whole contract.

      • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

        Because otherwise you assume that the Mets would eat ~40m and send him to the Yankees, after showing he’s a capable pitcher.

  • ramez hanna

    look at his stats for the last 3 injury years
    if he gave the yankees these stats with 25 starts a years in another 4 injury years
    he will be worth every penny of this money

    • steve (different one)

      Good point, esp b/c I’m sure the numbers would look exactly the same in the AL east.

  • Nick87

    Its not the worst idea I’ve heard. I know im in the minority Id probably take this risk on this.

  • Jess

    Mike, judging by the three comments above, you’re going to have to use bold text and write in all caps to explain why trading for Johan is a bad idea.

    But as you said, Johan is still a “name”. And many Yankee fans only understand “names”. Even if that name might never be the same and is badly overpaid.

    • ramez hanna

      a name who has an era less than cc in the last 3 years

      • Clint Holzner

        Era IS the defining stat afterall isn’t it?

        • Jimmy McNulty

          Over a three year period it’s something to look at, don’t get me wrong I prefer CC, but I think you guys are underrating Johan.

      • Pasqua

        …in 140 fewer innings pitched. So, there’s that.

        • jsbrendog (returns)

          in the nl. without having one yr without going on the disabled list. with declining peripherals. so there is all that

          • Ted Nelson

            And a guy who has averaged 200 innings over those 3 years. So there’s that. And the NL-AL switch not being a death sentence and there actually being examples of guys who have been more effective in the AL when coming from the NL. So there’s that. You can make an argument that it’s a bad idea without ignoring the counter arguments and stretching the truth. So there’s ALL that.

            • http://www.retire21.com first name only male (formerly Mike R. – Retire 21

              I would be hard pressed to find a pitcher who put up better in the AL east than in any NO division. Also, he might of “averaged” 200+ ip over the last 3 years, but he hasn’t past that mark in either of the last 2 years and certainly will not this year. Your counter argument seems rather weak.

              • Ted Nelson

                Dan Haren. Not too pressing.

                He’s averaged 182.6 innings the last 2 seasons. And the discussion has been more about getting him if he’s ready at the trade deadline, so his 2011 season total is somewhat irrelevant.

                • Ted Nelson

                  Sorry, AL East. Josh Beckett in 2007 could be an example. The point is not that the AL East isn’t a very tough division, it’s that you don’t just give up on looking for good pitchers because you play in a tough division. Generally speaking, the best pitchers outside the AL East will also be the best pitchers in the AL East.

                  • http://www.retire21.com first name only male (formerly Mike R. – Retire 21

                    “The point is not that the AL East isn’t a very tough division, it’s that you don’t just give up on looking for good pitchers because you play in a tough division.”

                    I agree with that. I think Cain, Lincecum, Josh Johnson, etc. would all be dominant in any division, as would a healthy Santana. The question is “Will he ever be 100% again?”.

    • http://jukeofurl.wordpress.com Juke Early

      Any fan, who understands the game & has played it at an organized level understands two things – players who produce. And wins. I seriously doubt the NYM would trade Santana to the NYY, unless like every other MLB team, they could rob the Yanks blind.

      • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

        I’m 99.9% sure it would be the other way around. The Yankees wouldn’t trade for Santana unless the price was dirt cheap and the Mets offered to pay some of the salary. If I’m the Mets, I’m definitely looking to unload that deal any way that I can.

        • jsbrendog (returns)

          of course, it is the residue of an old and failed regime and if you’re the new gm you want to clean up as much trash from them as psosible and put your mark on the team and take it in your direction. but at the same time you dont want to do that frivolously or hurt the team going forward. IF they could get anything for johan then it might be a good idea.

          imo i think he comes back and pitches well the second half this year first half next yr he gets dealt at the trade deadline next year when the mets are in last again behind the nats and fish

          • jsbrendog (returns)

            plus in a year or 2 his salary might not be that exorbitant when compared to everyone else. frighteningly enough

            • Clint Holzner

              Is 20mil going to be the new 5?

      • Big Apple

        there is a lot of value in unloading a $20MM contract for a player who is “oft injured”…it has nothing to do with “robbing a team blind”

        economics often wins and almost always does with a team that is trying to rebuild itself as the Mets are.

    • Ted Nelson

      He could also make his case while fully analyzing all the ins and outs of the situation. Instead of stacking the deck so that it looks he’s obviously right.

