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Mets pay reasonable price to land star

Mets pay reasonable price

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The New York Mets have won the Johan Santana sweepstakes. And in the process they also might have won the 2008 National League East.

Is that suggestion too dramatic? No. The depth of the Mets' pitching, given the injury histories of two of their starting pitchers, was one of the biggest question marks for this team. With the addition of Santana, that concern has not only been answered; it has been overwhelmed.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner is not just an upgrade. He is a great leap forward. He is a mixture of power and precision on the mound. He has been healthy. He will be only 29 when the 2008 season starts. And he is a lefty. He is a truly rare commodity, not only a tremendous plus for the immediate future, but a long-term value.

In a deal that was reached Tuesday with the Minnesota Twins, pending the Mets and Santana reaching agreement on a contract extension and Santana passing a physical, the Mets essentially gave up four prospects -- an outfielder and three pitchers. It is a high price, but for Santana, it is a very reasonable price.

When an established star is traded for prospects, the team getting the star always looks better in the deal's first glance. Beyond that, what is striking here is the notion that the Twins might have left earlier, better deals from the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees on the table.

Outfielder Carlos Gomez, 22, a multi-talented player who has already had some Major League exposure, is the best of the deal for the Twins. He has a rare combination of speed and power and is probably ready to be an immediate contributor, particularly in light of Torii Hunter's departure.

Beyond that, the Twins received pitchers Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey. Humber, 25, is the most prominent at the moment, although all three are regarded as legitimate prospects. Humber was the Mets' first-round Draft choice in 2004. He was sidetracked by Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2005, but he came back to be regarded as one of the Mets' top prospects, although he was not particularly impressive in a brief stint in the Majors last season.

It is always possible, given the Twins' remarkable record for cultivating young talent, that Guerra and Mulvey will rise out of the Minors and become nothing less than stars in Minnesota. But the Twins did not get the other coveted young outfield prospect that they had originally targeted in this deal, 19-year-old Fernando Martinez.

In offers dating back to the Winter Meetings, the Twins had the possibility of obtaining from the Red Sox a package including the splendid young outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, or a package headed by the talented young lefty, Jon Lester. The deal didn't happen because the Twins hoped for both Ellsbury and Lester.

Willis, Cabrera

They also had an offer from the Yankees that reportedly would have included one of the Yanks' top three young pitchers and outfielder Melky Cabrera. This deal didn't develop because the Twins wanted two of the three top pitching prospects.

It appears at first glance that the Twins might have been better off with one of those earlier offers, particularly the offer that would have resulted in acquiring Ellsbury, a unique talent. But again, the Twins have won four division titles in the last six years, largely as a result of correctly identifying and diligently developing young talent.

The deal appears one-sided now, but this trade is a long-term proposition for the Twins. Perhaps years from now they will be regarded as the winners in this trade. But for the moment, the Mets have made the National League's biggest acquisition of the winter.

They have taken a rotation with question marks and placed an exclamation point at the top of it. Johan Santana is one of the best pitchers in the game, and he could have an impact on the entire pitching staff. If his usual form is followed, the innings he will pitch will take some of the burden off the Mets' bullpen, another area that was not trouble-proof.

Pitchers of Johan Santana's ability don't become available every day. They sometimes don't become available on any days. The Mets have paid a substantial price in young talent for him and this doesn't even get into the long-term contract, possibly the largest for any pitcher, which they will now have to guarantee.

But with the acquisition of Johan Santana, the Mets have won the winter and given themselves a terrific chance in the next three seasons of 2008 as well.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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