FORT MYERS, Fla. -- One of the keys for the Twins to keep Johan Santana beyond 2008 is keeping his teammates. Looking around the clubhouse at Hammond Stadium following his second spring start Thursday, Santana talked of how he feels the Twins finally have the pieces in place to make the team a perennial World Series contender. And with the club set to increase its revenue in three years upon the opening of its new ballpark, Santana inferred that this could be the time for the Twins to finally keep that group intact -- and that includes him. "You know the way this organization has been for years, when a player becomes too expensive, he goes somewhere else," Santana said. "That's the way it is. This team is always very careful with the financial stuff, the way they do business here. But this team is going to be in a good situation when the new ballpark opens.
"We have a chance to keep a good team for a long time. Hopefully they'll find a way to keep this team together." The Twins have had more than a few contractual issues on their to-do list following a very successful 2006 season in which the club captured another American League Central title and three players earned prominent individual awards. But as of right now, only one of the players from that successful team seems guaranteed to see the new ballpark open in a Twins uniform. That player is catcher Joe Mauer, who signed a four-year, $33 million deal this offseason that will keep him under contract through the 2010 season. The Twins have discussed their desire to include more players on that exclusive list with Mauer, having talked about wanting to ink first baseman Justin Morneau and outfielder Michael Cuddyer to long-term deals as well as hoping to bridge extensions for Santana and closer Joe Nathan, who will be a free agent after the '08 season. But the main contract of interest always seems to come back to Santana. Even though Santana still has two years remaining on his four-year, $40 million deal, there already has been plenty of talk of just where the pitcher might end up if he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2008 season. And the skyrocketing prices for starting pitchers this offseason, like Barry Zito's seven-year, $126 million deal, have only increased the urgency for the Twins to complete a deal with Santana. Twins general manager Terry Ryan has made a policy not to comment on any contract situations this spring. But this offseason, Ryan made it clear that trying to complete an extension with Santana would be a priority for the club. There have already been discussions by many within the league of just how much Santana could earn if he were to hit the free-agent market. Having seen Zito's record setting deal -- the largest for a pitcher -- several baseball insiders have already deemed Santana's departure a foregone conclusion.
But leaving Minnesota doesn't seem to be something that Santana is eager to do."He has made it clear to everyone that he wants to stay here," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. " He loves it here, and we'd love to have him be a [Brad] Radke -- to be able to start and finish his career in one spot." One thing that Santana has that Radke lacked during his career with the Twins is a consistent lineup to deliver run support on a nearly everyday basis. It's clear that not having that in earlier seasons had led to some frustration for Santana. In 2005, a lack of run support likely cost Santana the Cy Young Award. But in '06, that consistent threat finally emerged, and Santana has gushed all spring about how much he loves the offense the team is returning -- and its strong bullpen. "We're in a good situation right now with this team," Santana said. " I think as these guys gain experience, they'll become better players, and I think we'll have a pretty good chance to win a World Series. And I've been dreaming about a World Series for a long time." But Santana's desire to stay with the club, especially if team officials can keep the group together, doesn't necessarily mean the pitcher is willing to give the Twins a hometown discount. Even Santana himself has hinted that a possible deal should be forthcoming if the Twins want a legitimate chance at keeping him. "The sooner the better," Santana said Sunday when asked about when the team should approach him to talk about a contract extension. According to Santana, the status of talks between the two regarding an extension has not changed in recent days. With the market not appearing to slow down anytime soon, Santana knows it would be in the best interest of the team not to wait too long or risk the chance of his price tag continuing to rise. "Like I said before, it's going to be up to them to say something," Santana said of a deal. "Right now, all I've got to do is focus and get ready for Opening Day. I would love to stay here. But it's going to be up to them to make that happen."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.