NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -Minnesota general manager Bill Smith maintained Wednesday that Johan Santana could wind up with a surprise team in 2008: the Twins themselves.
Smith said he didn't feel obligated to trade the two-time Cy Young Award winner just because he could walk away for nothing at the end of next season. Instead, Minnesota could try to keep him and make another attempt to re-sign him.
``I've said all along it's our first choice,'' Smith said. ``We'd love to have him. We'd love to keep him.''
The fate of the Twins' ace has dominated baseball's winter meetings at the Opryland Hotel this year. New York Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner said his team had ended its pursuit, leaving Minnesota to decide whether to accept an offer from the Boston Red Sox that would include Jon Lester or Jacoby Ellsbury and a package of prospects.
The Mets have also told the Twins they remain interested.
``Everyone knows who is out there,'' New York manager Willie Randolph said. ``The big fish are out there. Santana is still out there. I don't think that we're necessarily out of the picture even though I think Boston and the Yankees get most of the play on that. Depends on what Minnesota wants, if they have what we like, that's something that might happen.''
But Minnesota didn't seem in a hurry to trade Santana.
``If it's a Red Sox player, Red Sox timetable. That's how I would look at it,'' Boston general manager Theo Epstein said. ``They're probably doing the same thing.''
As is his policy, Epstein refused to mention Santana by name or discuss him specifically, though he did refer to the Twins.
``We completely respect the position the Twins are in. It's their prerogative to handle this any way they see fit,'' Epstein said. ``I have no problem with the way they're handling this at all.''
Santana went 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA in 2007 and is due to earn $13.25 million in '08. Then he can become a free agent.
Any team trading for the 28-year-old left-hander is expected to try and sign him to a contract extension first.
Epstein said there are no deadlines on any deals being considered and left open the possibility that no trade would be consummated before baseball's winter meetings pack up on Thursday.
Manager Terry Francona also refused to join the speculation.
``I wouldn't even touch that,'' he said when asked about the possibility of adding a front-line starter. ``I think the best way to answer is that I, and we, love our young players.''
The Red Sox aren't just sitting around.
They're also shopping pitcher Julian Tavarez, a spot starter and long reliever this year who was left off the postseason roster.
Tavarez was 7-11 with a 5.15 ERA, making 23 starts and nine relief appearances. Boston picked up his 2008 option for $3.85 million after the season.
Speaking generally about lesser moves, Epstein said, ``We have a couple proposals out there that were not met with instant derision. I take that as cause for optimism.''
If the Red Sox can't land Santana, it would be one of their quietest winter meetings since Epstein took over as GM in 2002. Part of it is that, after winning their second World Series in four seasons, they don't have much need to upgrade.
But another part is that for the first time in years the Red Sox haven't been trying to shop Manny Ramirez. Epstein said Wednesday he has received no calls for the potent but occasionally problematic outfielder.
``I think teams realize Manny is happy being a Red Sox (player),'' Epstein said.
Epstein also re-signed World Series MVP Mike Lowell and right-hander Curt Schilling before the winter meetings. Both players might have gotten more money if they waited for a market to develop.
``I'm thrilled,'' Francona said. ``I think that's the first time Schilling ever left anything on the table.''

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