Four years later, revisiting the winter of Johan

Open Thread: Ivan Nova
Mailbag: Retired Numbers, Hall of Fame, Lyerly

For the Yankees, the off-season of 2007-2008 was practically the polar opposite of this year’s. That year, a good number of fans were rooting for the Yanks to do nothing whereas this year we’re rooting for them to do anything (as long as it’s sensible and short term). We didn’t want the Yanks to trade a package of pitchers centered around Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes for Johan Santana, and on a blustery night in February of 2008, we learned that the Mets, and not the Yanks, had secured the rights to Santana.

We staked out a position against a Santana trade. There was no doubt that Johan, a lefty, would have fit the Yanks’ needs, but he had a year remaining on his contract. According to the rumors, the Twins had asked for a lot for that one remaining season of team control, and the Yanks would have had to sign Santana to a lengthy contract as well. With CC Sabathia‘s free agency on the horizon and promising arms moving up the ranks of the farm system, we wanted the Yanks to wait, and they obliged.

Santana went to the Mets for a package of not much. Deolis Guerra hasn’t broken out of the minors yet while Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey aren’t pieces the Mets are missing. The Twins, it seems, were either willing to take less if it meant sending Santana to the NL or weren’t asking for the sky in the first place. The Mets gave Santana $137.5 million, and it kinda, sorta worked out for a little bit.

Over the first three years of his contract, Santana made 88 starts and had a 2.85 ERA for the Mets. Alarmingly, his strike out rate dipped by nearly 2 per 9 innings, and he has not made a professional appearance since September 2, 2010. Just three seasons into a six-year deal, Santana had to undergo shoulder surgery similar to Chien-Ming Wang‘s, and he’s still trying to make it back to the Mets’ mound.

On Thursday, Santana took the mound at Sun Life Stadium in Miami where he threw for teammates and reporters. Anthony DiComo was on hand, and he spoke with the Mets afterwards. They still do not know what the future holds for Santana. “How close is he going to be to where he was? I don’t know if anyone can tell,” manager Terry Collins said of his erstwhile ace.

Doctors too are cautious in their assessments. Santana was supposed to return last year but suffered through some setbacks. After a winter of rest, his arm either is ready now or may never be. “The beginning of next season is going to be telltale,” Dr. Jonathan Glashow said to DiComo. “After a long winter’s rest, if he’s not back to his level by Spring Training or beyond, I would be somewhat more pessimistic that he’ll ever get it.”

The Mets still owe Santana at least $54.5 million over the next two seasons, and had the Yanks made the move for Johan, fans would be screaming bloody murder over the dollars. Instead, the Mets are treated as the Mets. It was an expensive move that turned into an injury, and outside of the dollars, they didn’t lose much in terms of prospects. As Ian Kennedy turned into Curtis Granderson and a very respectable Major League pitcher and Phil Hughes has turned into an enigma, I’m still glad the Yanks never made that Santana trade. The price was just too high.

Open Thread: Ivan Nova
Mailbag: Retired Numbers, Hall of Fame, Lyerly
  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

    Where Are They Now: People who predicted surefire doom when the Yankees did not trade Hughes for Johan.

    • Rich in NJ

      Hank? According to, he’s General Partner / Co-Chairperson

    • JobaWockeeZ

      File this under overused and false narrative.

      Wow two or three people wanted Johan. Let’s fucking hang them!

      • Joe Pawlikowski

        Yep. Because people who comment on RAB are the only Yankees fans.

      • Mike Axisa

        And for what it’s worth, we heard about that non-trade basically until Sabathia went on that monster second half run in 2009.

  • Craig Maduro

    I know hindsight is 20/20, but even back when that trade was made, I wasn’t the least bit blown away by the package the Mets sent to the Twins.

    Gomez had broken into the bigs and had a lot of potential, but he was still extremely raw. Similarly, Guerra had a ton of potential but was very raw as well. Mulvey was ‘meh’ and Humber – even though he’ll likely have a rotation spot in 2012 – was hardly anything worth getting excited about. I don’t think it’s fair to sit here four years later and say the Twins got hosed, but this wasn’t exactly a simple case of “prospects being prospects” either.

    • Favrest

      The Twins got hosed even they traded Humber.

      • AndrewYF

        It’s because Bill Smith was a dumb idiot and wanted to ‘screw’ the Yankees more than he wanted to get anything for Johan. No move has ever worked out for a team out to screw the Yankees. Just ask that GM who traded Schilling for Casey Fossum.

        • MannyGeee

          well, yeah. Would you trade your best piece to a team who keeps beating you in the first round?

          I guess I get it, but Bill Smith got boned on the deal regardless.

        • Steve (different one)

          Don’t forget it was the same winter he traded garza for young. That trade prob hurt the twins more than the Johan trade.

