There was a time when Santana was a steal

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If and when he officially becomes a Met, Johan Santana will cost the team four good young prospects and upward of $150 million. Seems about right for a two-time Cy Young Award winner and perhaps the best pitcher in baseball.

The lefthander's value was a tad lower nine short years ago. Nine years ago, you could have gotten Santana for Jared Camp.

Who's Jared Camp? Exactly. Read on.

Santana, as a 20-year-old in 1999 pitching for the Michigan Battle Cats of the Class-A Midwest League, went 8-8 with a 4.67 ERA. It was his third season in the Houston organization after he had signed as a 15-year-old out of Tovar, Venezuela. The Astros didn't think enough of Santana to protect him on their 40-man roster, and he was selected by the Marlins with the second pick of the 1999 Rule V draft.

Not that the Marlins wanted him, either. Florida was more interested in Camp, a righthanded pitcher; the Marlins arranged for the Twins to select Camp with the first pick and then trade him. The Marlins got the pitcher they wanted, and all it cost them was $25,000 - and Santana.

Not that Santana's value skyrocketed immediately. The Twins were compelled to keep him on their roster for the entire 2000 season or he would have to be offered back to Houston. So Santana, who had never pitched above Class A, spent the year as the last man on the Minnesota staff. He pitched in 30 games, starting five, and went 2-3 with a 6.79 ERA.

Greatness was not immediately apparent, and the Twins weren't sure what they had yet. Santana appeared in only 14 big-league games in 2001 and started the next season at Triple-A Edmonton, which might be one of the only places in baseball colder than Minneapolis in April.

But Edmonton proved to be a hot spot for Santana. He learned to improve his changeup under the tutelage of pitching coach Bobby Cuellar, whose own major-league resume consisted of four games with the Rangers in 1977.

"He always had the pitch," Cuellar, who also coached Pedro Martinez in the Montreal system, told Baseball Digest in 2004. "Johan had to learn to trust it. I told him, 'Don't be afraid to throw it at any time. Trust it, and it will do what it is supposed to do.' It's the hardest thing for a young pitcher to do."

Like Martinez, his prospective future teammate with the Mets, Santana became known for his changeup. It became his strikeout pitch in the minors - 75 in 49 innings at Edmonton - and earned him a trip back to the bigs.

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Still, Santana didn't become a full-time starter for the Twins until July 2003. Once he did, he quickly became Minnesota's ace. He won the AL Cy Young in 2004, when he went 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA and 265 strikeouts in 228 innings. He won it again in 2006, when he went 19-6, 2.77 with 245 strikeouts in 233 2/3 innings.

He slipped a bit last season, going 15-13, 3.33. He allowed an alarming 33 home runs, the most in the American League.

But Mets fans - and the team's executives - saw vintage Santana on June 19, when he pitched a four-hit, one-walk, 10-strikeout shutout at Shea Stadium during interleague play. It was the kind of dominant performance the Mets' rotation was unable to provide during a stunning September collapse, when they cried out for an ace.

Santana, who turns 29 in March, is 93-44 with a 3.22 ERA in eight major-league seasons.

Oh, and Jared Camp? He never made it to the majors.

The Santana file

Name: Johan Alexander Santana

Born: March 13, 1979, in Tovar, Venezuela

Ht. / wt.: 6-foot / 208

Age: 28

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Throws: Left

2007 salary: $13,000,000

Career highlights

2007: Career-high 17 strikeouts Aug. 19 vs. Texas ... Hitters swung and missed at 27.6 percent of his pitches, best in the AL ... Seven starts with 10 or more strikeouts ... Allowed AL-high 33 home runs ... Beat Mets, 9-0, at Shea on June 19 on a complete-game four-hitter.

2006: Unanimous winner of AL Cy Young Award ... Led AL in ERA, innings, strikeouts and starts, and tied Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang for most victories (19) ... Nine-game win streak (9-0, 2.51 ERA) July 15-Sept. 15.

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2005: Led majors in strikeouts (238) ... Led AL in strikeouts per nine innings (9.2) and batting average against (.210) ... 14 strikeouts vs. Cleveland on June 2.

2004: Unanimous winner of AL Cy Young Award ... Five consecutive 10-plus strikeout games June 20-July 11 ... 13 consecutive wins July 17-Sept. 24 ... Led AL in ERA (2.61), BAA (.192) and strikeouts (265).

2003: AL pitcher of the month in August (5-0, 1.07 ERA) ... Eight-game win streak Aug. 3-Sept. 20 ... Averaged 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings ... Led AL in winning percentage (12-3, .800).

2002: 13 strikeouts July 28 vs. Toronto ... .195 BAA with no homers vs. lefthanders ... Averaged 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

2001: On DL with partial tear of flexor muscle in left elbow June 12-Sept. 21 ... 0-0, 3.00 ERA in 11 relief appearances.

2000: Major-league debut April 3 vs. Tampa Bay ... First start April 7 at Kansas City ... First win June 6 at Houston.

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