With the Minnesota Twins insisting on center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in any trade for pitcher Johan Santana, the Red Sox have altered their offer and have told the Twins they are willing to include the outfielder.
But sources say the Red Sox have also told the Twins they will not trade left-handed pitcher Jon Lester and Ellsbury together in the package they are offering.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have informed the Twins that they are going to pull their offer off the table soon -- perhaps by Tuesday at the latest -- unless they get an answer. The Yankees changed their offer on Friday, adding pitcher Phil Hughes after much internal debate, to go along with Melky Cabrera and a third prospect.
The Yankees have told the Twins they will not give them one of their top prospects as the third player in their offer -- not pitchers Ian Kennedy or Alan Horne, or outfielder Austin Jackson, for example.
It's possible that the Twins may find that the offers from Boston and the Yankees are not acceptable, and decide, ultimately, to keep Santana. But executives involved in the trade talks fully expect that the Twins will trade Santana, and that they will make a decision within the next 72 hours on what offer they prefer. If either the Yankees or the Red Sox were to pull out of negotiations, the Twins' leverage would be greatly diminished.
What the choice for Minnesota may come down to, in the end, is this: Do they prefer Phil Hughes as the centerpiece player in a deal, or Ellsbury?
If the Twins do agree to a tentative deal, Santana must still agree to waive his no-trade clause, and in order to do that, Santana likely will ask for a six-year extension worth something in the range of a $150 million; he would become the first pitcher ever to sign for a multiyear deal for at least $20 million a year.
The Red Sox included Ellsbury in one of their proposals a week ago, but the Twins asked the Red Sox for two players among the group of three prospects -- Ellsbury, Lester and pitcher Clay Buchholz. Boston then offered Lester, center fielder Coco Crisp, minor league shortstop Jed Lowrie and a minor league pitcher.
The Twins have continued to ask for Ellsbury, so the Red Sox have flipped Ellsbury back into their offer, sources say, while removing Lester, and upgraded slightly the rest of their proposed package slightly -- perhaps to include right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson. Presumably, any offer with Ellsbury would not include Crisp.
Ellsbury, 24, played in 33 games for the Red Sox this year, hitting .353 with three homers and 18 RBI, with a .509 slugging percentage and nine stolen bases.
The Mets, Mariners, Dodgers and Angels are among the other teams with which the Twins have talked about Santana.
Buster Olney is a senior baseball writer for ESPN The Magazine.