          In retrospect, the correct move was keeping Johan in 2008, making the playoffs (they barely missed) and taking the 2 picks.

          The funny thing about this whole thing is that this was prob the most devisive Yankee issue I can remember, and yet both sides wound up being wrong.

          • Rich in NJ

            Keeping Hughes hasn’t tied up $23m of payroll space with essentially dead money, and he played an indispensable role in the pen in ’09 that helped put them in a position to win the WS.

            • Cris Pengiucci

              And IPK was used as a piece in the Granderson trade. Yankees made the right decision without a doubt.

            • MannyGeee

              also worth noting that the domino effect of signing Johan would have been different as well. No Hughes in 2009 maybe means another bullpen arm comes in, maybe Joba becomes the setup man one year sooner and does not get hurt, maybe the Yankees dont sign Soriano or trade Joba for Soria or something…

              Maybe the money isnt there to get Texieria in 2009 and today we are talking about 10 years of Pujols or 6 years of Prince.

              Maybe without Granderson, we dont trade for Javy with Johan on the payroll and Melky is still on this team.

              we could play maybe all day long, but alas here we are.

  • Favrest

    If he’s healthy, he’s a brilliant pitcher. I’d take him in a NY minute. Something to keep an eye on.

    • whozat

      so…the facts that he had surgery for awful shoulder problems, hasn’t been on a mound in a year and a half, and that the doctors are publicly saying that there’s every possibility that he’ll never be the same don’t make you think that “if he’s healthy” is unrealistic? That’s like saying “if he was available for a reasonable prospect package, I think the Yanks should trade for Felix Hernandez.” Yes, in that extremely unlikely circumstance, you’re right…but it’s pointless to say it.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        He might not even be ready for opening day.

      • Favrest

        Brilliant response. It didn’t require a response. But so brilliant.

        • Joe Pawlikowski

          Please remove the link from your name.

    • 27 Rings

      That’s a big “if”, but if he comes out in April throwing 87-89 mph and the Mets are willing to eat 25-30 million, that’s not a bad upgrade for the middle of the rotation. With his change and savvy Johan is a guy who could get by with less velocity. At that rate, he’d certainly be better than Burnett and Hughes and the Yankees have the second tier arms to help restock the Mets’ farm.

  • leftylarry

    Hows this for a crazy play, have the Mets pick up a big portion, or, take on the entire financial burden and have the Mets give us 2 of their very top prospects and Johan, just to get out from under the burden.They’re franchise would be better off.
    I believe the commissioner would allow it.
    Probably as good a bet as many others Yankees have made in the past.
    Johan will probably make it back, his change is his weapon and if he does, he’s the perfect compliment..

    • mbonzo

      I think you missed something in your comment, your scenario has the Mets giving Johan to the Yankees for free along with 2 top prospects.

    • Mike Axisa

      If you’re willing to take Johan and absorb the $50M+ left on his contract, just sign Edwin Jackson instead.

    • Plank

      I doubt the Selig would allow ownership to sell their future success so they can try to hold on financially for one more year before they decide/must sell the team.

      They’ve already slashed payroll and had the fans leave in droves. I don’t think they can get away with much more.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      I’m not sure I’d say he probably makes it back, but I guess it depends where you define “back.” He won’t be as good as he was; he’s older and coming off some serious surgery. I’d imagine he’ll still get Major League hitters out, but will he be worth the dollars coming to him? Was he ever?

      • 27 Rings

        Moose was worth 5.3 fWAR averaging 87 mph on his fastball in his last season. Because Santana has (had) a great change, I wouldn’t bet against him if he can throw just as “hard”.

        • Reggie C.


          i’ve got friends who are Mets fans , so in the interests of keeping friendships going (much easier when both ny area teams are competitive winners), i want to see Johan Santana make a successful comeback. Its got to be an easier road when there’s no DH to face.

        • KL

          Moose didn’t have this surgery. It is more than the loss of velocity. It is the loss of strength and constant setbacks. You are never the same and you fatigue much quicker.

          There is a reason very few come back from it and all are never the same.

    • Sean C

      He will most likely never be as elite as he was ever again. Some of his seasons were the best we’ve had in recent memories. That ship sailed with his shoulder.

    • Sean C

      How do the Mets get out of the “burden” when they are eating most, if not all, of his contract?

  • forensic

    I still would’ve made the trade. There’s no guarantee that he would’ve gotten hurt with potentially different usage patterns and needs by the franchise.

    Of course, if they skipped that trade, then it goes to them not making the Halladay trade, which I also would’ve made in a second.

    • MannyGeee

      I dont think I disagree, but even coming off those phenominal seasons I thought 7 years was just a disaster in the making.

