Mackey: Turns out, the Twins were right about Carlos Gomez... Kind of
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The Minnesota Twins appeared to have the perfect scenario brewing at the 2007 winter meetings.
Faced with the inevitable departure of perhaps the best starting pitcher in franchise history, Johan Santana, a front office led by new general manager Bill Smith had not one but two of MLB's richest franchises, the Red sox and Yankees, bidding against each other.
People with knowledge of those trade discussions have said the Red Sox were dangling various combinations of Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, Justin Masterson, Jed Lowrie and Coco Crisp while the Yankees dangled Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and others.
"I don't want to continue this dog-and-pony show, playing us against the Red Sox," Hank Steinbrenner said at the time. "I'm not going to participate in that. This is our best offer. Minnesota knows it's our best offer. Everybody knows it is. ... We need to get this done. If we don't, I certainly won't be upset about keeping Hughes and Cabrera. I definitely won't. I don't think Minnesota wants to be stuck negotiating with just one team."
This was in early December of 2007. But the Twins wanted to squeeze more juice out of the orange, so Smith sat back and waited. And waited some more. The Red Sox and Yankees didn't beef up their offers, and the Twins wound up holding onto Santana until late January when the Mets came forward with a package centered around Carlos Gomez.
It's funny, because we generally consider the Santana trade to be a complete failure by the Twins front office - an epic swing-and-a-miss that helped pave the way for this current string of 95-loss seasons. Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra offered nothing of value to the major league team (Guerra is still in the organization), and Gomez showed only flashes of unmolded, untamed, raw talent in his two years here.
Well, as it turned out, the Twins were 100% right about Gomez's talent. The centerpiece of the Santana trade is now one of the best players in baseball. It just took him about five years to figure it out - for another team.
As Buster Olney documented last year, Gomez -- sick of abiding by the notion that he should hit line drives and groundballs like most speedsters do -- walked into his manager's office at the end of the 2011 season and declared he wanted to try a different approach at the plate.
In 2012, Gomez broke out for 19 home runs, 37 stolen bases and a .260/.305/.463 batting line in just 452 plate appearances. He bumped those numbers to .284/.338/.506 with 24 homers and 40 stolen bases in 2013. And so far this year he is hitting a ridiculous .312/.388/.566 with 11 homers and 11 stolen bases. Gomez is also on pace to flirt with 100 RBIs and 100 runs - two milestones he hasn't come close to reaching at age 28.
It's not hyperbole to suggest Gomez has developed into one of baseball's top 10 overall players when also accounting for his elite defense at a premium position, centerfield.
In fact, here are the top 10 position players in baseball since the beginning of the 2012 season according to Wins Above Replacement:
1. Mike Trout (23.9 WAR)
2. Andrew McCutchen (16.9)
3. Miguel Cabrera (16.6)
4. Robinson Cano (14.8)
5. David Wright (14.3)
6. Yadier Molina (13.5)
7. Buster Posey (13.4)
8. Carlos Gomez (13.3)
9. Josh Donaldson (12.8)
10. Joey Votto (12.7)
Joe Mauer comes in at 22nd (10.4 WAR).
The list includes mostly players who play high-caliber defense at a premium position (CF, C, 3B) and guys who offer multiple tools offensively. Gomez certainly fits right in.
Why didn't he have this epiphany in his two years with the Twins or during his first two mediocre years with the Brewers?
Would some extra Triple-A seasoning have helped Gomez click earlier? It has always been my contention the Twins did Gomez a major disservice by not sending him down to Rochester for a couple months to learn better plate discipline. But unless he would have had the maturity and wherewithal to demand a change in philosophy at age 22 like he did at age 26 in Milwaukee - or unless someone with the Twins would have had this epiphany - it might not have mattered.
Gomez is set to earn $7 million this year, $8 million in 2015 and $9 million in 2016 - an extremely team-friendly contract for the production Gomez provides.
If things had played out differently, could you imagine a 2015 Twins outfield of Gomez, Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks with Oswaldo Arcia as the DH? It's possible no fly balls would have met grass all season.