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Mets trade for Santana, but he won't come cheap

January 30, 2008|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

Johan Santana, brought to you by Citibank.

The New York Mets picked up baseball's best pitcher -- soon to be baseball's richest pitcher -- on Tuesday, reaching agreement to send four prospects to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Santana.

The trade is conditional on the Mets' signing Santana to a contract extension, with a deadline of 2 p.m. PDT on Friday, a baseball official told The Times. Neither the Mets nor the Twins publicly announced the trade.

Santana, 28, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, is signed for $13.25 million this year and is expected to command at least $20 million a year in an extension. The Mets move into the new Citi Field next year, with Citibank paying a record $20 million a year for naming rights.

Even with major league teams generating -- and sharing -- record amounts of revenue, the trade highlights a renewed economic disparity. The three finalists for Santana -- the Mets, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox -- all run their own cable channels.

The Mets and Yankees are moving into new ballparks next year, in the nation's largest market. The Red Sox have sold out every home game since 2003, with ticket prices at NFL levels.

After the Yankees refused to package pitchers Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy as part of a deal, and the Red Sox refused to package pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, the Twins accepted the Mets' offer of outfielder Carlos Gomez and right-handers Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey.

The Twins got four of the top seven Mets' prospects, as ranked by Baseball America. However, none of those prospects rank among the top 50 in baseball, according to Baseball America editor-in-chief Will Lingo.

With Santana, the Twins won four American League Central titles in five years, from 2002 to 2006. After losing center fielder Torii Hunter and starter Carlos Silva to free agency this winter -- Hunter to the Angels, Silva to the Seattle Mariners -- the Twins decided to accelerate their rebuilding by trading Santana now rather than risk him walking away as a free agent next winter.

Gomez could replace Hunter in center field. Humber and Mulvey, former first-round draft picks, could compete for a spot in a depleted Minnesota rotation. Guerra, considered the jewel in the deal, is 18 and pitched in Class A last season.

The Angels and Dodgers never seriously bid for Santana, even with the payroll of each team approaching $125 million. The Twins called several clubs to ask for final offers, but Angels General Manager Tony Reagins and Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti each said he did not speak with Minnesota in recent days.

Santana is believed to be seeking an extension for six years and $150 million. The record contract for a pitcher is $126 million, signed last winter by Barry Zito and the San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers balked less at the potential nine-figure extension than at trading four young players, in the process adding an ace but losing pitching depth and creating possible holes on the major league roster in the outfield or the corner infield spots.

The Angels were wary of the cost, in money and in prospects. They would have had to commit at least $20 million a year to Santana this winter and lose some financial flexibility next winter, when Francisco Rodriguez and Jon Garland can file for free agency, John Lackey and Vladimir Guerrero enter option years, and Kelvim Escobar and Chone Figgins enter the final years of their contracts.

With Santana, the Angels say, they might not have had the money to re-sign selected veterans -- and might not have had the prospects to replace them.

"What a guy like Santana can do for a club is obvious," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He can be a No. 1 starter on just about any team. But he probably wouldn't have upgraded our starting pitching to the point of seeing all that talent go -- and the talent we might not be able to re-sign next year."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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