This is an article I wrote earlier today for that fine Red Sox fan site I also write for, Bornintoit.com.
We've reached an exciting time of the year that many baseball fans always look forward to. Nope, it's not spring training. "The Hot Stove League" is in full swing. It's time for the Winter Meetings, and this year could very well be a very busy one.
The meetings begin on Monday in Nashville. A lot of clubs are looking for starting pitching help (you could argue EVERYONE is), and the sexiest name out there is one of baseball's best pitchers: Johan Santana.
The rumors have been getting hot and heavy that the Minnesota Twins will move their star 29-year-old lefthander. The main reason is of course, money. Santana is a free agent after the 2008 season, and just rejected a four-year, $80 million deal to stay in Minnesota. It's believed he's looking for more years, as well as contract approaching $25 million per year.
Of course, very few teams could sign him for the kind of money. The "usual suspects", namely the Red Sox and Yankees can, and there have been all kinds of reports about who the teams have offered for Santana. (Other clubs, like the Dodgers and Angels have been mentioned, but they don't appear to be that serious.) It will take a package to land him, at least three or four excellent prospects to do it. The Red Sox have supposedly offered Jon Lester, Coco Crisp, infield prospect Jed Lowrie and either pitcher Justin Masterson or Michael Bowden as their best package. Minnesota GM Bill Smith has made it known to the Sox he covets Jacoby Ellsbury, but Theo Epstein has made him an untouchable (as well as Clay Buchholz). My feeling is that Theo will not budge on either Ellsbury or Buchholz. (Remember he didn't cave in to Mike Lowell as far as a four year deal, and got him for three.) This may mean the Twins will have to look elsewhere to move Santana if they don't relent on that.
Of course, that brings up the Yankees. Just today, it made big news here in New York that they have made it known that their biggest pitching prospect, Philip Hughes, is on the table as far as a deal for Santana goes. They have already put pitcher Ian Kennedy and Melky Cabrera into a deal, but it may take even one more prospect to get it done for them. (And if the Yankees make the deal, they will most likely have to look for a new centerfielder, as Johnny Damon's days as a fulltime CF appear over.)
But the Yankees are also in a quandry. Andy Pettitte is rumored to be retiring. He has said that he will either return to New York or hang it up. He rejected a $16 million player option in October, and has told the club he will give them a decision by the end of the year. If he does call it quits, it will put the onus squarely on the Yankees to make the deal, no matter what they have to give up. So it honestly wouldn't surprise me if the Twins don't trade Santana at the Winter Meetings, and hold on to him by early January, and then make a deal.
I honestly couldn't tell you right now where Santana will land. Unless one team decides they absolutely can't live without him and decide to overwhelm Minnesota, he could still be in a Twins uniform by early 2008. It sounds like he will not be pitching for them on Opening Day, as they've decided they simply can't pay him what he wants. (And it also sounds like they will deal Joe Nathan, their star closer, this winter also, as he's in the same boat as Santana, and can walk away after 2008.)
The Red Sox have also been rumored to be talking to Oakland about their top starter, Danny Haren, in a possible deal. This could become a reality is Santana lands in the Bronx. (Or the Yankees could go after him if Santana goes to the Sox.) But Oakland's asking price is similar to what Minnesota is asking for for Santana. Haren, who's under contract for thee more years, isn't in his class, but he's not too far off.
The Red Sox will also be looking to strengthen their bench, and will also try to find another bullpen arm and backup catcher (Doug Mirabelli is a free agent and most likely won't be back). Coco Crisp maybe heading for another team if he's not dealt to Minnesota. It's possible he could be the fourth outfielder in 2008, but I wouldn't bet on it. He could bring a nice return to the strengthen other areas of the club, and the Sox could bring Bobby Kielty back as the fourth outfielder (he is also a free agent).
It will be very interesting to see the way all of this will play out. Many baseball pundits feel there will be a lot of wheeling and dealing at these Winter Meetings. If one of the big Superpowers makes a big splash, that could set off a chain reaction around the sport.
It maybe football, basketball and hockey season in December, but it seems like it's baseball season 12 months a year. Pull up a chair in front of The Hot Stove. It could be getting warmer there by the minute.