Rangers struck out for both Santana and Hunter
Posted: Friday March 14, 2008 11:13AM; Updated: Thursday March 20, 2008 5:05PM
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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Several weeks before Johan Santana went to the Mets, the Texas Rangers came very close to making a blockbuster trade for the superstar pitcher, people familiar with those talks say.
The Rangers kept their intentions and progress remarkably quiet this winter, but sources indicate that they were actually the most aggressive early pursuer of Santana, who they viewed him as a rotation-transforming pitcher. Some are suggesting now that they believe the Rangers would have been willing to pay Santana as much or more than the $137.5 million, six-year contract -- or technically, $124 million, five-year extension -- he got from the Mets.
Texas once was the salary trendsetter, with Alex Rodriguez's $252-million deal in 2000, which was since topped by the Yankees' new $275-million deal for A-Rod. And apparently, the Rangers were willing to set the pitching market for Santana this winter.
But they never quite had that chance.
Indications are that Texas' trade discussions with the Twins progressed to the point where there was either agreement or near agreement on the young players going back to Minnesota. At that point, executives involved in the talks believed that the trade was very likely to be consummated if only Santana gave a more enthusiastic response when Twins higher ups quizzed him about whether he'd accept a trade to the Rangers. However, a diplomatic Santana is believed to have told the Twins only that he'd "consider'' going to Texas, an answer that was seen as less than enthusiastic.
It was shortly after receiving Santana's lukewarm response that the Twins stopped pursuing the trade with Texas. People familiar with the talks say they believe Minnesota wanted to avoid agreeing to a trade proposal that could eventually be rejected by Santana, whose full no-trade clause put the power in his hands. Such a scenario could have hurt their leverage in future trade talks.
Word is, Santana actually thought about the Rangers long enough to have quizzed his long-time Twins teammate Torii Hunter, a free agent, about his own intentions. But it appears that when Hunter, a resident of Prosper, Texas, and close friend of Rangers manager Ron Washington, was noncommittal about whether he'd sign with the Rangers (he eventually signed with the Angels), Santana appears to have followed Hunter's lead.
Others suggest Santana liked the idea of going to the East Coast, anyway, and eventually the Twins did focus on three East Coast teams: the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets. Seattle also showed interest but Mariners people also had the impression Santana wanted to go east.
It isn't known which prospects the Rangers agreed to send to Minnesota, but Texas is well-stocked with young pitchers, leading with Eric Hurley and many others (plus, they had Edinson Volquez back then, before trading him to the Reds for talented center fielder Josh Hamilton); clearly, they had the chips to get the deal done.
Had Texas acquired both former Twins stars, as they hoped, the Rangers would have looked vastly different this year. But when they didn't get Santana and Hunter, instead of rushing into big-money deals for established but lesser pitchers, as they have done in the past, they wisely decided to play for their future.
The Rangers are believed to have made an initial offer of $75 million over five years (plus an option year) to Hunter, who got $90 million for five from Anaheim. The Rangers might have gone even higher, but Hunter jumped at the Angels when they surprised him with their stealth bid.
In a recent interview, Hunter described the Angels as his first choice for the atmosphere of their stadium and their chances to win. Speaking of the Angels' surprise interest, the always affable Hunter said, "It was perfect, man.'' After signing, Hunter upset some Rangers officials by saying aloud in USA Today that he feared his son would be made fun of if he played for a home-state loser.
Speaking of Hunter, Washington said in Rangers camp, "Players nowadays want to play for teams they think are going to win right away.''
Though its future appears bright, Texas may take a couple years to realize that goal.
Without Santana, the Rangers' big question remains the rotation. Their stash of talented young pitchers gives them hope down the road, but their current rotation should make it difficult to compete now in a tough division. With Brandon McCarthy nursing a forearm injury, the early-season rotation will consist of Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Jason Jennings, Kason Gabbard and either Luis Mendoza or the just-signed Sidney Ponson.
However, the Rangers still don't have the true ace they sought, and it's probably hard for them not to wonder about what might have been.