The Mets can't change history, but they certainly made it easier for everyone to forget the unfortunate events of last September by agreeing to terms yesterday on a trade for Johan Santana, who could be atop the rotation as early as today if a contract extension can be completed that quickly.
After weeks of lagging behind the Yankees and Red Sox in a three-team race for Santana, the Mets got their opening this month when the American League East rivals seemed to lose interest. Despite the mounting pressure to improve his club, general manager Omar Minaya stood firm on a package of prospects that never included the one player the Twins most wanted: Jose Reyes.
Minnesota GM Bill Smith relented yesterday and accepted outfielder Carlos Gomez along with a trio of pitchers: Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra. The deal is contingent on the Mets and Santana hammering out a contract extension in 72 hours, and team officials will meet today with Santana's agent, Peter Greenberg.
That is the last obstacle for Santana to officially waive his no-trade clause. Each player also must pass a physical.
Santana, a pending free agent who is due $13.25 million this season, reportedly is seeking a seven-year deal worth $140 million. The Mets lost out on Barry Zito last winter when they refused to go beyond five years and the club's decision-makers initially said they had no plans to do so with Santana.
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But that policy may have to loosen now that the Mets are on the verge of locking up the two-time Cy Young Award winner, who turns 29 in March. Team officials were optimistic last night that a deal would be worked out.
Minaya would rather give Santana a higher annual salary for fewer years, but it's likely the Mets will compromise and give him a six-year deal with vesting options based on innings pitched. It should help that the Mets have a good relationship with Greenberg, who also represents Reyes and Endy Chavez.
The Mets were tight-lipped last night about the trade. But according to one person familiar with the situation, the talks heated up Monday night and Guerra was not added until yesterday. The Twins liked Gomez and Mulvey, and once Guerra - the club's top-rated pitching prospect - was included, the Mets told the Twins it was their "best and final" offer.
If Minnesota had balked again, the Mets were prepared to walk away from Santana, with one team official describing Plan B as Kyle Lohse and Plan C as Livan Hernandez. Fortunately for the Mets, it didn't come down to that.
Minaya did not address Santana specifically when asked about the three-time All-Star before last night's Baseball Assistance Team dinner at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.
"The bottom line is we're going to continue to look for ways to improve our club," Minaya said, "whether it's through the free-agent market or by talking to other clubs."
Was the GM optimistic he could get something done?
"I always try to be optimistic," Minaya said, "about how we're going in our efforts."
Getting Santana is a coup for the Mets, whose biggest offseason move had been trading Lastings Milledge to the Nationals for outfielder Ryan Church and catcher Brian Schneider. Otherwise, Minaya had done nothing to improve a starting rotation that left too much responsibility on the surgically repaired shoulder of Pedro Martinez.
But after flirting with the idea of signing Lohse or Hernandez over the weekend, the Mets remained patient as Santana became more restless. With less than three weeks until spring training, Minaya used the ticking clock to his advantage. For his Twins counterpart, Bill Smith, it was more like a time bomb.
With just a handful of teams able to pay Santana, and only three willing to do so, the Twins' GM was stuck with few options from the outset. He appeared to be on the brink of accepting a Red Sox package headlined by pitcher Jon Lester during the winter meetings in Nashville seven weeks ago, but opted to wait for an improved offer that never materialized. The Yankees were prepared to send Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera to Minnesota, but lost patience with Smith and withdrew earlier this month.
That left the Mets.
"If it's true," David Wright said yesterday, "you're getting arguably the best pitcher in the game."
Catch a rising star
The best players the Mets have traded for:
1. Mike Piazza - Acquired from Florida for Geoff Goetz, Preston Wilson and Ed Yarnall, May 22, 1998. Piazza now might be the most beloved position player all-time among Mets fans.
2. Gary Carter - Acquired from Montreal for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans, Dec. 10, 1984. The deal that put the 1980s Mets over the top.
3. Keith Hernandez - Acquired from St. Louis for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey, June 15, 1983. The deal that ensured there would be an '80s Mets in the first place.
4. Johan Santana - Acquired from Minnesota for Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey, not yet completed. Santana is the most accomplished pitcher the Mets have ever received in a trade.
5. Frank Viola - Acquired from Minnesota for Rick Aguilera, Tim Drummond, Jack Savage, Kevin Tapani and David West, July 31, 1989. Viola was pretty good for the Mets, but for only 2 1/2 seasons. Aguilera and Tapani helped the Twins win the 1991 World Series.
A scouting report
The four prospects the Mets surrendered for Johan Santana:
The closest to being major-league ready of the four prospects, Gomez was still slotted to begin the season at Triple-A New Orleans if he remained with the Mets. A natural centerfielder, the best thing ever said about Gomez, 22, was that he could beat Jose Reyes in a footrace. It was just a matter of the rest of his game catching up to his speed. Gomez batted .232 (29-for-125) in 58 games after being rushed to the Mets and wound up needing surgery to fix a fractured hand. He would benefit from more time in the minors.
The Mets had great expectations for Humber after selecting him third overall in the 2004 draft, but his stock plummeted when Tommy John surgery cut short his first professional season. Since then, Humber, 25, never seemed to get himself back on track. He has struggled with his curveball - the best pitch in his repertoire - and was nearly traded for Eric Gagne before the deadline last season. Humber went 11-9 with a 4.27 ERA for New Orleans, and he made his first major-league start in the middle of the Mets' September swoon, lasting only four innings against the Nationals.
A second-round pick in the 2006 draft, Mulvey was a quick study in the minors and figured to compete for a rotation spot this year before the trade. Mulvey, 22, was 11-10 with a 3.32 ERA for Double-A Binghamton, which earned him a spot in last season's Futures Game, and he won his only start for Triple-A New Orleans. Baseball America rated his slider as the best in the Mets' farm system.
Arguably the highest-rated player of this group - Baseball America labeled him the Mets' second-best prospect behind outfielder Fernando Martinez - Guerra also figures to be the furthest away from the majors. Though Guerra, who stands 6-5, has the makings of an intimidator on the mound, he's still only 18 and did not advance above Class-A St. Lucie last season. Guerra was 2-6 with a 4.01 ERA and struck out 66 in 89 2/3 innings. Like Mulvey, he was selected to play in the Futures Game last year.
- DAVID LENNON