MINNEAPOLIS -- The Rule 5 Draft is an afterthought for many teams at the Winter Meetings, but to former general manager Terry Ryan, it was seen as a way for the budget-conscious Twins to cheaply acquire young talent.
Ryan made it a point for the scouting staff to take the Rule 5 Draft seriously every year, and it paid off with one of the best acquisitions in Winter Meetings history when the Twins acquired future two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana in the 1999 Rule 5 Draft from the Astros. MLB.com is identifying the best move made by each club at the Winter Meetings, and getting Santana in the Rule 5 Draft is easily the Twins' best.
"I'd really love to revise history and tell you we thought he was going to be the greatest pitcher in Twins history," said Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff, who played an important process in the decision as the scouting director at the time. "But it's still great scouting in our mind. We identified the best guy."
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The Twins had the No. 1 overall Rule 5 selection that year, so it was a point of emphasis that summer to find the top candidates among players who might be left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft. After countless hours of scouting and vetting candidates, the Twins headed to the Winter Meetings in Anaheim that year with a short list of names that included Santana and right-hander Jared Camp.
Camp was considered the safer bet, having posted a 2.81 ERA with 91 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings across three levels, including Triple-A. Santana, meanwhile, had posted a 4.66 ERA with 150 strikeouts in 160 1/3 innings at Class A Michigan and was considered less Major League-ready, which is a concern because Rule 5 picks must stay on the Major League roster the entire season.
But scouts Jose Marzan and Billy Milos campaigned for Santana, citing his higher potential, live left arm and youth. At 20, he was four years younger than Camp.
"Billy Milos, in particular, pounded the table and said this guy is going to be pretty good," Radcliff said. "At the time, people thought it was risky because he was in [Class A], and you want guys higher in the system who have been around longer and have a better chance to stick. But our guys liked him."
The Twins had found their guy, but the Marlins called shortly before the Draft, looking to trade up from the No. 2 spot for $50,000. The Twins agreed, but the two clubs didn't exchange names until right before the Draft, with the Twins taking Camp for the Marlins and the Marlins selecting Santana for Minnesota and paying half of the cost of the selection.
The rest is history. Camp never reached the big leagues, and Santana went on to become one of the best pitchers in the Majors. Santana had a 6.49 ERA as a 21-year-old rookie then spent time in the Minors the next season to refine his changeup under Bobby Cuellar before becoming an ace by 2003 and winning AL Cy Young Awards in '04 and '06. The 12-year-veteran and four-time All-Star is now on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.
"We just went through our normal process," Radcliff said. "He was just a viable candidate. We didn't predict him to be a Hall of Fame candidate or a Cy Young Award winner. But we got our guy, and we got money."