Smith said his mission this winter, simply, is "to try to make the club better." It's a relative statement, of course, because while Angels owner Arte Moreno didn't hesitate in forking over $90 million to Hunter during a whirlwind, 24-hour negotiation last week, Twins owner Carl Pohlad wouldn't free up $90 million for one player if you gave him three months to come up with the money.
If the season started today, the Twins would line up with Jason Tyner (one major league homer in 1,356 at-bats) in center field. Fortunately for them, it doesn't start today.
"We don't have to open the season until March 31," Smith said. "We'll look to get better. We'll look to trades, and we'll look to the free-agent market."
Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner said earlier this week that trade discussions between the two clubs for Santana are under way, though the Boss' son said "I don't want to get into that at this point, as far as what they want, what we're willing to give and all that. It's preliminary right now."
The Twins almost certainly would demand a blue chip young starter like Phil Hughes as part of a package in return, as well as another impact major league player such as Robinson Cano. Good luck with that.
Santana has a full no-trade clause, and a negotiating window would surely need to be arranged before a deal is completed, allowing the acquiring team to sign him to an extension.
Hello and goodbye
Hunter already is in Southern California. The Angels ran him through the prerequisite physical examination most of the day Monday, he was scheduled to spend Tuesday house hunting and then he will be publicly introduced at a Wednesday news conference before flying home to Texas to catch his son's basketball game.
The Twins offered Hunter a three-year, $45 million deal back in August, but never were seriously in the game this winter once free-agent negotiations began.
"Bill Smith called the day I got the Gold Glove, and he congratulated me and said, 'Whatever happens, you're a first-class guy and you've been a class act,'" Hunter said. "He said, 'You brought a winning tradition back to Minnesota.'
"I automatically thought, 'That's it. It's over.'"
Said Smith: "He was a good player for this organization for 15 years, and we're sorry to lose him. I wish him well. He's a good person on the field and off the field. He got a tremendous offer from the Angels."
• With Hunter off the board, the top center fielders remaining on the market are Andruw Jones and Aaron Rowand. The Dodgers are interested in both, but don't expect the Phillies to give up on Rowand without an aggressive push to re-sign him.
GM Pat Gillick's comments heading into the playoffs last month were telling. During a radio interview before the Philadelphia-Colorado first-round series, Gillick, speaking of the Phillies' stirring comeback against the New York Mets in the NL East, noted that this was the first time in all of his years in baseball that he was convinced that chemistry, and not simply sheer talent, is important. This from the architect of the 1992 and 1993 Toronto world championship clubs. Rowand's grittiness is what convinced Gillick. There are those in Philadelphia who view Rowand as the glue who held the '07 Phillies together.
• The Dodgers had a meeting scheduled with Hunter for Sunday and Monday this week. Whoops, scratch that one. More and more, it looks as if hiring manager Joe Torre might be the slow-footed Dodgers' biggest move of the winter.
General manager Ned Colletti, speaking at a news conference to tout the club's March 29 exhibition with Boston in the Los Angeles Coliseum, noted that the club is "less likely" to bring in veterans who would block playing time for the young nucleus of James Loney, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Co.
Of course, that could simply be lowering expectations in Los Angeles to cushion the early disappointment of not adding an impact player such as, say, Hunter. The Dodgers still are expected to talk to Rowand and Jones. Rowand is a Southern California native who grew up in Glendora, not far from Dodger Stadium.
• The White Sox, who in hindsight never should have let Rowand go following their 2005 World Series title, are showing serious interest in Rowand after missing out on Hunter.
• Rival clubs say that San Diego GM Kevin Towers is discussing Cy Young winner Jake Peavy in trade talks this winter, though the feeling is that it's just to gauge interest as the Padres attempt to work an extension with Peavy.
Still, the club has several holes right now -- center field and second base among them -- and Peavy, who is signed for $6 million in '08 with an $8 million club option for '09, presents a cheaper alternative to Santana for those attempting to land an ace. Makes sense that the Angels would run a similar package to the one outlined above -- say, Matthews, Willits and a starting pitcher like Ervin Santana or Joe Saunders -- by the Padres for Peavy.
• The Pirates, with new GM Neal Huntington directing yet another rebuilding process, are discussing sending corner outfielder Xavier Nady (.278 batting average, 20 homers, 72 RBI in '07) and center fielder Nate McLouth (.258, 13, 38, 22 steals) to San Diego for third base prospect Chase Headley (.330, 20, 78 for Double-A San Antonio).
• Texas offered Hunter $70 million over six seasons, and not only was that Rangers offer completely dwarfed by that of the Angels, Hunter said "you've got to face losing" for the next year or two as Texas restocks. And at 32, Hunter didn't want to wait to win.
• Yes, that really was Kansas City making a serious pass at Hunter, too -- like, five years and $75 million worth.
• Before Kerry Wood re-signed with the Cubs, he considered a two-year offer from Milwaukee and listened to serious interest from San Diego. In the end, considering all of the patience on the part of the Cubs through Wood's long history of injuries, it was nice to see Wood return the loyalty.
• While most of the trade attention has focused on Santana and Baltimore lefty Erik Bedard, Oakland GM Billy Beane is quietly shopping right-hander Dan Haren. The Athletics control Haren for the next two years at a total of $9.5 million and own a $6.75 million option on him for 2010. While he's certainly a lot more economical than Santana, the feeling is that Beane is trolling simply to see if another club will overwhelm him with an offer.
• You won't find it in the box scores next season, but the Dodgers scored a coup in hiring marketing genius Dr. Charles Steinberg away from the Red Sox on Tuesday. The club has been mostly all thumbs under owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, and the deal with Steinberg, in the works for the past two months or so, at least should make the club smarter. Now, about that big bat needed for the middle of the order. ...