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Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Updated: January 30, 4:49 PM ET
Mets agree to Santana deal, pending extension agreement

By Buster Olney
ESPN The Magazine

Omar Minaya kept telling rival executives this winter that he was going to land a star pitcher, a guy who could lead his rotation, and a month ago, none of his peers imagined how that could happen. But on Tuesday afternoon, the New York Mets agreed to a tentative deal with the Minnesota Twins for arguably the best pitcher on the planet, Johan Santana, for a package of four prospects.

Santana has a full no-trade clause and can veto the deal unless he gets a contract extension, and it's expected that the Mets and Santana will begin negotiating as soon as possible. New York and Santana have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to reach an agreement, a baseball official told The Associated Press, on condition of anonymity. Deadlines have been extended in the past, however.

If Santana agrees to a deal -- and it is thought he will seek a six-year, $150 million contract -- then he also would have to pass a physical.

In return for Santana, the Twins would receive center fielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra -- a package which some talent evaluators believe could be the fourth-best offer that Minnesota received during this process.

USA Today was first to report this deal, and Peter Gammons confirmed it for ESPN.

An official with knowledge of discussions between the Twins' front office and Santana told 1050 ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand that when Santana gave the list of teams he was willing to waive his no-trade clause for, the Mets were on top of his list.

Santana communicated to the Twins that if he had the option of any team he could go to, the Mets would be his first choice.

Santana's agent, Peter Greenberg, is meeting with Mets executives Wednesday to discuss a contract extension.

Mets third baseman David Wright was ecstatic about Santana possibly joining the team.

"If it's true, obviously, you're getting arguably the best pitcher in the game," Wright said, according to AP.

ESPN.com Analysis


Johan Santana has all the leverage in his contract talks with the Mets, Buster Olney writes. Blog Insider
• Scrutinizing the deal Insider



Santana dominated the American League. In the National League, he could be even better, Rob Neyer writes. Blog Insider



Acquiring Santana without giving up their top prospects is a coup for the Mets and makes them the favorite in the NL, writes Keith Law. Blog

• Fantasy: Johan in good spot

Arriving at the annual Baseball Assistance Team fundraising dinner Tuesday night, Minaya wouldn't say much.

"It's out there, but the bottom line is that we're trying to look at ways at improving our club," Minaya said. "That's all I'm going to be able to say about it right now."

The Twins were equally quiet.

"We are hoping to bring some finality to this soon but I have nothing to report yet," general manager Bill Smith told the Twins' Web site.

In early December, the Yankees had offered a package built around pitcher Phil Hughes and center fielder Melky Cabrera, and the Red Sox talked about two separate deals, one built around left-hander Jon Lester and the other around center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, with pitcher Justin Masterson and infielder Jed Lowrie prominently involved.

But the Yankees yanked their Hughes proposal off the table in early December, and Boston's interest waned, as well. Over time, the Red Sox pared back their proposals. Baseball operations personnel for both the Yankees and Red Sox were extremely wary of the double-barreled cost of acquiring Santana, despite his incredible record -- first, shipping out a boatload of prospects to get Santana, and then giving him a record-setting contract.

Shea Hey Kids

Think Johan Santana would be comfortable pitching for the Mets in Shea Stadium? Among active pitchers with a minimum of 15 innings pitched in Shea, Santana has the fourth-best career ERA.

Pitcher
ERA
Brandon Webb 0.31
Chris Reitsma 0.44
Mark Prior 0.47
Johan Santana 0.60
Ryan Madson 0.70

Minaya and the Mets, perceived by the Twins initially to have much less to offer and less to lose, remained aggressive, fending off the Twins' interest in shortstop Jose Reyes and top prospect Fernando Martinez along the way.

Santana -- who was an outfielder as an amateur and is a spectacular athlete -- will fit into the Mets' needs perfectly, stepping to the head of a rotation that also includes Pedro Martinez, John Maine and Oliver Perez.

"For our younger pitchers to develop under a guy like Pedro, a guy like Johan, you can't ask for any better situation," Wright said, according to AP. "He's going to go out there and he's going to give you seven or eight innings every five days and he's going to get you a win. That's just what it comes down to. I've gotten a chance to get to know him a little bit the past couple years. He seems like a great clubhouse guy. He's going to fit in perfectly with the chemistry that we have."

Mets' officials were confident mid-Tuesday that they had the best offer on the table, as the Twins looked to honor a Santana request to resolve his situation. Minnesota will receive New York's Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 7 prospects, according to Baseball America's ranking.

Santana completely controls his fate because of the full no-trade clause that he possesses, and he asked the Twins to make a decision, which is why Minnesota imposed the Tuesday deadline for offers from interested teams. It is not known if the left-hander explicitly informed the Twins that he would invoke his no-trade clause for the rest of the year and then file for free agency after the 2008 season, but that has always been his right. It appears that the Twins took his request seriously.

The Twins had the option of keeping Santana into spring training, in the hope that a more aggressive market for the left-hander developed.

For instance: If Andy Pettitte's involvement in the Roger Clemens case seemed to be distracting the left-hander, Hank Steinbrenner -- who had been the most prominent member of the organization in favor of making a Santana trade -- might have spurred the team to give the Twins the package they have requested, including pitchers Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

Lately, He's The Best

It's pretty easy to argue that Johan Santana is the best starter in the league since 2003. He has won two Cy Young Awards, and here are his ranks in key categories:

Stat
Number
MLB rank
Wins 82 First
ERA 2.92 First
K's 1,152 First

Or if the Red Sox suffered multiple pitching injuries, they might have pushed for a Santana deal. But if the Twins believed Santana would not waive his no-trade clause after his requested date for resolution had passed, this may have added pressure on them to finish the deal.

If the Twins had kept Santana through the year, until he became a free agent, they would have received two draft picks in compensation if he signed with another team. The Twins, who just signed Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to extensions totaling $104 million, might have preferred to turn the page and make a deal now.

With Santana gone, there is a big opening in the Twins' rotation. Francisco Liriano is on track to return after missing last season following elbow surgery, but Carlos Silva signed with Seattle as a free agent, leaving youngsters Scott Baker, Boof Bonser and Kevin Slowey as the starters with the most experience.

"Joe Mauer's job, and my job, just got a lot tougher," backup catcher Mike Redmond said. "We're going to have to work a lot harder to help these guys out the best we can."

Humber, a 25-year-old right-hander, has made one start and four relief appearances for the Mets during the past two years, and went 11-9 with a 4.27 ERA last season for Triple-A New Orleans. The 22-year-old Gomez batted .232 in 125 at-bats with New York last year and .275 with 19 steals in the minors.

Guerra, who turns 19 in April, was 2-6 with a 4.01 ERA at Class A St. Lucie, and Mulvey, who will be 23 in May, was 12-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 26 starts at Double-A Binghamton and one at New Orleans.

Santana is under contract for 2008, for $13.25 million, and could get a new deal that surpasses Barry Zito's record of seven years and $126 million. And if the Mets work that out, Minaya will have his man.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. ESPN's Peter Gammons and The Associated Press contributed to this report.