      I still probably would have made that trade but would have tried to make it a 5/$110M deal instead.

    • Rich in NJ

      There was a reason he was throwing less sliders in the second half of his last season with the Twins and why his velo was dropping, and the trade almost certainly would have precluded signing CC.

      • Steve (different one)

        Rich is right, there were some red flags. He stopped throwing sliders in the second half, and his physical for the mets showed a lot of wear.

    • Steve (different one)

      What was the “Halliday trade” that the Yankees could have made?

      • 27 Rings
        • Steve (different one)

          His article doesn’t specify that there was a trade the Yankees could have made. It speculates that the package would be Joba/Hughes and Montero/

          • 27 Rings

            That’s about as good as you’re going to get. Then compare the package the Jays got against that one. But if the Yankees had decided to move Hughes+Joba, a) they could have had Halladay; b) They would have had Haren; c) only one would have gotten Oswalt. They hugged their prospects too long and now they have two middle relievers bound for free agency.

  • mustang

    If they trade for Santana:
    Would they get CC? If they had CC and Santana definitely no AJ and probably no Tex.
    With no Granderson would they have kept Jackson or maybe gone after Crawford?

    Way too many question, but the facts that they got a ring, a reasonably priced all-star centerfielder, and a good starter/reliever in Hughes makes not making the trade the right call.

    • 27 Rings

      I was right with you until you called Hughes a good starter. If anything, the non-trades for Halladay, Haren, even Oswalt, and yes, Johan, show that you don’t hug your prospects when top-tier pitchers are on the move. Joba+Hughes for any of those guys would have been an absolute steal in hindsight. That Johan didn’t turn out well doesn’t change the equation. Now what do the Yankees have? A middle reiver coming back from TJ and a middle reliever who they (and you) still think is a starter.

      • Captain

        that Hughes and Joba didnt turn out well doesnt change the equation like you said yourself. trading prospects is a gamble. the Yankees wanted to keep their guys and they have two young, team controlled pitchers who can contribute on the ML level and whose salaries have not stopped them from making moves. trading them for Johan, Haren, Halladay or Oswalt and giving them big extension would be the opposite of that.

        • 27 Rings

          Not really. They’ve been wasting that money regardless (Vazquez, Marte, Feliciano, obviously Burnett). Haren and Oswalt didn’t require extensions. Halladay has obviously been worth his money. Sure, Joba and Hughes are under team control but that doesn’t mean they can’t both have complete zeros for years. Neither contributed much of anything in 2011, like Santana.

          If the choice is signing guys like Burnett and Jackson who are barely 10% better than the league or trading prospects for true top-tier guys, history has shown you trade the prospects so long as you’re truly getting a top-tier guy in return. Vazquez and Weaver weren’t that. Big Unit was even as he obviously didn’t work out.

      • mustang

        “you don’t hug your prospects when top-tier pitchers are on the move”

        Totally agree, but with both Johan and Halladay your talking about $$$ along with prospects which was a big factor on why they didn’t make these trades.

        • 27 Rings

          And yet, Halladay was clearly worth it (Haren and Oswalt too). While Johan wasn’t. All were clearly #1’s at the time. Amazing that Oswalt is still sitting out there for a one year deal. The guy had 146 ERA+ just one year ago. He ain’t finished. Haren was the big miss. The D’bags would have taken Joba+ and if the Yankees don’t make the silly trade for Vazquez they have Vizcaino to package with him.

          • mustang

            I agree on Oswalt. I know there are concerns about his back, but take into consideration the fact that he wouldn’t have to hit (which I would think is bad for his back) and the depth of the Yankees bullpen I see him as the best fit.

            • Joe Pawlikowski

              You know, that’s a good point. How much did having to swing the bat exacerbate his back issues?

              • mustang

                Can’t take the credit for the “batting hurting his back” theory another commenter came up with it, but thought it was a excellent point.

                • mustang

                  But I thought….

      • Steve (different one)

        Let me start by saying I agree with your overall premise in general. The Yankees obviously have held onto certain guys too long.


        I think you have to consider the timing of some of hese trades and just how difficult this job can be. Halliday was discussed at the 2009 deadline. On July 31, 2009, Joba had made 20 starts and had a 3.58 ERA. He was coming off 3 straight starts of 7/8/8 innings and 1/1/0 ER’s. It would have been VERY difficult to trade him at that point. Hughes was in the bullpen throwing gas.

        If you had asked me at that time if I would trade both of them for Halladay, I prob would have said no way. Time has proven how wrong I was, but it’s not like these guys were prospects in AA that the yanks refused to trade. They were in the majors, in the AL East, and they were excelling.

        Obviously it all fell apart after that, I am just saying at THAT exact moment things looked different.

        • mustang

          Very well said you nailed it.