Change-UpNovember 21, 2007
Know Your Really, Really Available Players Under Contract: What are You Getting in Johan Santana?
By Patrick Sullivan

The Minnesota Twins have made it well known that for the right price, their superstar left-hander Johan Santana can be had. Santana, in possession of a no-trade clause, has made it known that he will not be going anywhere without a handsome extension in place, probably in the range of five or six seasons at $25 million annually or so.

Whether Santana is a good investment or not at that price depends on the team and situation. How deep are your pockets? Are you willing to commit that much money for that many years to a pitcher? Do you want to part with top-flight prospects for the mere opportunity to negotiate one of the largest deals for any pitcher in history?

Don't get me wrong, if any pitcher is worth it, it is Santana. From 2004 through 2007, Santana boasted the 2nd, 6th, 10th and 39th best single-seasons (minimum 200 IP) over that four year stretch in terms of ERA+. He threw about 1,370 innings over that time. Since his high and low innings pitched totals during said time frame constitute a pretty narrow band (233.7 in 2006, 219.0 in 2007), you can average the seasons with a reasonable measure of accuracy and come out with a figure of 158 ERA+. Since 2004, Johan Santana has been a 158 ERA+ pitcher, all the while pitching an average of 228 innings per season.

The bulk of the work analyzing Santana's future prospects point to his uncharacteristic bout with gopheritis in 2007. While his other figures fall right in line with his previous numbers, he gave up 33 round trippers last season, nine more than he had in any other. This figure is bound to revert back to career norms, and Santana figures to become one of the very best again, and not a mere top-10 or 15 starter. But things happen as you start to try and project further out and when it comes to pitchers, sometimes really weird things happen.

Santana will be 29 for the 2008 season, his ninth in the Bigs. Over the last fifty years, here is what the list of players who averaged 200 innings per year and posted at least a 158 ERA+ over their 29-34 seasons looks like:

Since 1957, 29-34 Seasons, 1,200 Innings with a 158 or better ERA+

                          IP    ERA+
Greg Maddux ('95-'00)    1,407  169

Let's take it a step further. In 2007 Santana posted a career worst ERA+ of 130. Let's generate the same list of pitchers, only we will ratchet the ERA+ figure down from Santana's average of 158 over the last four seasons to his worst total of 130 in 2007. So here it is; 200 innings per season and a 130 ERA+ (Santana's worst as a starter) from 29 to 34.

Since 1957, 29-34 Seasons, 1,200 Innings with a 130 or better ERA+

                          IP    ERA+
Greg Maddux ('95-'00)    1,407  169
Roger Clemens ('92-'97)  1,255  150
Bob Gibson ('65-'70)     1,667  146
Kevin Brown ('94-'99)    1,322  145
Curt Schilling ('96-'01) 1,353  138
Tom Glavine ('95-'00)    1,378  137
Jim Palmer ('75-'80)     1,632  131 
Gaylord Perry ('68-'73)  1,911  131 

All of this is to say that a team that is prepared to part with top-tier prospects for the rights to guarantee Santana $150 miilion better know what they are getting. If Santana pitches over the life of the deal the way he did in 2007, his worst campaign yet, would that be acceptable? Because just to do that he would have to have one of the best 29-34 stretches of the last fifty years.

Expectation management is a good thing. Santana's new team will be getting a damn good pitcher, probably the very best one in fact. But they are also getting someone who is more or less guaranteed not to replicate the lofty standard he has set over the last four seasons.


On the other hand, you could view it as getting a guy as good as the likes of Maddux, Glavine, Clemens, Perry, Palmer, etc.

The Braves signed Maddux for big money around this time in his career (little younger but similar service time), and that turned out okay. :-)

Put me in charge and I'm not parting with a bunch of prospects AND that much money for that many years. One or the other but not both.

Santana provided a ridiculously high return on investment over the past several years. He was acquired for next to nothing, made at or near the MLB minimum for a few years, and was signed to a very favorable (yet fair for the time) extension that bought out his arb-eligible seasons.

Johan's value as a player doesn't change due to his pending free agency but his value to a team inclusive of what he will cost is totally different than before. The Twins would be well served to get as much as they can for him before the season begins, especially if they are not going to sign him to another extension.

The Minnesota Twins have made it well known that for the right price, their superstar left-hander Johan Santana can be had.

No, they haven't. In fact, they have consistently denied it. Not to mention, that Santana has a complete no-trade agreement. But don't let that stop you from speculating.

Put me in charge and I'm not parting with a bunch of prospects AND that much money for that many years. One or the other but not both.

