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Claire: Santana looking at big payday

Claire: Santana looking at big payday

Baseball agent Peter Greenberg is an intelligent and well-spoken young man who goes about his business in a very thoughtful manner. You won't find him center stage at baseball's Winter Meetings, and you seldom see him quoted. Greenberg is very good at what he does, however, and he has climbed to the top of his profession without a great deal of fanfare.

In many ways, Greenberg is the perfect partner for the pitcher Johan Santana. Together, they are about to make a lot of news in New York and throughout the world of baseball. The reason is rather clear -- Santana, with Greenberg's guidance, is going to become baseball's highest paid pitcher in history.

The stage for this was set on Tuesday when the New York Mets reached a tentative agreement with the Minnesota Twins to acquire Santana for four young prospects.

There are two aspects of the agreement that have to be worked out -- a contract extension for Santana and then having the pitcher pass a physical examination. Santana figures to pass the physical with flying colors. The contract extension is another matter, and the color involved here is green and a lot of green dollars.

The Mets and the Santana-Greenberg team have until 5 p.m. ET on Friday to work out the extension. The Mets aren't going to make the move without an extension, because you don't trade four of your top prospects to rent a player for one season. The clock is going to move fast for the Mets and their general manager Omar Minaya and the majority of the pressure in this negotiation falls on their side of the table.

Santana is 28 years old, and he is the best young pitcher in the game with a record of 93-44 and a 3.22 ERA in eight Major League seasons. He won the American League Cy Young Award in 2004 and 2006.

Santana has a no-trade clause in his contract and is in a position to reject the Mets, collect the $13.25 million he is due this season from the Twins and wait to become a free agent at the end of the year and open the bidding for his services to all teams.

Willis, Cabrera

All of that is called leverage for Greenberg and Santana. Making matters even tougher for the Mets is that they have had a very quiet offseason after stumbling badly at the end of 2007 and falling short of postseason play when that spot seemed all but assured.

It's hard to say what magic numbers Greenberg has in mind, but my guess is that Santana is about to become the first pitcher ever to average $20 million-plus a season on a multiyear contract.

Greenberg won't have to reach that far to justify his case when one examines the recent contracts of pitchers Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs and Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants.

Zambrano signed a five-year extension last August that pays him $91.5 million, an average of $18.3 million per season.

Zambrano's average annual value (AAV) of $18.3 million surpassed the figure of $18 million a season that Barry Zito reached when he signed a seven-year deal with the Giants in December 2006 for a total deal of $126 million.

The agents always point to the contract figures that are already on the board, placed there by other teams. It could very well be that Greenberg is shooting for a six- or seven-year deal worth between $20 and $25 million.

That range would be enough to give Santana an AAV of $20 million-plus and place him second to the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez as the highest paid player in the game.

I suppose the Mets could say that amount of money is crazy and call the whole thing off. Sure, and try explaining that to a restless fan base and to four young players who have already started to pack their bags and head for Minnesota.

The deal will get done because these types of deals have to get done. You can't put this one back in the bottle. Some time on or before 5 p.m. this Friday, a couple of quiet guys named Santana and Greenberg are going to find themselves squarely in the bright lights of New York. You just have to hope that what played so well in Minnesota will be a smashing success on Broadway.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice president and general manager. His book -- "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue" -- was published by SportsPublishingLLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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