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Time seems on Sox' side with Santana

Email|Print| Text size + By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / December 18, 2007

These things, you surely understand, can take time. And it may be no different with Johan Santana.

The Red Sox contested the Yankees for Jose Contreras right up until Christmas Eve, 2002, before Theo Epstein, then the Sox' assistant general manager, and international scouting liaison Luis Eljaua left Nicaragua empty-handed, the Cuban defector deciding he preferred Yanqui dollars.

The Sox went deep into Christmas shopping season again the following year for Alex Rodriguez, and had all the pieces in place - Manny Ramírez and Jon Lester were going to the Rangers, Nomar Garciaparra was being swapped for Magglio Ordonez, and A-Rod was giving back money to come to the Sox - until the players' union decided Rodriguez's re-jiggered contract wasn't going to fly. It wasn't until Valentine's Day that A-Rod changed teams, and it was the Yankees who got him.

In 2006, after he'd ended his brief hiatus and returned as GM, Epstein traded for Coco Crisp at the end of January, giving the club a new center fielder just a couple of weeks before the start of spring training.

The Sox last winter waited until after the new year to sign Joel Pineiro, who in some circles was installed as the favorite to succeed Jonathan Papelbon as the team's closer, until everyone got down to Florida and decided that wasn't such a good idea after all.

So while it might make abundant sense for the Sox to try and strike a deal with the Minnesota Twins for the services of Santana before Major League Baseball shuts down for the week between Christmas and New Year's, it's not as if they're about to see the last grains of sand seep out of the hourglass.

The Twins have a new general manager, Bill Smith, who is content to sit back and see whether any of the prospective suitors for the two-time Cy Young Award winner are prepared to blow him away with an offer. If not, he holds onto his ace, not an unhappy prospect for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

The Sox are operating from a position of strength, not desperation. Would they love to have Santana? No question. Do they need him? Coming off their second World Series title in four seasons, with a rotation anchored by a prime-of-his-life Josh Beckett and a certain-to-improve Daisuke Matsuzaka, a raft of coming-of-age pitchers like Clay Buchholz, Lester, Justin Masterson, and Michael Bowden, and last-hurrah lions like Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield, that's a matter of interpretation.

Last week's trade, in which Oakland sent its ace, Dan Haren, to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a package of prospects, was a potential call to action for someone to close a deal with the Twins, the thinking that Haren was the natural fallback plan for anyone missing out on Santana. But not all aces are graded equally, and for the Sox, standing pat may be the most attractive contingency to missing out on Santana.

So far, clearly, Epstein has decided Santana isn't worth the price that appears to have been set in Minnesota, one that includes some combination of Jacoby Ellsbury, Buchholz, and Lester. In the meantime, the phone lines remain open, the e-mails get exchanged.

Much the same situation exists for the Yankees and any other team still lurking about, like the Mets. The Yankees feel with Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, they can solve their aging pitching questions internally. The Mets would seem to be more desperate, but they may not be able to piece together a package sufficiently attractive to entice the Twins.

"My sense of it," said one major league source with direct connections to a Santana suitor, "is that nothing will happen in the near-term."

Smith is keeping his own counsel. Santana's agent, Peter Greenberg, is keeping a low profile. No word emanates from Yawkey Way. The only one making any noise publicly is Hank Steinbrenner, who over the weekend told the New York Post he remains adamant about not giving two of the following three - Chamberlain, Hughes, and Kennedy.

All could change with a phone call. But for now, it's silent night, the star's still bright . . . but it ain't going anywhere.

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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