You know, even before this Johan Santana trade, I was totally disabused of the notion the Mets are trying to “catch” the Phillies. Yes, those dogged Phillies won National League East. But with 89 wins… well, I’m not saying hand that title back. I am not saying that it is unfair or somehow ill-gotten. But I also realize that this division championship was more about the paucity of the choking opposition, than any really true merit in the Phillies club.
The Mets were the Vegas favorite to win NL East- even before this trade. So, I disagree this was some sort of trade to balance the power in NL East. Frankly, New York ain’t in any rebuilding mode- they are in a win-now mode.
Consequently, the Mets acquisition of Johann Santana is something they had to do, because it makes their team immediately a lot better. He is one of a small handful of players that makes a team eight-to-ten games better. One can overthink these things, right? The Mets added a super pitcher, without subtracting any major league talent. Jayson Stark does his normally astute analysis here. But again, while the lack of having an immediate roster move from AAA is a potential problem for the Mets, the lack of said move isn’t costing them ten games.
That being said… it is a gamble. This simply isn’t a total slam dunk for the Mets- in the sense that while this is a good trade for 2008, it is organizationally problematic at some level.
Frankly, I’m so invested in the theory that “the road to ruin in baseball is throwing big dollars and multiple years to thirty-something pitchers with increasing wear whose value is sure to decline” to back up now. From a “players on the field” standpoint, Santana is a lay-up. But the Mets have undoubtedly taken a lot of organizational flexibility away. This is essentially a free agent contract Santana is getting- and the thing about free agency is that you pay the top dollar per win generated. No one else with your capacity to pay (here- say eight or so other clubs), almost by definition, thinks the guy is worth more. A free agent move is a sign of weakness- not strength. You are paying up the most- because you have a big problem.
So there is potential for substantial opportunity cost here. If Santana’s deal is 7 years, $150 million… well, what really is the over/under on Johann’s win total over that time span? One hundred wins? It is an interesting question; I know I’d take the under at 90. And figure Kyle Kendrick’s o/u for the next 7 years is fifty wins (at like $120M less).
The opportunity cost is mitigated; one big institutional advantage the Mets have over the Phillies is the ability to routinely spend $20-40M more per campaign on talent. That surplus now goes largely to Santana- and what figures to be a plus now will hopefully be an aging albatross in four years. So the trade on paper is an overwhelming win for the Mets- but perhaps in reality notsomuch. I still think the Mets come out ahead (I would have done it)- but more narrowly than most think now.