Santana, Mets finalize record contract
Southpaw becomes highest-paid pitcher in baseball history
NEW YORK -- An offseason that had been all about who wasn't on the Mets' roster has executed an about-face and now is distinctive because of who almost certainly will be. Unless Johan Santana flunks a physical Saturday, he will become the starting pitcher the Mets desperately had needed, as well as the wealthiest pitcher in the game.
A contract that will secure the latter distinction is in place. The Mets and Santana's representatives struck a deal Friday, more than 90 minutes after the original 5 p.m. ET deadline imposed by the league office on Tuesday. Neither the value nor the length of the contract was announced, but people familiar with the terms of the agreement said Santana will be under contract beginning this year and through 2013, that an option exists for 2014 and that he will be guaranteed $137.5 million.
That is significantly more than Barry Zito, who established a high-water mark for pitchers 13 months ago, when he signed with the Giants for seven years and $126 million. Santana also will become the highest-paid Mets player. Carlos Beltran holds that distinction for the moment -- seven years, $119 million.
The only contracts worth more are those signed by Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez ($275 million), Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter ($189 million), Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez ($160 million) and Rockies first baseman Todd Helton ($141.5 million). But exactly where Santana's contract ranks is difficult to say because much of his guaranteed pay is deferred at a relatively low interest rate which reduces the present-day value.
A person familiar with the negotiations said the option year -- a buyout of $5.5 million exists -- had been discussed in the final hour of talks, but it wasn't clear whether that was the cause of the extended negotiations. That person said at 5:40 p.m. "It's not done by any means" and "It wouldn't surprise me if it got done or didn't."
The Mets had hoped to limit the length of the contract to five years. The existence of an option year suggests either Santana's agent, Peter Greenberg, sought a seven-year deal, or the Mets offered it as a means of reducing the guarantee.
The sides agreed to eliminate the remaining year, 2008, and the $13.25 million obligation on the contract Santana had with the Twins. But the new contract probably will guarantee him more money in his first season as a Met. The $137.5 million figure would reflect annual salaries averaging $22,916,667.
Santana's annual salary is second only to Rodriguez's $27.5 million. Among pitchers with multiyear contracts, it ranks ahead of the $18.3 million earned by Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano.
The contractual agreement leaves the physical examination as the final hurdle before the Mets can link the Super Bowl and Super Tuesday with the addition of a superlative athlete who they hope will lead them to the World Series. If Santana doesn't help produce a World Series appearance, the trade with the Twins -- featuring fleet outfielder Carlos Gomez and three pitching prospects -- at least will recast projections for the 2008 National League East race and restore the Mets' image as a genuine contender.
"It's not like we've jumped ahead of everybody else in the division by leaps and bounds," Mets closer Billy Wagner said Friday night. "But we are very good and dangerous team again. A very legit contender."
Wagner's friend and now former teammate, Tom Glavine expressed a similar sense.
"Obviously, this is a huge lift for them," Glavine said. "The guy is arguably the best pitcher in the game right now. They have every reason to be excited about that and optimistic about their season, but so do we. I think we addressed our needs really well, and I think we all feel good about our chances.
"When Randy Johnson went to the Yankees ... everybody was ready to hand them the World Series trophy, and it never happened. That's why you play the games. You just don't know what's going to happen."
Until the Mets' offer of Gomez, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra was accepted on Tuesday, their offseason had been consistent with the final days of their 2007 season -- a series of attempts that didn't accomplish the primary objective. Efforts to obtain a No. 1 starter were unsuccessful, and the public seemed to focus more on the departures of Lastings Milledge and Paul Lo Duca than on the acquisitions of their respective replacements -- Ryan Church and Brian Schneider.
Now, because of weeks of perseverance and the Wilpon treasury, Santana is on the Mets' doorstep with an appointment to see their doctors, the club's horizon is noticeably brighter, and its players and fan base are energized.
The Mets sensed the excitement caused by the agreement with the Twins -- even though neither club publicly acknowledged the trade -- and spent the better part of three days negotiating in Manhattan, where Greenberg maintains an office. The Mets used the offices of their SNY network as their headquarters with owner Fred Wilpon, COO Jeff Wilpon, general manager Omar Minaya and assistants Tony Bernazard and John Ricco involved at various times. None of the people in negotiations returned phone calls Friday night.
Once completed, the acquisition of the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner will be comparable in overall impact to any move the Mets have made in their 47-year history, a powerful booster shot to their image as the club sells tickets for the 2008 season and advertising on its network, while preparing to move to Citi Field next year. The on-field performance of the team will determine whether this acquisition eventually will be seen as equivalent to the deals that imported Rusty Staub in 1972, Keith Hernandez in '83 and Mike Piazza in '98 and led to the Mets' three most recent World Series appearances.
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Santana can have that level of impact. As Tom Seaver and, briefly, Dwight Gooden and David Cone did in their primary seasons with the Mets, he can dominate opponents on a regular basis and thereby alter the team dynamic. If the trade is finalized, Santana will begin his Mets tour at age 29 with every chance to displace Jerry Koosman as the primary left-handed pitcher in franchise history and perhaps eclipse Gooden's shooting-star achievements.
Armed with a world-class changeup, he already has produced two seasons, 2004 and '06, comparable to or better than what Koosman ('68), Seaver ('69, '71, '73 and '75), Gooden ('85), Cone ('88) and Bret Saberhagen ('94) produced.
Santana has been a strikeout pitcher, innings-eater and prototypical No. 1 starter for the Twins, winning 71 percent of his most recent 122 starts, while his team prevailed in a slightly higher percentage of his starts and produced a record five games under .500 in the other 469 games.
His presence as a bona fide stopper is apt to affect all facets of the Mets' performance, reducing the physical burden on the bullpen and the psychological burden on other members of the rotation, helping the defense -- Santana won a Gold Glove last year -- and even the offense on days he pitches. His career batting average, albeit in 31 at-bats, is .258.
Santana, a native of rural Venezuela, is to join a team that promotes itself in the Hispanic community as Los Mets. When it became apparent to him last season that he probably wouldn't sign a contract extension with the Twins, he told other members of his team of his desire to play in New York, and of a preference for the National League.
While Santana has prospered in the American League -- his winning percentage in 151 starts there is .658 -- he has an .800 winning percentage in 24 starts against National League teams.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.