Then you probably aren't getting Santana. Because the Twins need to get a lot in return to justify giving up Santana for next season. And Santana is likely going to want a long-term contract in order to approve a trade. Not to mention, the team getting him will want a long-term agreement if they are going to give up a boatload of cheap, young talent that is ready produce for the Twins next year.

If the Twins decide they can't be competitive next year, you might see a fire sale that includes Santana, Nathan and maybe even some of their arbitration eligible guys. But that doesn't really look very likely. And short of that, it is hard to see how they deal Santana.

Pitchers and huge long-term contracts are usually a bad deal for teams that roll those dice.

TT - thanks for stopping by. For what it's worth, Santana is absolutely on the market. In fact, he is being shopped pretty aggressively.

Also, as addressed in the article, Santana will waive his no-trade for a long-term deal that meets his demands.

Is it fair to use Pedro as realistic near-worst-case comp for Santana? He was also at the top of the world at age 28, but $25 million/year for his 29-34 years would have been a disaster.

I don't see a problem with the length of the contract. If I'm a team owner and give prospects for Santana, I'd like to secure him for a long contract.
The problem is the prospects my team is losing.
I wouldn't do it.
Isn't it amazing what a great pitcher Maddux was until his 35 birthday? It compares favorably to everyone!
By the way, at age 35 Maddux was a better pitcher than Clemens at a similar age. Then, suddenly Clemens gets better, A LOT better. Mmmm... strange.

Performance similar to Pedro age 29-34 would be a "disaster"? I wouldn't say so. During that time, he spent about 1 full season on the DL, but that still leaves you with 5 full seasons worth of pitching during which he went 81-36 with around a 150 ERA+.

That kind of production is still probably worth the $20mil+ contract Sanatana is likely to get, even if it wouldn't quite meet the 1200 innings threshold discussed in the article.

TT - thanks for stopping by. For what it's worth, Santana is absolutely on the market. In fact, he is being shopped pretty aggressively.

Yeh, on internet blogs. But not according to the Twins. They have said repeatedly that they are trying to sign him long term.

Now the reality is that Santana may price himself beyond what the Twins are willing to pay. But he may do that for anyone who wants to trade for him as well.

Santana will waive his no-trade for a long-term deal that meets his demands

And that is pure speculation as well. Santana may very well agree to a trade without a contract extension if he thinks it would give him a better chance at a World Series ring. And, now that the Twins have clearly lost Hunter, the Twins chances to be competitive next year took are dimming.

Of course, that doesn't mean any team is willing to deal for Santana without a long-term agreement. At least not at the price of young players the Twins are likely to want in any deal.

1-4 in the post season. I'll take Beckett any day of the week.

I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiment that top prospects plus $25 million/year is too much to pay. But I think we also may be underestimating the direction of salaries. A lot of us are still thinking in baseball salary terms from the early part of this decade. However, the steep incline in negotiated salaries for average, and even bad, starting pitchers over the last year might be telling us that our overall reaction to salary levels may be understating future costs. It may turn out that Santana only has to be an above average pitcher, not a great pitcher, during the latter years of his contract in order to justify the fact, maybe the contract is a bargain in the latter years as salaries continue to escalate. Of course, all of that depends on the future direction of baseball revenues and margins. But, right now, the revenue picture for baseball looks very good. And if the market is working properly, bulging profits should result in continued sharp escalation in free agent salaries.


Far be it from me to jump on a bandwagon because of one expert's "informed speculation". But when they're all doing it, and passing it as something closer to fact that speculation, I tend to let my bets ride on them. I don't think there's a major baseball writer in the country right now who doesn't believe the Twins are shopping Santana aggressively. Nor do I think there's a GM that doesn't believe the same.


Beckett sure is a big game pitcher, but he also posted an ERA over 5.00 in 2006, has never been below 3.00 in a full season, and his career high IP mark is 204 (he's only cracked 200 twice). Santana's career worst ERA over a full season was this year's 3.33 mark, he's cracked 220 IP three times and 200 four times. Plus Beckett's career best ERA+ which was posted this year was 145, still below Santana's average over the last four seasons. In fact, this was the first time Beckett made more than 25 starts and had an ERA+ over Santana's four year low of 130. He also did it in 2003 in 23 starts (138 ERA+)

So unless your team is guaranteed a postseason spot on April 1, I take Santana.

Pedro getting $25M for the comparable seasons would have been bad, yes, but it's not really all that comparable.

A) 5 years ago, salaries were much lower.
B) Pedro had been spending 2 weeks on the DL in every season leading up to that.

$25M is a lot, but the question is, how much is it relative to the league and the money that the league pulls in?