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Joe Sheehan (subscribers only) points out that it would be crazy for the Twins to trade Johan Santana for young pitching that hasn’t proven it can handle a major league workload — something it had plenty of — as opposed to major league hitters, which they lack at several positions. (At the very least, if they deal with the Yankees they should hold out for Cano, not Cabrera, who has well-below-average range for a CF and doesn’t hit enough to play the corners.) They don’t seem to consider that because, as Sheehan correctly points out, “no matter what a team actually needs, its GM always thinks it need pitching. ” But, of course, there’s the even better option:

Of course, there’s another option here, one that hasn’t been brought up very often. By virtue of having very few veteran players, the Twins have a low payroll, and one that is unlikely to rise much in the next few years given all of that cost-controlled pitching. They’re also moving into a new ballpark in 2009, one that should provide a larger-than usual boost in revenue as they get out from under a brutal lease at the Metrodome. Like all teams, the Twins have seen a jump in central-fund revenue, and even in the new park, they may find themselves the recipient of revenue-sharing money.

Taking that into consideration, the Twins should sign Johan Santana themselves. Even setting a new pitching standard of $20 million a year, or $22 million a year, is more than affordable for a team that will be able to support a payroll approaching $100 million and won’t come close to that figure without Santana around. The key thing we know about the free agent market is that the very best players in baseball are the ones on which you should spend your money. It’s infinitely better to overpay a bit—if it’s even overpaying—for Johan Santana than it is to try and replace his performance in the market, or through development.

Like Alex Rodriguez in 2000, like Barry Bonds in 1992, like Greg Maddux that same winter, Johan Santana is an elite talent irreplaceable through normal means, and as durable as any pitcher can be in modern baseball. If the standard in six years and $140 million, or seven and $155 million, as ridiculous as those figures sound, they may be well worth it if the alternative is spending two-thirds of that over that same period for half the performance.

Trading Santana for 50 cents on the dollar at best isn’t just a bad trade; it’s an outrage. This isn’t a baseball move, like letting Hunter walk (which was smart; he wasn’t worth the money.) They’re not going to use the money to sign a better player. And remember that the Twins, owned by one of the richest people in the country, are getting a large and absolutely indefensible taxpayer subsidy for the new stadium that will increase their revenues. I’m going to guess that the need to be able to pay their talent came up quite a bit when defending this regressive distribution of state revenues. And yet, when it comes to retaining the best pitcher in the game, Pohlad won’t risk any of his mutli-billion dollar fortune; after all, he can just take revenue-sharing money from teams that actually invest in their product along with a nice fat check from the state and make a safe profit instead. It’s a disgrace.

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