      He makes Santana out to be worse than he is and more of an injury risk than he is. No mention of his 200 innings average the last 3 years, but a hint that he’s always injured. No mention of his general effectiveness as a lefty starter. He goes as far as to compare him to the crappy starters the Yankees are looking at on 1 year $2 mill type deals.

      No comparison to someone like Wandy, who if the Yankees trade for and sign to a 4 year extension could cost them just as much or more in terms of both prospects and money (if Mets eat some of Santana’s).

      Just, this is an obvious no because he doesn’t make as many people miss and I say so. People are absolutely right to question the counter-points that Mike completely fails to address in his half-ass analysis.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        You seem overly confident in Johan’s ability to return to his former self after major shoulder surgery. Most guys don’t come back from that, usually they turn into Gil Meche.

        Even if the Mets eat, say, $10M a year (which they probably won’t), is it worth a $40M gamble (plus luxury tax) and a guy that showed signs of decline before the injuries set in?

        He’s great when healthy, but shoulder surgery changes everything.

        • Jimmy McNulty

          Question: How many guys with peaks as good as Johan’s have had shoulder surgery? What was the before and after of it?

        • Ted Nelson

          Yeah, I think the shoulder surgery is a huge factor. I would expect the Yankees to see some proof he’s recovering in the form of rehab starts, ML starts, Dr. exams, etc. before even considering giving up much of anything in a deal for him. Which does make it pretty unlikely for 2011. However, the shoulder surgery also lowers his trade value considerably. And the buy-low potential is part of what makes me even consider it a possibility.

          Maybe the shoulder surgery just makes it a non-starter and maybe Johan never proves he’s healthy again. I wouldn’t make it the case until it’s the case, though.

          I’m not a Dr and I don’t know what the Mets asking price/willingness to deal is/would be. I would just keep an open mind. Clearly if I’m Cashman and the cost/risk (trade price and $) outweighs my expected return… No way I make the trade. If I see it as a buy-low opportunity where I’m not risking all that much relative to the probable return then I might take the chance.

          If you’re taking the chance before the probability he’s recovered from shoulder surgery is a bit clear, of course I’d be looking for a much deeper discount. Is, say, a 10% or 25% chance at an ace while giving up minimal prospects worth $40 mill? I don’t know, but I think it would be worth seriously analyzing if the Mets were selling. More likely I would be waiting until I saw a sign he was healthy. If I’m the Mets I also might wait to see his potential value after surgery, but a chance to just give away half his contract may be too much to pass up depending on their larger strategy.

          It also depends on the Yankees other options when Johan could be available… If the Yankees see no better cost/benefit options at trade deadline 2011, offseason 2011/12, or trade deadline 2012 and their high-minors prospects aren’t meeting expectations… maybe Johan makes sense at the right price. If the Yankees have better trade/free agent possibilities, everyone is healthy, and the Killer Bs are buzzing in the Bronx… probably makes zero sense.

          • Ted Nelson

            I didn’t really address the shoulder as much as I should have, but I was mostly responding to other bits of the article that I felt bent the truth and created a strawman that was easy to knock over.

            Basically… Only way you trade for him before his health is somewhat known is if the Mets are just cutting ties and giving him away (in terms of $ and prospects). It’s very unlikely, but if you feel the expected return based on your medical staff and past examples outweighs a minimal asking price, could be a risk worth taking. If not, clearly it isn’t. Once you’ve quantified the inputs, this is basic decision science stuff every undergrad business student learns.

            More likely, you’re looking at him once there’s some indication that he’s at least healthy short-term and you have some idea how effective he is short-term. Maybe that’s not all that effective, but a back-end option that the Mets are basically giving away. Maybe that’s a return to health/effectiveness with a higher risk of repeated injury, and the price tag matches those circumstances.

            For a team with the Yankees starting rotation and budget, I wouldn’t rule Santana out.

  • jazon

    im aiming if this happened the meta would have to eat part of the contract. But what if we swapped AJ…he’s also injury prone but making slighty less…maybe nl would be more kind to him again

    • Clint Holzner

      I am just going to hope you are kidding because that is literally the dumbest that has ever been written down by anybody. Ever.

      • Jobu The Voodoo Troll

        This may be a bit harsh. I have seen a lot of dumb things written down.

