Twins' Santana won't let contract talks be a distraction

MINNEAPOLIS -- By winning his second AL Cy Young Award in
three years, Johan Santana set himself up for a big payday when his
contract expires after the 2008 season.

While the Minnesota Twins ponder the possibility of negotiating
an expensive extension with their star left-hander this spring,
they also will be preparing to rely on him even more given the
uncertainty behind him in the rotation following Brad Radke's
retirement and Francisco Liriano's elbow injury.

These are potentially heavy burdens for a pitcher to carry, but
if anyone in the major leagues can maintain his focus on the mound
-- and away from money or extraordinary expectations -- it's probably

"I don't think he lets much that surrounds him or us affect
what he does," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "He knows
what he wants to do. He knows how to get prepared."

He also knows his duty as the staff ace.

"I'll tell you one thing: Responsibility is part of what Johan
Santana has felt for the last four years. That's what I want to do,
and that's part of my job," Santana said Friday night at the
Metrodome during the team's winter fan festival.

Santana's demeanor, competitive drive, influence in the
clubhouse and unparalleled success over the past several seasons
will make it difficult for Minnesota to keep him much longer if
market demand continues to produce record-setting salaries for

If Kansas City is willing to give Gil Meche a five-year, $55
million deal, just imagine what Santana and his agent, Peter
Greenberg, could have commanded this winter.

"You're not going to tell me that the Royals have more money
than the Twins," Greenberg said. "Carl Pohlad is one of the
richest men in the world."

Santana, who tied for the most wins in the majors with 19 and
led the AL in ERA (2.77), strikeouts (245) and innings pitched (233
2-3), will be paid $13 million this year and $13.25 million in
2008. That's a clear bargain, based on his dominance and the deals
some of his less-talented peers are playing under.

That puts Ryan in a tricky spot.

Pohlad has annually approved incremental payroll increases this
decade as baseball's revenue shares have soared, but a significant
spike in spending is not likely -- at least until Minnesota moves
into its new ballpark in 2010. With six players, including AL MVP
Justin Morneau and batting champ Joe Mauer, up for big raises and
possible multiyear contracts through arbitration next month, there
isn't much money to go around unless Pohlad uncharacteristically
tells Ryan to empty his pockets.

"Everybody understands that I've got a lot of issues on my
plate presently. I'm trying to satisfy a lot of people's interests
and wishes right now," said Ryan, who spoke with Greenberg at the
winter meetings about Santana's deal but told him he wasn't
immediately sure what to do about it.

Talking contracts during the season is typically distracting, so
if the two sides can't work something out by the end of spring
training, Santana's tenure with the Twins could be in doubt.

"If the team really wants to retain him they're probably going
to have to do something soon," said Greenberg, who added that it
would be unlikely for his client to seek an extension in the final
year of his deal with free agency approaching. In that case, Ryan
might have to trade him to avoid losing such a valuable pitcher
without receiving other players in return.

For now, though, everyone is sidestepping the doomsday

"Usually if a player wants to stay, we find a way to make it
happen," Ryan said. "Johan, he's certainly seen what's gone on in
the market, and he certainly wants his due."

Santana has been asked the question several times, and the
queries will only increase this spring and summer. His answer? He's
certainly open to signing an extension, as long as the contract
doesn't devalue another player in the future.

"I love this place. I love this team and my teammates, and I
don't see myself with another team in another uniform," Santana
said. "But at the same time, this is business. ... Hopefully we'll
find a way to make it happen and to make everybody happy."

Another Cy Young Award further increased his profile in his
native Venezuela, where he still lives. He created a foundation to
help fund sports and social programs and even filmed a soft drink
commercial in his hometown, Tovar Merida, where he's seen walking
through the streets, playing with kids and chatting with the

"When you make people happy and you make yourself happy, you
can't beat that," Santana said.

Count the Twins, for as long as they have him, in the happy

"When you start talking about contract and money, it can skew
it a little bit," Ryan said. "But this guy's a good guy. It's
tough to argue with this one. This guy's everything you look for in
a player and in a person."