Why would the Cubs just sit back and let the Mets steal the Pitcher of the Decade, a 28-year-old stud who likely has six or seven more years of greatness remaining in his magical left arm? It's a silly question with an obvious answer: The Cubs simply don't need Johan Santana!
Why would the Cubs just sit back and let the Mets steal the Pitcher of the Decade, a 28-year-old stud who likely has six or seven more years of greatness remaining in his magical left arm? It's a silly question with an obvious answer: The Cubs simply don't need Johan Santana! After all, they've already switched Ryan Dempster from reliever to starter. Plus, they've signed Jon Lieber. And with perfectly straight faces, they say they haven't given up on Jason Marquis. So, as you can see, the Mighty Cubbies had absolutely no room in their rotation for a two-time Cy Young Award winner. I know what you're thinking: "But nobody ever mentioned the possibility of a Cubs-Twins trade." Of course not! Why would the Cubs even think about parting with sure-thing prospects such as Felix Pie, Sean Gallagher, Donald Veal and Sean Marshall? It's not as if the team has gone 100 years without winning the World Series or anything. See, it's all about building for the future. If the Cubs can keep doing that, they just might win the pennant sometime in the next century. Or the century after that. And once you're in the World Series, anything can happen! Twins GM Bill Smith originally tried to get the Yankees and Red Sox into a bidding war over Santana, who rejected Minnesota's final offer and is entering the final year of his contract. As strategies go, it was sound ... but Smith waited too long and both clubs pulled their top youngsters out of any potential deals. Not wanting to accept a substandard offer from either AL superpower, Smith decided he at least should get Santana out of the league. He found a willing partner in Mets GM Omar Minaya, who must have had heart palpitations when he realized he could do this without giving up any current big-league players or any slam-dunk prospects. Because no other NL club - including the Cubs - apparently even flirted with Minnesota, Smith had little choice but to trade Johan Santana for what Baseball America is calling "two high-reward but also high-risk prospects and two back-of-the-rotation starters." Jeesh! The Cubs could have offered that much, right? Well, sure, but then they would have had to pay Santana, too. The Twins-Mets deal won't be finalized until the Mets and Santana work out a long-term extension in a neighborhood north of $20 million per year. That neighborhood's a tad too rich for Chicago National League Ball Club Inc., which is on the auction block and already is feeling sheepish about sticking the next owner with Alfonso Soriano's contract. The Cubs have one of baseball's five highest payrolls, so I'm not calling them cheap. As usual, though, they aren't allocating their resources advantageously. For example, take away the $7 million they bestowed upon the awful Marquis and the $3.5 million they threw at the ancient Lieber, and the Cubs would be about halfway to Santana's first-year salary. Make a few more financially prudent personnel moves ... fleece the fans/enablers/lemmings by jacking ticket prices from ridiculous to stratospheric ... charge me and my colleagues another buck or two for meals in the media lunchroom ... Ta da! Instant difference-making superstar! Santana would have taken pressure off Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Rich Hill. As a bonus, only one retread right-hander would have weighed down the end of the rotation; better yet, the Cubs could have traded Dempster and his $5.5 million salary while letting kids battle for the No. 5 spot. NL pennant favorites, just like that. The Cubs love calling Zambrano their "ace." He's good, but compared to Santana, Cra-Z is just another card in the deck. He knows it, too, telling me last year that if the Cubs were to make just one move, "I hope it's getting Johan." The past four seasons, Santana won 70 percent of his decisions, struck out five batters for every walk he issued, allowed fewer than one baserunner per inning and recorded an ERA (2.89) a remarkable 1.60 lower than the AL norm. And he did it all without punching out his catcher. Go figure. Expect Santana to bring his impossibly effective changeup and deceptively quick fastball to the inferior NL, where he'll dominate well into the next decade. So add the Mets to the list of teams better than the Cubs. And add another year to the Cubs' championship-free tally. But hey, at least the Cubs still have Felix Pie and Donald Veal. For the future, you know? Mike Nadel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at www.thebaldesttruth.com.