- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
The Minnesota Twins either are or are not shopping Johan Santana, which is of course a rather big deal in baseball, but in fantasy, not so much. I think he's the best pitcher in fantasy, with a track record of success and health to prove it, and unless he ends up in an extreme pitcher's park, which Yankee Stadium is not, I think he's safe to own and draft late in round one.
In fantasy, we get excited about the hot stove moves and all the talk, but in reality the top players are going to play and do their thing no matter what. There are normally some repercussions to real-life trades and signings, of course, and we react to those, but Santana is still Santana, just like Mark Teixeira didn't stop hitting when he switched leagues and Alfonso Soriano remains darn good despite switching positions and teams.
Whether it's in blogs, columns or chats, on talk radio or just at your office water cooler, everyone thinks they know what their favorite team should part with to get a great player. I particularly enjoy the New York call-in shows. Invariably there will be a Vinny in the Bronx who doesn't understand why the Mets don't merely send Ruben Gotay and Scott Schoeneweis to the Twins for Santana. Yeah, c'mon Mets, why don't you make that deal?!? The Twins need a lefty reliever! What's the matter with you?
While everyone and their mailman is sending in questions about keepers, and I read 'em and aim to answer 'em, the fact is some of you do need to make deals like the Twins are discussing, for a variety of reasons. Maybe you're in a salary cap league, and Alex Rodriguez is just too costly to keep. You can get a $3 B.J. Upton in a trade, voila! Maybe you've got seven really great keepers, but can only keep five. What do you do then, start packaging a few for someone like A-Rod or Johan? Well, I certainly would. Then again, why not cut that expensive Vladimir Guerrero and just try to get him back?
If the Twins part with Santana in a trade, chances are something pretty decent is coming back to the Twin Cities. That's the part of these deals that really interests me. We all know how good John Smoltz has been for the better part of the past 20 years, but he was one of those minor leaguers dealt in a pennant race back in Aug. 1987 for Doyle Alexander. That's an extreme example, but look at the Twins themselves for a more recent one. Closer Joe Nathan could be on the block, since he's getting expensive. He's delivered 160 saves as arguably baseball's top closer in four years, and he was essentially a throw-in, along with two other kids (Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser) so the Giants could have one season of catcher A.J. Pierzynski. I doubt the Yankees would move Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain or someone of that ilk in trade, but whoever gets dealt, watch them. That's where sleepers come from.
In fantasy baseball, all teams are theoretically created equal. Maybe your team has lesser players, or is in worse shape when it comes to salaries or keepers, but this game is even. Real baseball is not, of course. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals will not be getting Johan Santana, I'm certain of it. They get Matt Morris and Gil Meche. The Yankees don't play with the $260 salary cap we do in auction leagues. Imagine if you're in an auction, you've just started, and one team stops its bidding at $35 on Albert Pujols because that's all they have for the entire team. That's how the Devil Rays feel!
Santana is my No. 1 pitcher for 2008, and Miguel Cabrera will be in my top-10, at the back end. That won't change if he calls South Florida home, or Anaheim, or wherever.
Let's update my overall top-25, so you can see where I place Santana, shall we?
1. Alex Rodriguez: Even with some statistical regression, you can't go wrong.
2. Hanley Ramirez: Power and speed, and someday manning center field.
3. Jose Reyes: Nobody steals more bases, and he could reach 15 homers.
4. David Wright: No, he's not moving to second base. He'll still run.
5. Albert Pujols: And that was an off-year. He can put up A-Rod numbers.
6. Jimmy Rollins: Take the power down a notch, but still, fantastic.
7. Alfonso Soriano: Split the difference from '06 and '07.
8. Chase Utley: Now there are two top second basemen, but still.
9. Miguel Cabrera: And it's not like Florida's park has been good to him.
10. Matt Holliday: Can't go wrong as long as he calls Coors home.
11. Carl Crawford: Extremely talented, even if this is the best he can do.
12. Vladimir Guerrero: It wouldn't hurt to have lineup protection.
13. Johan Santana: Could make the case to put him in round one.
14. Ryan Howard: No reason why he can't get back to 50 home runs.
15. Jake Peavy: Imagine the Cy Young race if Johan goes to NL!
16. Grady Sizemore: I don't think he goes 30/30, but he could.
17. David Ortiz: With the knee fixed, the extra power resumes.
19. Prince Fielder: I still think Ryan Howard has more upside though.
20. Brandon Phillips: Time for everyone to believe this is legit.
21. Ryan Braun: With the steals, could make the case for round one.
22. Carlos Beltran: It's not like he's too old to steal some bases.
23. Mark Teixeira: Capable of hitting anywhere, and could hit 40.
24. Lance Berkman: Go middle infield first, and he's still around later.
25. Carlos Lee: I admit he's a steal this late. Look at his stats, and Vlad's.
Who's missing? Who is misplaced? E-mail me and I'll post next Wednesday.