So the overwhelming question since word of the trade was leaked on Tuesday has been -- why now?
"I think it dragged on long enough and we all got to a point where you want to go into Spring Training knowing what you have," Twins general manager Bill Smith said on a conference call to announce the deal Saturday afternoon. "The other teams certainly want to do that. The Twins, our manager and coaching staff ... I think everybody just reached the point that this was the best deal we were going to get."
A tentative deal between the two teams was agreed to on Tuesday, but it didn't become official until Santana passed his physical in New York on Saturday morning.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle of the trade was cleared on Friday, when the Mets and Santana's agent, Peter Greenberg, reached agreement on a six-year contract that includes a guaranteed $137.5 million and features a seventh-year, $25 million vesting option for 2014 with a $5.5 million buyout.
Santana's is the largest contract for a pitcher in baseball history, topping the previous mark set by Barry Zito's seven-year, $126 million deal from the Giants last offseason. Santana's average annual salary of $22.5 million ranks second in baseball, trailing only Alex Rodriguez's $27.5 million.
Santana's new contract is a substantial increase from the four-year, $80 million extension that the Twins offered him in November. That extension would have been an addition to the $13.25 million Santana was set to make in '08.
It was shortly after Santana turned down that offer when the Twins and the pitcher's camp decided it might be best to explore trade options. Despite the trade talks, Smith said that the Twins kept up their efforts to re-sign Santana until this past week. Smith would not get into specifics, but some reports have the team upping the offer to as much as five years and $100 million.
Greenberg said the inability to reach an agreement wasn't due to the Twins' offer not being a substantial one, but that Santana had other things to think about -- including the influence of his record-setting contract on future deals.
"It was very hard for him to leave Minnesota and I know the fans will miss him there," Greenberg said on a conference call to announce the deal in New York. "He also understands that he has obligations to the market and the other players coming after him."
Numerous reports have said that with the Twins' pitchers and catchers set to report on Feb. 17 and no deal in place, Greenberg and Santana issued a deadline to the club to get something done. On the call, Greenberg denied that claim.
"If we felt we had not gotten an offer that was acceptable, then we would have kept Johan for the 2008 season. We're excited about these four players."
-- Twins GM Bill Smith
But earlier this week, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said that the ace's camp indicated to the club that if it did not secure a deal for him by the end of the day Tuesday, he would not waive his full no-trade clause and would remain with the team until the end of the '08 season. Santana then likely would have departed via free agency, leaving the Twins with just two Draft picks as compensation.
"It became a point where it almost had to be done," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said "And those things happen in this game. Bill [Smith] did the right thing [making this deal]. He did what he had to do, and we all move on from there."
So following months of talks with other teams, the Twins stepped up their efforts to trade Santana last week. The club approached Santana's three main suitors -- the Mets, the Yankees and the Red Sox -- and asked them to deliver their best offers by Tuesday. Mets GM Omar Minaya said he received a call on Sunday from Smith with the request.
That pressure to get a deal done likely impacted the package that the Twins received.
While there were indications that the Twins initially wanted Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, -- or even more recently, the Mets' top prospect, outfielder Fernando Martinez -- Minaya said that neither player was available in trade offers at any point. The Twins ended up with what they feel is a group of four talented, yet raw, prospects.
Of the four players coming to the Twins, Gomez appears to be the only one that may have an impact on the club in 2008. The 22-year-old outfielder is expected to compete for the opening in center field left by Torii Hunter's departure, and could provide the team with an option for the leadoff spot.
Humber, 25, also was placed on the 40-man roster and could perhaps factor into the rotation race this spring. But the other two pitchers, 22-year-old Mulvey and 18-year-old Guerra, are at least a season or two away from reaching the Majors.
"If we felt we had not gotten an offer that was acceptable then we would have kept Johan for the 2008 season," Smith said. "We're excited about these four players."
But after word of the trade leaked Tuesday, the reaction was immediately mixed.
Many writers and fans knocked the Twins' return for its lack of Major League-ready players. Some felt that the club could have received better prospects had the trigger been pulled on a deal at the Winter Meetings in early December with either the Yankees or Red Sox.
Still, as is the case with most trades involving prospects, the outcome of this deal on the Twins likely won't be known for at least a few years.
Santana now becomes the second notable player to depart the Twins organization this offseason. The club lost Hunter to free agency when he signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Angels on Thanksgiving.
Like in the case of Santana, the Twins were significantly outbid when it came to Hunter. The team offered the center fielder a three-year, $45 million contract to stay in Minnesota. But while some point to the two losses as a sign the Twins still can't compete with big-market clubs, Smith didn't feel that way.
"Johan's contract is historic in nature for a pitcher, and I certainly don't apologize for the offers that we made to any one of them," Smith said of Santana, Hunter and the club's other free-agent departure, Carlos Silva. "I think we were competitive. Now we'll move forward."
They'll do so without the pitcher that Smith said Saturday was the "best in the game."
In eight seasons with the Twins, Santana went an impressive 93-44 with a 3.22 ERA. Over that time, Santana won Cy Young Awards in 2004 and 2006 and finished third in the balloting in 2005. He was considered to be a big part of the Twins winning four American League Central titles from 2002-06.
"Absolutely, we're going to miss him," Gardenhire said. "I wish him nothing but success. He's been a very, very good player for us, and a very good person and friend. Honestly, I can just say that I'm proud to have had an opportunity to manage him."
Without Santana, the Twins now face a situation where their rotation could feature no starter above the age of 26. Scott Baker and Boof Bonser are the most experienced of the group, possessing a total of 48 career starts each.
There have been indications that the Twins could now go out and add a veteran starter to the mix for Spring Training. Reports have said the club is interested in free-agent right-hander Josh Fogg, who was 10-9 with a 4.94 ERA for the Rockies last season.
"There are a few veteran guys out there and we have had some discussions," Smith said. "You'd love to have a veteran presence. But we're going to look at how they would fit in with this club."