NEW YORK (AP) -The hardest commodity to find in baseball is a durable, dominant ace.
Pitching arms are fragile, 20-game winners are expensive and the task of developing a true No. 1 starter in your own farm system takes keen scouting, years of patience - and a lot of luck.
So when the New York Mets had a chance to trade for Johan Santana, they jumped at it. Omar Minaya has always been an aggressive general manager, and he wasn't about to pass up an opportunity to land arguably the game's best pitcher.
The Mets agreed to send Minnesota four prospects, including three pitchers, for a guy that could cost them about $120 million or more to sign to a contract extension of five-to-seven years.
That's a steep price, especially considering Santana could have become a free agent after this year's World Series. Next offseason, he might have been available to the highest bidder - without having to give up any players in return.
But this deal was a no-brainer for the Mets, who are trying to win the World Series right now.
Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez have one year left on their contracts. Carlos Beltran is in his prime, David Wright and Jose Reyes will soon enter theirs. All-Star closer Billy Wagner is 36.
And New York has the financial resources to sign Santana, with its own regional sports network and a new ballpark on the way in 2009.
``We're going to welcome him with open arms,'' Wright said.
The question is, did the Twins get the best deal possible for Santana?
Probably not.
The New York Yankees offered the best package of talent earlier this offseason, proposing a deal that would have sent pitcher Phil Hughes, center fielder Melky Cabrera and a minor leaguer to Minnesota.
Considered one of the premier prospects in baseball, Hughes has already shown he can get major league hitters out and he projects as a front-line starter. He went 5-3 with a 4.46 ERA as a rookie last year and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his second big league start, against Texas.
Cabrera is an excellent defensive outfielder who already holds his own with the bat. And don't be surprised if he develops more power as he gains experience.
But new Twins general manager Bill Smith waited, perhaps trying to play the Yankees against the Boston Red Sox, who also made a bid for Santana. Neither team upped its offer, however, and New York pulled out of talks at the winter meetings in December.
When the Twins went back to those teams last weekend, the Yankees and Red Sox held onto their prospects. Santana fell to the Mets, who didn't even have to part with their top overall prospect, outfielder Fernando Martinez. They also kept right-hander Mike Pelfrey, drafted No. 9 overall in 2005.
What the Twins got is a raw, speedy outfielder in Carlos Gomez, who didn't look like much of a hitter in 125 at-bats with New York last year, and right-hander Philip Humber, who has bounced back from elbow ligament replacement surgery after being drafted third overall in 2004.
Minnesota also acquired pitcher Kevin Mulvey, who was 12-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 26 starts at Double-A Binghamton and one at New Orleans last year, and Deolis Guerra, who turns 19 in April and was 2-6 with a 4.01 ERA at Class-A St. Lucie.
Some think Mulvey can be a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the majors. Guerra is a wild card.
If one or two of these guys pan out, it won't be a bad deal for the Twins, who at least shipped Santana out of the American League. The best thing they did, though, is add multiple prospects. When dealing with minor leaguers, dealing in volume is the way to go.
But waiting to pull the trigger might prove costly for the Twins.
Santana, left unprotected by Houston in the 1999 winter meeting draft, turns 29 in March. The left-hander seems to be the closest thing there is to a safe bet, too.
After beginning his career in the bullpen, he proved durable for the Twins but wasn't overused. Minnesota takes great pride in protecting its young arms - Santana has made 33 or 34 starts each of the last four seasons and pitched anywhere from 219 to 233 2-3 innings. He threw extra innings in the playoffs several times, but not last year.
The Mets needed to make a big move after their unprecedented collapse last September left players and fans bitter. Then, Tom Glavine took his 200-plus innings to Atlanta, leaving a huge hole in the rotation.
Plus, they had sat by and watched as their chief rivals in the NL East, the Philadelphia Phillies, upgraded their bullpen (Brad Lidge) and lengthened their lineup (Geoff Jenkins and Pedro Feliz) this offseason.
Just two years ago, the Mets were one win from the World Series. The addition of Santana makes them NL favorites again.

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