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Sox, Twins may be close

Email|Print| Text size + By Gordon Edes and Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / December 4, 2007

NASHVILLE - It was after midnight in the Music City, and the Red Sox and Minnesota Twins were exchanging medical information on pitchers Johan Santana and Jon Lester, indicating that the clubs may be closing in on a deal for the two-time Cy Young Award winner.

The Sox and Twins were locked in negotiations after the Yankees refused to include another top prospect, pitcher Ian Kennedy, in a package that already included top pitching prospect Phil Hughes and center fielder Melky Cabrera.

It was uncertain whether the Sox also were including center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in their offer.

Any team that strikes a deal for Santana will request a 72-hour window to discuss a contract extension, with Santana believed to be looking for at least $25 million a year.

As for the Twins' attempt to squeeze another pitching prospect out of New York in Kennedy, new Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner told the New York Times, "That's not going to happen. To give up two of the three, there's no chance, not for anybody - unless it's [Sandy] Koufax, and that's not happening."

So, does the clock run out on the Twins to get something done with the Yanks? Steinbrenner, who had insisted he would pull the Yankees' offer off the table if a deal weren't struck yesterday, insisted his deadline was real. But artificial deadlines have a tendency to evaporate (see: Rodriguez, Alex).

For much of the day yesterday, radio silence descended on the Santana negotiations. Neither Theo Epstein nor Yankees GM Brian Cashman, in separate sessions with reporters, were willing to acknowledge publicly that talks were ongoing with the Twins.

"Bust out the fiction," was Epstein's tongue-in-cheek recommendation to Boston reporters seeking an update on talks with the Twins.

Cashman, perhaps showing sensitivity to lingering irritation from the Twins' camp over Steinbrenner's issuance of an ultimatum, was similarly disinclined to discuss Santana, though both the Yankees and Sox spoke with Twins GM Bill Smith last night.

The Twins had their pick between the offers, the one from the Sox featuring Ellsbury and three other prospects, but not pitchers Lester and Clay Buchholz. Another Sox pitching prospect, Justin Masterson, almost certainly was a player the Twins wanted. A third option for Smith is to hold onto Santana until the July trading deadline and reopen the bidding then.

But for all the apparent lack of movement on a deal, there was an air of expectancy that something might transpire either late last night or by morning. While fan chat boards and a Boston-dot-com survey indicated considerable dismay at the possibility that the Sox would part with Ellsbury, baseball executives informally polled here thought the Sox should proceed with a deal for Santana, even if it cost them both Ellsbury and Lester.

They likened it to the trade made 10 years ago by former Sox GM Dan Duquette, who gave up the team's top pitching prospect, Carl Pavano, and another minor league pitcher, Tony Armas Jr., in the deal that brought Pedro Martínez to the Red Sox. Two winters ago, while Epstein was on hiatus, the Sox gave up the organization's prized prospect, Hanley Ramirez, and pitching prospects in the deal that netted them 20-game winner Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell, MVP of the 2007 World Series.

The Yankees, even with lefthander Andy Pettitte informing the club he will return for a 14th big-league season, would seem to have a greater need for Santana. Their rotation is aging and lacking a true No. 1 starter. The Sox potentially have Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Lester, Buchholz and veterans Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield, but would become prohibitive favorites in the AL East if they added Santana, who will be 29 next season.

"Obviously we've made calls and talked to a couple teams about deals, talked to a few agents," Epstein said yesterday afternoon, "but we don't have anything to show for it. That might be par for the course. It seems like everything's on a later schedule this year."

The Yankees have shown a penchant already this fall for issuing an ultimatum, and not following through. Steinbrenner vowed he was through with Rodriguez when the slugging third baseman opted out of the final three years of his deal, then succumbed when Rodriguez, through an intermediary, let it be known he really did want to be a Yankee.

If dawn breaks and the Yankees are still talking to the Twins, this latest line in the sand will have faded to dust.

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