April 11, 2007

Don't Believe Everything You Read

In a report published yesterday afternoon that predictably has Minnesotans atwitter and my e-mailbox overflowing, Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman wrote the following about Johan Santana's ongoing contract negotiations with the Twins:

The Twins may be fighting a losing battle in their efforts to extend Johan Santana's four-year, $40 million contract, which expires at the end of next season. A league source told SI that Minnesota recently offered to add two years to the deal, at around $18 million per season, plus a club option for 2011.

That offer, however, falls well short of the seven-year, $126 million figure that Barry Zito received from the Giants this winter and virtually assures that Santana, the Koufax of his generation, will be the hottest free agent in the class of '08. Having set this past Opening Day as his deadline for securing a new deal, Santana has told the Twins that he won't negotiate again until he hits the open market -- when, it should be added, he will only be 29.

First of all, the idea that something happening right now, in the spring of 2007, can "virtually assure" what Santana's actions will be when he has the ability to become a free agent, in the winter of 2008, is iffy at best. Beyond that, I've seen absolutely zero evidence that Santana set a deadline of "this past Opening Day" and "won't negotiate again until he hits the open market." The presence of those statements within Heyman's report makes me question the validity of the entire thing.

With that said, if there's some truth behind what Heyman is reporting and the Twins really offered Santana a two-year extension worth $18 million per season, he has every right to be frustrated with the negotiations and every right to question whether something will get done before he hits the open market. I'd go so far as to say that offering Santana a two-year extension with an option for a third season isn't a "negotiation" at all. Or at least not a serious one.

Even if Santana loves playing for the Twins and wants to remain in Minnesota for the rest of his career, asking him to accept less than half of what he'll make on the free-agent market is silly. Why would he sign a two- or three-year extension now when he can have teams lining up to give him seven- or eight-year deals worth in excess of $125 million after next season? Terry Ryan and the Twins surely realize that as well, which is another reason to think Heyman's report is off base.

Sure enough, mere hours after Heyman's report was first posted on SI.com, Santana denied just about everything in it. Making perfect use of his blog on the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website to get the information out long before the print version of the newspaper could have, Joe Christensen reported that Santana "has not cut off negotiations with the Twins" and "directly refuted" Heyman's story. And how does Christensen know that? Because unlike Heyman, he actually talked to and quoted Santana:

I'm wondering who said that because as far as I know I haven't talked to anybody about anything. And I'm pretty sure that you guys [Twin Cities reporters] would be the first to know because you are always around. So it doesn't make any sense that any of you would make those kind of comments.

I tell [the Twins] the sooner the better. You know, it's up to them to make something happen. So I've got a good relationship with them so whatever they want to do. But they said it's a team policy they don't negotiate during the season. They made that clear with Morneau and the other guys. If that's the way it is, that's the way it is.

I'm not a rule breaker, so if they want to break their own rules, it's up to them, it's not up to me. I'm not closing the door. If I was closing the door, I would have said I'm out of here. I've never said anything like that. So it's always there. Like I said, we haven't talked about anything. That's why I’m surprised. I don't negotiate through the media.

In other words, nothing significant has changed in the contract talks, Santana never set any sort of deadline to negotiate, and he remains open to staying in Minnesota long term. Santana also added that Heyman's report "doesn't make any sense" and told Christensen that he'd "like to definitely do something longer" than a two-year extension. Asked about the possibility of giving the Twins a "home-town discount," Santana responded:

I'd say yes, but it's not up to me. It depends on the length of that contract, too. It depends on how many years they're willing to offer.

Like any good reporter would, Christensen followed up by asking Santana how many years he wants:

I'm going to be honest with you. I would like to stay here forever. Now, how many years would they be willing to offer? I don't really know. Hopefully I could do lifetime. That would answer your question because that's what I would like to do.

Not only do Santana's words contradict just about everything in Heyman's report, they're consistent with what he's been saying for months now about wanting to remain in Minnesota for the rest of his career. At the end of the day the Twins are still going to have to come up with a lot of money over a lot of years to make that happen--which is why talk of a two-year extension at $18 million per season is silly--but it's clear that Santana is willing to work with them if the deal they offer is competitive.

If the Twins fail to come up with a long-term contract offer that's at least in the same ballpark as what Santana is assured of getting on the free-agent market, then they're essentially making the decision for him. Given what a unique, once-in-a-generation talent Santana is and what little Ryan has said publicly about the situation, I have a hard time believing that's already the case with nearly two years to go before Santana actually becomes a free agent. Of course, that won't stop the rumors from swirling.

Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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