Source: Don't count out Mets in Santana sweepstakes

The New York Mets apparently aren't out of the Johan Santana Sweepstakes, as the Minnesota Twins continue to ponder what to do with their free-agent-to-be pitcher.

Mets general manager Omar Minaya has had talks with Twins GM Bill Smith, a major league executive with knowledge of the Twins' trade talks to 1050 ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand on Wednesday. The executive said the Mets shouldn't be counted out.

Earlier this week, New York Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner said that discussions between his team and Minnesota for Santana were ongoing but it was too early to tell whether they would lead to a deal. He did not detail how far talks had progressed.

"I don't want to get into that at this point, as far as what they want, what we're willing to give and all that," he said. "It's preliminary right now."

The Star Ledger of Newark, N.J., citing an unnamed source, reported Wednesday that the Yankees have made pitcher Joba Chamberlain and second baseman Robinson Cano off limits, in their negotiations for Santana.

The Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels also
are thought to be interested in Santana, who is far better than any
of the starting pitchers available on the free-agent market.

While other clubs, including the Yankees, have more top quality chips to deal, the Mets may have more of a willingness to include more top prospects, which could entice the Twins. A Mets trade for Santana would likely begin with Carlos Gomez, who could be a replacement for Torii Hunter, who agreed to a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

Other starters the Mets are investigating are the A's Dan Haren and Joe Blanton and the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis.

Santana is eligible for free agency after the 2008 season, and
the Twins have been trying to sign the two-time AL Cy Young Award
winner to an extension. He reportedly turned down a four-year, $80 million extension offer from the Twins.

Barry Zito signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Giants last offseason and Santana is expected to command a contract in excess of that one.

Santana's agent, Peter Greenberg, has not spoken publicly about
his talks with the Twins.

"Our first choice is to sign him," Smith
said carefully Tuesday, after pausing to answer a question regarding the
one year Santana has remaining on his current deal.

An extension of his stay in Minnesota has appeared increasingly
unrealistic since prices for pitchers escalated around this time
last year.

Though the Twins plan to move to a new ballpark in 2010, they
won't receive that revenue boost until then. With Santana's value
soaring and their middle-of-the-pack payroll not about to spike
significantly, a new contract for the two-time Cy Young Award
winner could account for one-fourth of the money Minnesota spends
on player salaries.

"We're going to be focused on making smart baseball
decisions," team president Dave St. Peter said Tuesday. "That's
the way we have always operated. It's the way the Pohlads expect us
to operate, and we have no issues with that."

Santana, a left-hander who turns 29 in March, has a 93-44 record
with a 3.22 ERA in eight major league seasons and is owed $13.25
million next year.

Santana has a no-trade provision in his contract, and a team
acquiring him likely would want to discuss an extension. That means
if the teams agreed to a trade, there probably would be a 72-hour
window to work out a new contract.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.