CLEVELAND (AP) -As he exited their division and league, the Cleveland Indians took one last fastball from Johan Santana.
A high, hard, costly one.
Last week, Santana agreed to a $137.5 million, six-year contract with the New York Mets, a deal that completed their blockbuster trade with the Minnesota Twins, who acquired four prospects for the left-hander.
The mammoth deal made headlines all around the country and rattled the Indians, who are attempting to sign C.C. Sabathia to a long-term contract. Now, they might have been priced out of any chance at doing so by the Mets' spending splurge.
The Indians recently offered an extension to Sabathia, the defending AL Cy Young Award winner who can become a free agent after the 2008 season. But that deal has now been dwarfed - perhaps nearly doubled - by Santana's record-setting package with New York.
For the Indians, the bar just got a lot higher to keep Sabathia.
eneral manager Mark Shapiro said Monday. ``Every deal that deals with a pitcher of C.C.'s ilk is relevant. But in the end, the only thing that matters is how relevant C.C. and his agents feel it is.''
The 27-year-old Sabathia has maintained he wants to stay in Cleveland, where he began his career, got married and began raising a family. ``It's my second home,'' he said while back in town last month. And there's no doubt that the Indians want to keep Sabathia, who went 19-7 last season and became the club's first Cy Young winner in 35 years.
Business, though, is business and the Indians just don't have the money to swing with baseball's heavy hitters in free agency.
Shapiro understands that better than anyone. With one of the AL's smallest payrolls, he has masterfully built, dismantled and rebuilt the Indians during his tenure and now faces the prospect of losing his ace just as the club returns to prominence.
Signing Sabathia may be his biggest challenge yet.
``The only question that remains is can we find a business deal that is deemed to be equitable and fair by both parties?'' he said. ``Any deal like that we could arrive at will cause both parties to reach and stretch beyond past their point of comfort. The question is, can we reach and stretch and arrive at a point we both feel good about? That remains to be seen.''
s signed by pitchers such as Jake Peavy (three years, $52 million), Roy Halladay (three years, $40 million), Chris Carpenter (five years, $63.5 million) and Carlos Zambrano (five years, $91.5 million) for comparison.
``Recognizing the market we're operating in, we have to be aware of risk and we have to be careful,'' Shapiro said. ``There are people like C.C. who will push the boundaries of our risk tolerance. C.C., because of who he is as a person, as a teammate, as a man and what he can do on the mound, will push the boundaries of our risk tolerance.
``Frankly, he already has.''
Shapiro would not say if the Indians' proposal was rejected by Sabathia's agent, Scott Parker. Assistant GM Chris Antonetti described talks between the sides as ``productive, a good exchange of ideas.''
Ideally, the Indians would like to have talks completed before spring training, but Shapiro said the club would never put any restrictions on a deal of such magnitude.
``There are very few take-it-or-leave-it offers,'' he said. ``There is always room for creativity. There is always room to negotiate. We have not presented them with an ultimatum.''
If need be, Shapiro said the Indians are willing to negotiate throughout next season - and beyond.
``We're not going away,'' Shapiro said. ``If we don't get him signed now, we'll be there in October and November. He may have to see that for himself.''
The Indians, who came within one victory of the World Series last season, have had an uneventful offseason. Shapiro said the club pursued a few trades, but never got close enough on any to pull the trigger.
There are no plans to shop Sabathia anytime soon. The Indians went 96-66 last season and are committed to winning again. They won't consider dealing their ace unless they're out of the AL Central race at midseason.
``We made a philosophical decision that, based upon winning 96 games last year, where this team is and its maturity in general,'' Shapiro said, ``we owe it to our fans not to pursue a trade that compromises this year's opportunity to contend.''

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