|JOHAN SANTANA Seeking megadeal|
There was a moment in December when the Red Sox thought they were close to consummating a deal for Twins lefthander Johan Santana, the two-time Cy Young Award winner who with Josh Beckett would have formed a potentially historic 1-2 combination at the top of their pitching rotation.
Thus, they had a mixed reaction yesterday to the news that the Twins had elected to trade Santana to the New York Mets for four prospects. The deal is contingent on Santana passing a physical, and the Mets striking a deal on a contract extension within a 72-hour period that ends Friday at 5 p.m., though that deadline could be extended.
"If true, it isn't the worst outcome for the Red Sox," Sox chairman Tom Werner said. "We get to hold onto our deep farm system, and Santana ends up pitching in the other league."
Werner did not mention it specifically, but the Sox are not unhappy that Santana is not going to the Yankees, who may initially have made the best offer - top pitching prospect Phil Hughes and outfielder Melky Cabrera - but pulled that from the table by the end of the process, general manager Brian Cashman saying he was committed to the team's youth.
The Sox' offers did not differ dramatically from those they presented at the outset: One package featured pitcher Jon Lester, the other center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. The Sox refused to include both players in the deal, according to several officials with direct knowledge of the talks, and in the end felt their offers trumped that of the Mets, though one club official said yesterday he anticipated that the Twins would take New York's.
But there was considerable doubt within Red Sox executive offices that even if they'd struck a deal, they would have been able to sign Santana, who turned down a four-year, $80 million extension from the Twins and reportedly is seeking a six-year deal for as much as $25 million annually "I don't necessarily think it's a done deal for the Mets, either," one Sox official said yesterday, "if that's what Santana really wants."
But the Mets, who suffered a late September collapse last season, lost 300-game winner Tom Glavine in the offseason, and are moving into a new ballpark in 2009, had the greatest need for Santana, who turns 29 in March.
The Sox, who last winter gave Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka a six-year deal but cited unique circumstances for doing so, almost certainly would not have offered Santana as many years, or would have proposed a contract well short of $25 million in annual average value. Their strategy, according to sources familiar with their thinking, included a belief that Santana would have accepted less to pitch for a potential perennial World Series contender.
While Sox players, including Curt Schilling and Mike Lowell, voiced support for acquiring Santana, a vocal portion of the fan base was less enthusiastic, expressing alarm at the prospect of losing either Lester, who pitched the clinching game of the 2007 World Series after conquering cancer, or Ellsbury, whose exciting play in the season's last month made him a favorite.
"I guess I'm a little bit relieved he's not coming to the Red Sox," Lester said. "Obviously, it would have been nice to have him here, but at the same time, I didn't want to go that way [Minnesota], and I didn't need another roadblock in my way. It's nice to see him go to a different team in a different league."
While the Sox' offers included major league-ready players in Ellsbury, Lester, and Coco Crisp - the outfielder who would have been packaged with Lester - new Twins GM Bill Smith chose the promise exhibited by the four prospects the Mets are giving up: center fielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra, and Kevin Mulvey.
Those players ranked as the Mets' Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 7 prospects, according to Baseball America. The Mets succeeded in keeping their top prospect, outfielder Fernando Martinez.
"A lot of teams just weren't willing to give up their best prospects, then have to try to sign this guy," one American League executive said. "Imagine if the Twins had been trying to move Santana and he was already under contract for three years at $15 million. They could have asked for the moon and gotten it."
Either Ellsbury or Crisp would have replaced Torii Hunter, who signed with the Angels as a free agent, as Minnesota's center fielder. Now they enter spring training competing for the Sox' center field job, with Ellsbury - who replaced Crisp during the AL Championship Series and starred in the World Series - the odds-on favorite. Crisp's agent, Steve Comte, has said his client isn't interested in being a backup. The Sox will listen to offers for Crisp, but wouldn't mind keeping him as a fourth outfielder, playing him in center against lefties and using him to spell Manny Ramírez and J.D. Drew on the corners.
Lester now comes to camp as a likely member of a rotation that retains Beckett, Matsuzaka, Schilling, and Tim Wakefield, with rookie Clay Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter in his second big league start, an obvious contender. Depending on the health of the incumbents, Buchholz could start the season in Triple A Pawtucket.
With the opening of camp Feb. 14, the Sox roster is all but settled. They made a strong run at free agent Brad Wilkerson as a backup outfielder/first baseman who hits from the left side, but Wilkerson is about to sign with Seattle, where he is expected to be an everyday player.
The Sox may settle for a lefthanded bat who can play first base, a good bet being 33-year-old Sean Casey, who last season played for the Tigers, batting .296 with 4 home runs and 54 RBIs. Casey has a career on-base percentage of .366 and is widely considered a tremendous teammate.
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.