There will be number of interesting storylines for Twins fans to follow this offseason. Bill Smith has plenty of things on his plate in his first few months as general manager; Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva are both eligible to become free agents and there are several holes on the offense that seemingly need to be filled from outside the organization. The player whose fate I will be following with the most interest over the next few months, though, is Johan Santana.
Santana is under contract with the Twins through next season, but I would contend that Smith absolutely must make a decision on the left-handed ace this offseason. Whether that means trading Santana or extending his contract, the Twins need to make a move on way or the other because doing nothing could prove tremendously costly.
I already have my doubts about whether the Twins can realistically afford to re-sign Santana, but if it's going to happen, it will need to happen soon. I am quite positive that if the two sides have not reached an agreement by the start of next season, Santana will wait to test free agency, which will almost certainly push him out of the Twins' price range.
If it becomes clear that Santana will not be in Minnesota past the 2008 season, a trade is the only logical avenue for the Twins. Santana told Star Tribune beat writer La Velle E. Neal III earlier this week that he'd be willing to waive his no-trade clause, which eliminates a major stumbling block in any potential efforts to deal him. As Joe Christensen notes on his blog, we are likely to see a ridiculous number of trade rumors involving Santana over the next few months, most of which will have no basis in reality. For his part, Christensen says he thinks there is only about a "1-in-5 chance" that the Santana will be traded between now and next spring. I would presume that the likelihood is a little higher than that, but I suppose I could be wrong.
In my heart, I'm not really rooting for Santana to get traded. He's a very likable guy, a historically great pitcher, and a lot of fun to watch. If Smith can find a way to get a contract extension worked out this winter that makes sense and keeps the Twins in a position where they'll be able to surround Santana with enough talent to win throughout the life of his contract, I'll be a very happy camper. The problem is that I really can't see that happening.
In my mind, the absolute worst thing that could happen would be for the Twins to hang onto Santana for another year, miss the playoffs, and then collect a pair of draft picks next winter when he signs a mega-deal with some big-market franchise. Unfortunately, considering this organization's history, it's probably the most likely outcome.