      • Ted Nelson

        You might at least explain why you feel that way before attacking someone’s intelligence. Criticizing someone so harshly without listing even a single reason for your criticism reflects poorly on you. Instead of making that commenter look dumb you make yourself look like a jack-ass.

        • Big Apple

          he did succeed in making himself look like a jack ass.

        • Clint Holzner

          Oh no, the troll who responded to 85% of the posts on this thread hurt my feelings. I hoped that the sheer mention of the name AJ Burnett in a trade was explanation enough. There is so much wrong with that I wouldn’t know where to begin. If you really need explanation then maybe you shouldn’t be on this site.

          • Ted Nelson

            Again, why do you feel the need to personally attack multiple people on an anonymous forum? I made several comments on the thread, but you’ll notice that they all relate to the topic and mostly try to use evidence to prove points. I didn’t just say “Mike, you’re so dumb.” I pointed out where I disagreed with his article and found it lacking.

            The very mention of the name Carlos Silva in a trade proposal should have been enough, but guess what smart guy? He got traded. Same with Vernon Wells. So AJ Burnett having a bounce back year and fetching a guy coming off shoulder surgery with an even bigger contract is possible. Yes. It is not grounds to insult two separate people’s intelligences. No.

        • Poopy Pants

          BAN BAN! No personal attacks allowed!

      • Poopy Pants

        BAN! BAN!

  • Jonathan

    Johan is very simple in my mind. Obviously, the injuries have knocked him down a peg and it is easy to see how. As stated in the post, his change up hasn’t changed, but the difference between the fastball and the change up has and has limited its effectiveness. Secondly, his once great slider had been thrown less because it hurts him to throw it. His elbow seemed to be better last year since he started throwing the slider more, but the shoulder was killing his velocity. If he comes back throwing in the low 90’s and breaking off sliders and the Mets eat 1/3 of the money I would do it. His health is really the only thing that scares me.

    • Pasqua

      “His health is really the only thing that scares me.”

      …which pretty much trumps all of your argument in favor of him, no? To me, that’s like saying, “That mass murderer might make a good roommate. He can pay the rent, and there’s a chance he won’t kill me. His tendency to kill is really the only thing that scares me.”

      • jsbrendog (returns)

        i chuckled

      • Ted Nelson

        ““His health is really the only thing that scares me.”
        …which pretty much trumps all of your argument in favor of him, no?”

        I don’t know about his other points, but an injury risk is not a death sentence to acquiring any player. You have to consider the trade-offs in terms of what you’re giving up to acquire him and what the upside of him being healthy or close to it. If the Mets are giving him away at a substantial discount ($ and/or trade package), could be worth it. If not, probably isn’t.

        • Jonathan

          thanks for actually reading what I said instead of trying to make a terrible attempt at being snarky. If he comes back healthy and they’ll eat a lot of money and take ok prospects you have to at least look at it.

          I’m saying I think his elbow is probably better than it has been in awhile and if his shoulder checks out I think his performance will actually be better than it has been lately. Obviously shoulder surgeries can be very tricky (Wang/Webb/me) but guys come back all the time, and if Johan does then it might be the perfect chance to acquire a very very good pitcher. I didn’t say we should try and get him now or if he comes back throwing 87 mph we should give up Montero and take on all the money. No scenario is going to be perfect with the pitching market as it is but we can’t shoot a guy down without even knowing if he’ll be healthy or not.

  • BavarianYankee

    who would seriously trade for Johan right now? Halos?

    The Mets would do the Petko-Dance if they could trade him.

    • Reggie C.

      Your Halos observation made me laugh.

      If Minaya were willing to eat $20 million from Santana’s contract the sentiment might change. Perhaps a $20 million concession would intrigue Cashman. At that point, we’re only talking about a Pavano-style contract.

      • jsbrendog (returns)

        minaya is no longer a major league gm

  • Jorge

    Two years ago, we were talking trading Phil Hughes for him. Now, I don’t even know if Johan is worth Dusty Hughes. A low-expectation, high-risk acquisition in the back of the rotation is not worth that contract. Not only pass, but make sure you’re taking the 7 express, and not local, as you get the hell out of Shitifield.

    • Ted Nelson

      “A low-expectation, high-risk acquisition in the back of the rotation is not worth that contract.”

