Pitching coach Rick Anderson was targeted twice by strangers during some Friday morning errands, posed the biggest question in baseball this winter not related to the Mitchell Report:
"What's going to happen with Santana?"
This is life at the moment for anyone associated with the Twins, as long as the two-time Cy Young Award winner and left-handed ace is still on the roster. Their earlier offer to extend his contract by four years and $80 million was rejected, leaving a trade the likeliest outcome to this saga.
"I wake up in the morning and hurry up and open up the paper to see if anything happened," said Anderson, who has tutored Santana since 2002, the first year his potential began to show.
Santana has been in Venezuela since the regular season ended, but he recently arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., to start his workouts. In his first published comments this winter, Santana told the local newspaper that he didn't know what to think about the situation.
"I'm a Minnesota Twin. That's all I know. It's up to them. Whatever they have to do is going to happen. It has nothing to do with me at all," Santana told the News-Press. "I said it from the beginning during the season last year, whatever will be the best for this team and this organization, I'll agree with that."
He has a home in Fort Myers, where both the Twins and Red Sox work out. The Yankees conduct spring training in Tampa, and the Mets are on the east coast in Port St. Lucie. Boston and the two New York teams are the only clear players in this game-within-the-game against Minnesota, so everyone around the league is waiting to see who will give in first.
One of Twins general manager Bill Smith's favorite lines of the winter has been some variation of this: "If Johan Santana is our opening day starter, I like our chances."
But making a trade is still the surest bet. Santana's agent, Peter Greenberg, said Friday his relationship with Smith has remained strong through this drawn-out process as rumors -- both founded and otherwise -- swirl throughout the oversaturated sports media market.
Greenberg, in an e-mail, also insisted that he has not demanded to Smith that he complete a deal before Twins pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on Feb. 17.
Oh, and it's not just the Twins who are in the spotlight. Mets general manager Omar Minaya was repeatedly asked about Santana when he visited Israel this week. When he got to the airport in Tel Aviv, some kids yelled: "Are you getting Santana?" When he got on a bus near the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, one man yelled: "Go Mets! Have a good year, Omar."
Anderson doesn't know which five pitchers are in the rotation yet, but -- whether that includes Santana or not -- it will be a young group. Francisco Liriano was an All-Star in 2006 before his elbow surgery, but he's, well, coming off major elbow surgery. Beyond him, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Boof Bonser, and Kevin Slowey will bring varying levels of accomplishment and ability, but little experience.
On Friday, the Twins officially invited to 17 non-roster players to camp including right-handers Casey Daigle and Zach Day, who have a handful of major-league starts to their credit. Day, who was with Triple-A Omaha last year in Kansas City's system, has pitched for the Montreal, Washington and Colorado. He went 9-8 with a 4.18 ERA in 23 starts for the Expos in 2003.
Anderson chuckled as he recalled a conversation with manager Ron Gardenhire this week.
"He called me the other day after looking at the roster, and he said, 'Andy, I don't know half of 'em,'" Anderson said. "It will be a lot of different faces."
Anderson wears every day the Rolex watch that Santana gave him and his catchers to honor one of his Cy Young Awards. After watching another one of his longtime pupils, right-hander Carlos Silva, leave via free agency last month, Anderson has had to brace for the possibility of losing another.
"It's not just the pitcher and what he brings up there on the mound or to the team every five days," Anderson said. "It's the friendship. You're kind of used to having them around. You're with them for so long, and you get attached them and all of a sudden they're gone."