Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Biding Their Time

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After talking to Bill Smith, I’m more convinced than ever that Johan Santana will be traded next week, or next month, but not today or tomorrow. It just appears he believes that competition will pick up again at some point, and the offers will improve.

Here’s one way it might happen: It’s now being reported by several publications that the Mets are interested again. Anything that rachets up the pressure on a certain owner’s son in New York – say, the prospect of the “other” team in town making a splash – has to be a good thing for the Twins’ chances of getting their asking price. Same with the growing consensus (not sure I buy it) that the Tigers might be Boston’s top competition next year, not the Yankees.

Until then, some of the rumors going around are getting fairly far-fetched. One of them that caused a few chuckles in the press room involved a three-way deal that supposedly sends Santana and Bobby Crosby to the Mets, Dan Haren to the Twins, and Jose Reyes to the A’s, with a few minor prospects sprinkled around, too. Can you imagine the reaction in the Twin Cities if Smith traded Santana, and all he got back was a starting pitcher who isn’t as good? Yikes.

-- Phil Miller

Santana vs. Lackey on Opening Day?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Well, it looks like the Twins’ big story of the winter meetings is going to be a non-story after all. Some well-connected folks at Baseball Prospectus just quoted a Twins official as saying they are “99 percent certain” Johan Santana will be a Twin when the meetings end tomorrow. I haven’t been able to find anyone to say anything nearly that definitive (mostly the team’s employees say, ‘You know I can’t talk about that’), but it certainly fits the general consensus in the Opryland Hotel.

Peter Gammons of ESPN has also reported that the Twins aren’t moving their ace this week, and various reports keep coming in that other teams, sensing hesitation on Minnesota’s part, are contacting general manager Bill Smith with messages along the lines of “What would it take?” Supposedly the Mets and Mariners have made that call – but apparently not the Yankees, not yet.

The Red Sox offers are apparently still on the table, and a Baseball Prospectus report a couple of hours ago said the Twins might ask that Jon Lester be examined by their doctors to make sure his arm is sound.

Now that the Tigers-Marlins trade is official, it might make sense for the Twins to just wait a while and see whether other teams start feeling pressure to match Detroit’s dramatic move. The Yankees say they are happy with their rotation now that Andy Pettitte is coming back, but as spring training draws closer, it’s hard to imagine that the opportunity to upgrade won’t entice them.

But for the moment, Ron Gardenhire is right: Santana is his opening day starter against the Angels.

-- Phil Miller

Gardenhire Drops By

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The reality of the Twins’ current plight really hit home this morning when an out-of-town reporter asked Ron Gardenhire a blunt question: “You don’t know who you’ll have a third, short, second and center, do you?”

Gardenhire smiled and said, “Yeah, everywhere left of first base. First base, I’ve got covered.” But the question pretty much summed up how much work is left to do for the Twins.

They’ll start trying to accomplish it again today, but with general managers in meetings all morning, there are no signs of any movement on the Johan Santana front. Gardenhire, in a half-hour media session this morning, sounded resigned to losing his best pitcher, though he did keep reminding the crowd that “Johan Santana is still my Opening Day starter.” Actually, Gardenhire looked far more alarmed at the prospect of life without Joe Nathan; it’s clear he doesn’t want his closer going anywhere. But he said, if GM Bill Smith decides the move has to be made, "I'm sure we'll have a plan."

The prevailing opinion in the Opryland press room is that the Twins, particularly in the wake of Detroit’s stunning addition to its lineup, may be biding their time, in hopes that New York, Boston or even the Angels decide they need to match that move. So the vigil could last several more hours, days, weeks.

-- Phil Miller