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The Sports Daily > Firebrand AL
What could have been: A lament for Johan  Santana

While we’ve already technically experienced Opening Day, or at least Opening Morning from a half a world away, and the Nationals walked off a win in their new stadium to open the season stateside last night, “Opening Day” as we all know and love it was yesterday.
Until you have a full slate of games with number one starters going head to head in one game of one hundred and sixty two that somehow means so much more, you haven’t really had Opening Day. When I giddily welcomed baseball back into my life for the season and looked up and down the schedule of games today, two games piqued my interest more than the rest; Toronto @ New York and New York @ Florida.
Something about baseball season hadn’t really started until I could root against the Yankees as hard as I root for the Red Sox. But rain dashed my hopes of watching our rivals kick off their season. To tell the truth, I was more looking forward to the next New York game this Opening Day anyway.
At 4:05 pm in Florida, Johan Santana took the mound for the first time in a uniform other that the one representing the Twin Cities. As I kicked in MLB.tv to the Mets/Marlins broadcast, I couldn’t help but thinking “this could have been us.” Johan Santana could have been in Oakland this week preparing for his second start of the season for the Boston Red Sox.
As the game progressed and Santana looked exactly like the Johan Santana that we came to expect over the last few years, the thought haunted me more and more. I’ll come out and say it up front, I don’t begrudge the Red Sox for not aggressively pulling the trigger on the type of bounty in trade and subsequent contract Johan Santana would have commanded. I do however think that there is much more room to debate this move without the blinders much of Red Sox Nation put on as they clung to the young talent that would have been required and attempted to downplay Santana’s potential impact on this team.
Sometimes they say, the trades you almost make but don’t are as big as the trades that you do. Time will certainly tell whether Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, and another piece (Michael Bowden or Justin Masterson likely) represented a bucket of future stars and too much to let go of for Santana. Santana’s $20 million dollar per year contract also would likely have signified this year as the last for Manny Ramirez and his $20 million annual tag in a Red Sox uniform while potentially alienating the incumbent ace Josh Beckett with a perceived $10 million dollar slight in salary difference. But every inning that Santana cruised through caused me to forget all that and lament what never came to pass.
A rotation headlined by Beckett, Santana, and Daisuke Matsuzaka would have owned Bottom Line Rob’s best 1-2 punch list three different ways. With Tim Wakefield and either Buchholz or Lester (whoever remained after the trade) anchoring the rotation until Curt Schilling returns or Bartolo Colon reemerges, the staff would have been better and deeper.
For this year at least, I think a full year of Coco Crisp is very similar to a full year of Jacoby Ellsbury. The differences in their current ability are rooted more in perception and small sample size than current ability. Ellsbury’s future shines much brighter than Crisp’s, of that there is no doubt, but the difference between their production this year will be much more marginal.
So as Santana spun from the mound for the Mets, I was more and more willing to ignore the next three to four years of young good depth the players who would have had to been traded away represented along with the payroll flexibility they represent. I was also more and more willing to forget that Santana’s contract is exactly the type of contract that the Red Sox have attempted to avoid of late. I wished for nothing more than the opportunity to watch him pitch every fifth game in a Red Sox uniform.
As I write this, I still don’t know what the right move was. I look at the acquisition of Josh Beckett as precisely the example as to why getting proven stud pitching for young unrealized talent is a potential win for both sides. But I also realize that as great as Hanley Ramirez has played, there was no equivalent to the arms that would have left in the Santana deal. Anibal Sanchez may have a no hitter, but he may also go down in history alongside names like Bud Smith.
I do think that four years from today, we are more likely to look back on this potential trade and laud the front office for their patience as we watch Clay Buchholz or Jon Lester prepare to start Opening Day 2012 with Ellsbury leading off and Lowrie turning the deuce with Dustin Pedroia up the middle. I also know that we aren’t as strong a team this season as we would have been with #57 on the mound at Fenway Park.

Comments

  1. Woulda Coulda Shoulda. Yes Life as a Red Sox fan. Two World Series titles in 4 years.What is a Red Sox fan to do.

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  2. Not that I don't appreciate those two world series'… I never thought I'd see one… but the object of the game is to win the World Series/be competitive every year for a team in our market. Not doing that would be a sign of incompetence.

