Mets the front-runner? Sources say N.Y. has best Santana offer

Baseball officials involved in the Johan Santana trade talks say the Mets have the best offer on the table, as the Twins looked to honor the pitcher's request to resolve the situation.

If Minnesota opts to trade the two-time Cy Young Award winner rather than keep him and he works out a new contract extension, Santana could fill the hole at the front of the Mets' rotation.

The Red Sox also made offers, while the Yankees appeared to be out of the Santana talks altogether. But by mid-day Tuesday, Mets officials were hopeful they were the front-runners for the All-Star lefty, with an offer that included center fielder Carlos Gomez, pitcher Phil Humber and two other minor leaguers. It is not yet known whether the Mets have fashioned any offers around their best prospect, outfielder Fernando Martinez.

The agent for Santana, Peter Greenberg, would not comment on whether he has been told the Mets have worked out a trade for his client, or about Santana's request for resolution.

Santana, who completely controls his fate because of the full no-trade clause he possesses, asked the Twins to make a decision, which is why Minnesota imposed the deadline for offers from the interested teams.

It is not known if Santana explicitly informed the Twins that he would invoke his no-trade clause and then file for free agency after the 2008 season, but that has always been his right. It appears the Twins have taken his request seriously.

Among the three suitors for Santana, the Mets have the strongest need for a frontline starter, as well as the greatest willingness to pay him the enormous extension he will demand in order to waive his no-trade clause. It is expected that Santana's request will be for a deal in the range of six years for $150 million. If the Mets indeed work out a tentative deal for Santana, they won't conclude the trade unless they can sign him.

The Twins also have the option of keeping Santana into spring training, in the hope that a more aggressive market for the left-hander develops.

For instance, if Andy Pettitte's involvement in the Roger Clemens' case seems to be distracting the left-hander, it may be that Hank Steinbrenner, who has been the most prominent member of the organization in favor of making a Santana trade, could spur the Yankees to give the Twins the package they have requested, including pitchers Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. Or if the Red Sox suffered multiple pitching injuries, they might push to make a deal.

But if the Twins believe Santana will not waive his no-trade now that his requested date for resolution has passed, this may add pressure on them to finish the deal.

If the Twins keep Santana through the year, until he becomes a free agent, they would receive two draft picks in compensation if he signed with another team. The Twins, who just signed Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to extensions totaling $104 million, might prefer to turn the page and make a deal now.

The Red Sox have talked in the past about deals built around either pitcher Jon Lester or center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Two sources involved in the discussions say the Red Sox have indicated they won't trade Lester, and another highly placed source says Lester remains on the table. A fourth says the Red Sox are willing to deal Lester only in a package with little window dressing -- in other others, Lester and center fielder Coco Crisp and little else. It's unclear, as well, whether the Red Sox will be willing to offer Santana a contract close to the $150 million package he will seek, in order to approve the trade.

The Twins extended a four-year, $80 million offer to Santana, well beyond the $13.25 million he is scheduled to make in 2008. That offer is still on the table.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.