Friday, February 18, 2011

Will Madoff mess force Santana trade?

Listening to Johan Santana on Mike Francesa’s show yesterday, I had a curious thought. Could the misfortune of the Mets force them to trade their ace pitcher? If so, would they consider trading him to their cross-town rivals?

The New York Yankees could have had Santana three years ago, but Brian Cashman ultimately balked at parting with his young talent, namely Phil Hughes. It was a wise move on Cashman’s part as Hughes is a burgeoning, and so far very inexpensive, star. But Cashman now needs another good starter to help Hughes and CC Sabathia carry the load. Santana would fit that bill completely.

Santana is recovering from rotator cuff surgery so that would give the Yankees a valid reason to be concerned. But his rehabilitation seems to be going well and he could be back in July, in plenty of time to help the Yankees through what will be a difficult stretch run. When he is healthy, there is no questioning his abilities as the two-time Cy Young winner has won nearly twice as many games as he has lost over his career with a solid 3.10 ERA.

Santana is known as a team leader with the Mets, but the Yankees should also question his character. He was accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit last year. He wasn’t charged with a crime, but that doesn’t mean he is innocent. It just means that there wasn’t enough proof for criminal charges. Sure, the lawsuit could be a shakedown, but I have trouble mustering much sympathy for athletes who put themselves in that position, especially a married one with children.

But would the Mets even consider trading Santana to the Yankees (or another team) to free up some cash? Santana has three years and $72 million left on his current deal, not counting a $5.5 million buyout. The Wilpons insist the Madoff troubles will not keep them from fielding a competitive team. But they also vowed the fraud wouldn’t affect their baseball team at all, yet here they are preparing to sell a chunk of it to deal with the fallout. If Mets officials are forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to settle the lawsuit filed by the trustee for Madoff’s victims, it is reasonable to think they may have to start getting rid of their more talented and expensive players such as Santana and Jose Reyes while they can get a decent return (young minor-league studs who cost nothing).

But I seriously doubt it would happen. Mets fans would go nuts if their beloved ace was traded to the Yankees. The Madoff mess and continuing dark cloud is bad enough, but Santana in a Yankees uniform could drive all but the die-hard Mets fans out of Citi Field for good. It seems far-fetched, but stranger things have happened in baseball, including an owner being accused of complicity in a multi-billion fraud.

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