Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bosox Lead in race for Santana

The Red Sox just won the World Series and they already have one of the top aces in the game in right-hander Josh Beckett. However, it appears that isn't stopping Boston general manager Theo Epstein from making a strong push for two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, who is being dangled in trade talks by the Minnesota Twins. reported on Thursday that the Red Sox and Twins have discussed a potential deal in which center fielder Coco Crisp, left-hander Jon Lester and promising Minor League shortstop Jed Lowrie would head to Minnesota along with one other prospect in exchange for Santana.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press -- citing a "little birdie" -- had a similar report. In fact, that report stated that the Red Sox have become the favorites while adding that right-handed pitching prospect Justin Masterson would also be going to Minnesota.

Epstein has made a consistent habit of never commenting on trade rumors.

Recently, Epstein predicted it could be a quiet winter for his team. But he also added that things could always change.

"At the same time, we do want to be aggressive in looking for any opportunity to make the club better," Epstein said. "We know our 29 competitors are doing the same. We're never afraid of change. I think change in baseball is often necessary and oftentimes a good thing. But we're also not going to go out and seek change just for the sake of change."

If the Red Sox were to add Santana, they could send a jolt throughout Major League Baseball.

A Beckett-Santana 1-2 punch -- backed by Daisuke Matsuzaka, Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield -- could be a dominant rotation.

Even if the Red Sox and Twins can agree to the framework of a trade, it would by no means make Santana Boston-bound. Santana has a no-trade clause and will likely seek a contract extension before waiving the clause. If the Red Sox and Twins did agree in principle to a trade, Boston would have 72 hours to negotiate an extension with Santana. That was the formula the Sox used to land Schilling in a Thanksgiving trade with the Diamondbacks following the 2003 season.

Several reports have suggested that Santana could be seeking a contract worth roughly $150 million over six years.

Adding more intrigue to the story is the fact that the Yankees -- the Red Sox's chief rivals -- are also in hot pursuit of Santana. The Angels are another team to have expressed interest.

The Yankees might give the Twins a choice of either Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy -- two of their best pitching prospects -- as well as outfielder Melky Cabrera and another prospect.

After losing Torii Hunter as a free agent, the Twins desperately need a center fielder. The Red Sox aren't willing to part with Jacoby Ellsbury, their top position prospect. But they would deal Crisp, who has speed and a terrific glove.

Aside from Ellsbury, the other prospect the Red Sox appear steadfast in not giving up is Clay Buchholz, the author of a Sept. 1 no-hitter against the Orioles. Lester, who won the clinching Game 4 of the World Series for the Red Sox, might be a suitable alternative for the Twins.

Lester will be 24 at the start of the 2008 season. The lefty is used to being in trade rumors. In fact, four winters ago, he was supposedly going to the White Sox along with Nomar Garciaparra in a trade that was going to bring Magglio Ordonez to Boston. But that trade fell through, teaching Lester a lesson.

"That kind of got me used to it and made me realize that until Theo calls, it's just all hearsay -- it's all talk, it's something that's not final," Lester said on Wednesday. "Until that day comes, we'll approach it then."

Lester also viewed it as a compliment to be rumored as a key piece for an established pitcher.

"Dan Haren and Johan Santana, that's not bad," said Lester. "Those are two great pitchers to be associated with in a trade. Like I said, I want to be a Red Sox. I want to be here and pitch here for a long time and win more World Series."

Masterson and Lowrie don't yet have the recognition of Buchholz and Ellsbury, but they are two prospects the Red Sox are high on.

The 6-foot-6 Masterson split the 2007 season between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Portland, going 12-8 with a 4.33 ERA. Lowrie hit .300 with five homers and 21 RBIs at Triple-A Pawtucket in the 40 games after his promotion in '07. He spent the rest of his season at Double-A, hitting .297 with eight homers and 49 RBIs.

Boston seemingly became a more appealing trading partner with Minnesota on the heels of the deal the Twins made with the Rays on Wednesday to land outfielder Delmon Young. In that trade, Minnesota parted with starting shortstop Jason Bartlett and starting pitcher Matt Garza, which made Lowrie and Boston's young pitchers more enticing to the Twins.

Schilling was asked earlier this week for his reaction to the Red Sox being mentioned in the Santana sweepstakes.

"Cool," said Schilling. "The thought of Beckett-Santana coming out to match up with somebody is exciting. I know that the Hot Stove is where that stuff happens. I know that if he's on the market like people say he is, I'm sure Theo has talked to [the Twins]. He's going to measure the price tag. We're not in a win-it-now mode. That's our mode every year. We're not operating out of our element when Theo gets in discussions like that. He's not going to sacrifice the future."

The 28-year-old Santana beat out Schilling for the AL Cy Young Award in 2004 and took home the trophy again in '06.

Santana has a career record of 93-44 with an ERA of 3.22, and he went 15-13 in 2007 with a 3.33 ERA. In 219 innings, Santana posted 235 strikeouts, while holding opponents to a .219 batting average.

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