      Clearly if it were low-expectations, high risk… the Yankees would not make the trade. If the risk is lower or equal to the expectations, though, could make sense.

      1. The risk is completely dependent on the deal, as is the contract. The Mets could eat salary, which makes the contract manageable and reduces risk. How much the Yankees gave up in players/prospects would directly relate to how high the risk is.

      2. The expectations would not be that low and he would not be a back-end starter. This is a guy who has logged 200 innings per season the last 3 seasons. He’s done so with a good FIP and ERA. Even if he takes a good hit coming to the AL East, he’s still likely be the Yankees 2nd or 3rd best starter.

  • John D

    what if he proves he healthy next June + July and the Mets ate half his contract?

  • AndrewYF

    There was a time when Santana had his ticket booked for the Hall of Fame. Unless he pitches another 5 full seasons at current or slightly worse production, not so much anymore.

  • Ted Nelson

    I’m not saying a Santana trade is going to happen this season, but I think your analysis misses a couple of important points.

    1. Santana has remained effective and fairly healthy. He has averaged 200 innings the past 3 years. No less than 166. By looking at a few peripheral stats where he’s fallen off you give the impression that Santana is no longer an effective pitcher. You also give the impression he’s always injured and not logging innings. He may no longer be the true ace he was (or the $20 mill per pitcher), but he’s still boasted a FIP in the 3s and ERAs in the 2s and low 3s the past 3 years while giving you 200 innings per.

    You compare him to the Garcia, Bonderman, Duchscherer types the Yankees are looking at on small one year deals, which is beyond ridiculous. Garcia and Bonderman have been no where near as effective as Santana and have also been far less durable, while Duchscherer can’t get through 30 innings. There is just no comparison to a guy who has logged 600 innings with an ERA under 3 the last 3 years.

    2. The Mets probably aren’t looking for both a salary dump and strong package. They’re likely going to have to basically give that contract away or eat a substantial amount of salary to get a half decent return. They may just decide Johan is more valuable to them in a Mets uniform than as a trade piece. If they do look to trade him, for whatever reason(s), they would be selling relatively low. It would be a risky move for the Yankees, but the risk could be mitigated considerably if they’re only paying him 10-15 mill per and/or giving up a package of prospects not in line with Santana’s ability.

    Basically, I would not rule it out. You don’t analyse the situation fully and basically build a strawman out of any positives… You make a 200 inning a year pitcher with an ERA under 3 out to be an ineffective, constantly injured pitcher.

    • Jimmy McNulty

      I agree…if the package is headlined by like Joba or someone I’d be okay with trading for Santana. Sure it’s a bad contract, but is there anyone coming up in the next three years that’s worth giving 20M too? (serious question, not rhetorical)

      • I am not the droids you’re looking for

        Yup in all the “oh crap our rotation is a mess” discussion we’ve somewhat lost sight of this question. Is this a short term (1 season) problem, or longer?

        I’m not such a pro at “googling for answers to questions that are probably found fairly easily” but when pondering questions of trading for a guy like Johan (which I would do if the Muts ate $15mm or more AND didn’t get anyone particularly interesting from our side), I kind of want to know who is up for FA in the next 1-2-3 years. Top 3 guys for each year…

        • Ted Nelson

          Yeah, that context is something to consider. On top of that there are other trade candidates and prospects within the organization. And not just top of the line guys, because a solid #4 starter on a small deal could be a better value than a risky potential #1/2 guy on a huge deal.

        • Jimmy McNulty

          Of the free agents that will be of interest to the Yankees Roy Oswalt is probably the best one. Next year’s free agent crop is balls, the one after that isn’t all that exciting either. I think the next big FA to come up would be Cole Hamels, I could be wrong though.

    • Gonzo

      This article should just have 2 sentences.

      Johan had major shoulder surgery. It would take more more than 2 months to see if you want to invest 4 years with a him.

      • Gonzo

        Oh, his salary per seasons remaining are: 11:22.5mm, 12:24mm, 13:25.5mm, 14:25mm with a 5.5mm buyout.

      • Ted Nelson

        Yeah, I agree on the injury. The money is not as important to me in that what part of the deal the Yankees are paying (and what part the Mets are) is more important than the total sum. The total does come into play, but it’s not just that.

        It’s what comes after that which I’m really criticizing. His performance and health leading up to this injury are criticized to unnecessary and maybe even dishonest levels.