A conditional trade, negotiated Tuesday, has put two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana on their doorstep, though not yet in their rotation, and given them a potential means of repairing some of the damage caused by their shortfall last September.
At a seemingly reasonable price -- swift outfielder Carlos Gomez and young pitchers Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra -- the Mets have satisfied the Twins. Now, they have until 5 p.m. ET on Friday to satisfy Santana, who, armed with a no-trade clause potentially as effective as his world-class changeup, can veto the trade if the Mets don't make him happy.
The trade, if it is finalized, will rival those the Mets made over the years to import Rusty Staub, George Foster, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Bret Saberhagen, Frank Viola, Mike Piazza and Carlos Delgado. Only the acquisitions of Staub in April 1972, Hernandez in June 1983, Carter in December 1984, Piazza in May 1998 and Delgado in November 2005 led to the Mets eventually playing in the postseason. Only Carter joined a team with more talent than the current team has.
A person involved with the Mets' pursuit of Santana said Tuesday morning, "We don't know where we stand, and we don't know what the player wants." But within hours, the trade was in place.
Now a daunting task remains -- negotiate a contract bound to exceed $100 million, against the clock. But, at this point, with the Mets having accomplished what neither the Yankees nor Red Sox could -- and there is strong evidence neither club was as driven to acquire Santana as the Mets were -- it seems improbable that the club would allow Santana to slip through its hands.
The Mets' need to restore their credibility as a contender in the National League East and with their fan base -- and also resume their push toward opening Citi Field in 2009 -- adds other elements to Santana's considerable value as an athlete. In that sense, the effect of acquiring Santana would be similar to that of the signing of Pedro Martinez in December 2004.
Santana essentially would displace Martinez as the Mets' No. 1 starting pitcher. With him in place, the rotation would include Santana, Martinez, John Maine, Oliver Perez and either Mike Pelfrey or Orlando Hernandez, and change from something of a liability into a certain asset.
If Pelfrey were to be the No. 5 starter, the Mets could use Hernandez in relief as they did briefly in the final days of last season. The trade, if completed, would eliminate the need for the Mets to sign El Duque's half-brother, Livan Hernandez, a free agent the club had pursued.
A person in Major League Baseball confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that the conditional trade was in place and that the Mets had agreed to spend four young players for a soon-to-turn-29 left-handed pitcher who has produced an 82-35 record in the last five seasons. The 72-hour period during which the Mets may negotiate with Santana's agent, Peter Greenberg, is similar to the scenario that existed when the Mets obtained Foster from the Reds just prior to Spring Training in 1982 and when they re-acquired Tom Seaver from the Reds 10 months later.
The Mets have declined to comment on the circumstances, and as recently as 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday, they had yet to notify at least one of the players involved. General manager Omar Minaya and club chief operation officer Jeff Wilpon, attending the B.A.T. dinner in Manhattan, didn't acknowledge an agreement. Minaya said, "It [the trade] is out there, but the bottom line is that we'll continue to try to look at ways to improve our club. That's all I'm going to be able to say right now ... We're still working hard to try and find ways to improve our club. I always try to be optimistic about how we're going to improve the roster on a daily basis."
But when word of the conditional trade spread, excitement developed in the Mets' camp. Billy Wagner, the Mets closer who had unsettled club officials with public comments after Tom Glavine's departure in November, said, "This is what I was talking about. Now there'll be that excitement in [Spring Training] camp that we had in 2006. It was missing last year. If we get Johan Santana, we're back to being one of the five best teams in the game. I couldn't be happier."
And David Wright, also attending the B.A.T. dinner, said: "When I think of an ace, I think of a guy that you know is going to get you a win every five days. There's a handful of those guys out there, there's not many. And Johan's one of those guys."
Santana won the AL Cy Young Award in 2004 and 2006, winning 20 and 19 games, respectively, in those seasons. His record last season, 15-13, included his lowest win total in four seasons and as many losses as he had suffered in the previous two seasons combined. He won eight of first 12 decisions and produced a 2.60 ERA in his first 13 starts last season. But he won merely four of his subsequent 14 starts, losing seven. His ERA in his final seven starts was 5.11.
No matter, he is widely regarded as one of the game's elite pitchers. He and Perez would give the Mets two left-handed starters, as they had last season with Glavine and Perez.
Santana would help the Mets immediately, of course. The players in the package hardly were primary in the club's plans for 2008. Even Gomez, who started 34 games and played in 18 others, wasn't guaranteed playing time because the Mets had obtained Ryan Church. The Mets wanted him to continue his development in the Minor Leagues.
Mulvey had become the Mets' most sought after prospect after Gomez and fellow outfielder Fernando Martinez, surpassing Humber in the eyes of other clubs. Guerra is a Class A pitcher. Humber and Mulvey might have pitched in the big leagues in 2008.
Martinez is the Mets' prize prospect. Minaya told people as recently as Sunday he didn't want to include the 19-year-old left-handed hitter in the package. The Twins had sought him, but even when they asked the Mets to make their best offer on Monday, the Mets didn't include Martinez.
With the Mets opposed to dealing Martinez, the inclusion of Gomez was almost a given.
As it is, the package the Twins have accepted will leave the Mets short of high-level Minor League talent and strap them if they need to deal during the season because of injury or after the season when it's possible Martinez, Hernandez, Carlos Delgado and Moises Alou will end their tenures with the club.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Anthony DiComo contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.