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  3. Well written, well balanced, as usual. The last three paragraphs summed it up for me.
    Let me extend this emotional and intellectual dichotomy: with Schilling down and Becket ailing, the sense of loss of Santana in Sox uniform is enhanced, while the continued presence of Buckholz, Lester, Masterson, Bowden is comforting.
    Further, the anxiety from injuries to Lugo, Drew (and Crisp) make keeping the other Santana trade targets of Ellsbury, Lowrie and Moss equally comforting.
    Add to that the anxiety/comfort factors from newly arrived Aardsma, Colon, this latest pitcher from Japan, Casey, Thurston, and Carter, all percolating in our system as we speak, and the cycle of uncertainty that is baseball continues. What a game.

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  4. Gerry…I totally agree…this was the odd occurance in baseball where there was no immediate right or wrong move. It all depends on how so many things so outside of anyone's control or ability to forecast play out.
    At some times, like in poker you make a play for or leave a hand just betting on pot odds. At the end of the day, I think this is what happened here. By the very slimmest of margins, standing pat plays out better slightly more often than bringing in the big fish. Now reality could go either way….and thats what this decision will be judged on.

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  5. Thank you for making this post, so I wouldn't go off-topic with the comment I came here to write. Santana destroys AAA + Hanley yesterday, and Cabrera smacks a homer for the Tigers. Meanwhile, Lester gets pounded by our league's AAA team in Japan.
    This was a criminally negligent move for a team that supposedly wants to win. Bringing on Mike Lowell but not Johan Santana is liable to get you committed.
    I really hope people are excited when Lester posts his Cy Young calibre 4.85 ERA this season with a 1.2:1 K/BB rate, while Ellsbury dominates ROTY voting with a .270/.310/.380.
    Kinda wish that top article was true.

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  6. I really hope we don't have updates on this non-trade every time Johan pitches, especially against the Marlins or Nationals. We'll never know what it would have taken to land Santana and we will never be able to truly gauge the trade when you consider other dominoes that may or may not have fallen with a Santana aquisition. Probably would have been a good move for this year, over the next 6 years, who knows.

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  7. @jaredk I certainly won't bring it up often…but I tend to write what is top of mind and hadn't really offered up my thoughts on the non-trade in this forum yet…I hear you on beleaguering the point though.

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  8. No worries Tim, you point out in your article that it may be four years or so before it can be fairly evaluated which is how I feel. I still have no idea what it woudl have taken…it is possible that they did not like Lester or Masterson and his two pitches as much as Sox fans, while Lowrie would have been a beautiful fit for them maybe they liked Gomez's ceiling more (while raw, he is two years younger with better speed a better frame to add muscle/power) then Ellsbury…who knows. It was his first start so I anticipated there being an article and/or numerous comments, just hoping every start Santana makes, or off-game Lester/Ellsbury/Lowrie/Masterson have does not lead to banging our heads against the wall.

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  9. Personally, I think the Sox made a huge mistake. For all intents and purposes, Ellsbury and Lester are spare parts for this team. If they could have had Santana for those two, plus maybe Lowrie who doesn't really have a place on the team, then they made a huge blunder. I know they 'won with these guys' last year, but that type of thinking is exactly the way to lose. Look at the 1998 Yankees. Best team of all time, or at least in the running, right? They didn't stand still after that season – they traded arguably their best pitcher in Wells (plus a couple of other guys) for Roger Clemens, one of the best pitchers in the game at the time. If they don't do that, do they win in 1999, or 2000? It would certainly have dampened their chances.
    Theo should have gone for the kill, if spare parts were the cost.

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  10. Sean O you're an idiot if you would rather have Duquette than Theo.
    But then we knew you were a whiny moron already.

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  11. I really don't care all that much about missing out on Santana. After seeing what M-Cab signed for, i'm actually extremely disappointed in them not trading for him. He is going to be a Top 3 player over the next 5-8 years and the Tigers got him for 8 years at 20 M, that is a deal. I would rather M-Cab and a pitcher like Lohse or Jennings than Lester and Lowell for this season and the next 5.

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