Two years later, the ace-less Twins find a way

If somebody went back in time two years to Jan. 29, 2008, and told a Minnesota Twins fan that the four players the franchise got that day for trading pitcher Johan Santana had made little significant contribution to the team, a Doomsday scenario could likely have been predicted.

Hard to believe it was two years ago today that the Twins and Mets agreed to that deal.

The Twins gave up a lot, and quite frankly didn’t get much back. Yet somehow, the last two years the team has managed two one-game AL Central tiebreaker appearances, one of which led to a postseason berth. They did all of this without an ace, at least not one of Santana’s caliber.

Santana got a prolific payday. At the time, he was due to become a free agent after the 2008 season. But after agreeing to waive his no-trade clause and go to the Mets, Santana signed a six-year, $137.5 million contract. That seems like chump change when you consider what Joe Mauer’s rumored contract extension could be worth when and if he signs one.

Santana got the cash, while the Twins got Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra. And just two years later, only Guerra remains with the Twins.

Despite the lopsided returns, not much changed for the two sides involved.

Santana went to a franchise that, despite having more money to stay competitive, has made just three playoff appearances in the last 20 years. The Mets last season were 70-92. That was good for fourth place in the five-team NL East, and also good for a punchline by a few New York-based comedians. This, of course, has come at no fault of Santana, who has continued to pitch great.

For the Twins, their run of competitive play didn’t stop despite the departures of Santana and Torii Hunter – who signed with the Los Angeles Angels – that offseason. They’ve had just one losing season in the last nine years.

Gomez was as exciting as he was enigmatic. He was a pretty regular part of the Twins the last two years, and will be best remembered for scoring the winning run in last season’s one-game playoff victory against Detroit. He was an outstanding defensive presence, but a hair-pulling offensive one. He was shipped to Milwaukee this offseason for shortstop J.J. Hardy.

Humber and Mulvey made 13 and 2 relief appearances, respectively, during their Twins careers. Humber was designated for assignment last year, while Mulvey was the "player to be named later" that was sent to Arizona when the team acquired reliever Jon Rauch.

Guerra remains in the club’s organization, but the returns so far have not been impressive. Guerra reached Double-A last year, posting a 5.17 ERA im 12 games at New Britain. But at just 20 years old, he could still amount to something.

So in the end, the Twins have Hardy, Rauch and Guerra to show for the Santana trade, which doesn’t look quite as bad as Gomez, Humber, Mulvey and Guerra.

The Mauer Rules

It was just a couple years ago that the Minnesota Twins were in the same position with a superstar as they find themselves in now. Yet there is quite a big difference in the type of media coverage given to the Johan Santana saga in the winter of 2007-08 and the one presently happening with Joe Mauer.

Both superstars were entering the final year of their contracts, and both superstars were expected to be among the highest-paid players in the game when it was all said and done.

But with Santana, there were non-stop trade rumors from all sorts of sources involving all sorts of teams. That’s not the case this time around with Mauer.

I wonder why. I can’t imagine there’s less interest in trading for Mauer than there is trading for Santana.

Maybe the Twins have changed their way of thinking since the Santana trade. When the Twins determined a couple years ago that they were unwilling or unable to meet Santana’s contract demands, he was traded to the New York Mets for four prospects. Three of those four prospects are already out of the Twins system.

At the time, in the court of public opinion, that trade was universally panned. Looking back two years later, in reality it has been panned too.

Things appear to be different this time around with Mauer. Perhaps the Twins would rather take the two first-round picks they would get if Mauer were to walk away after the 2010 season. Or maybe they realize it would be a public-relations nightmare to trade the Minnesota boy prior to the opening of a new stadium.

Or maybe, just maybe, they’re really willing to pony up. Maybe they feel real confident a deal will get done.

In any case, the way the Twins are tackling the Mauer situation is far different from the way things were done with Santana.