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by Matt Smith

As the last few minutes of the football transfer window tick by, many a fan is left scratching their head and questioning “why couldn’t we have bought player X two weeks ago?”. It’s always the same. After four mad weeks of rumours, the trickle of transfers turns into a downpour as the protagonists see the window closing.

That’s the power of the deadline though. So long as it’s in the distance, you can keep your potential partner guessing, both waiting for the other’s patience to run-out. Once the deadline is upon you, there’s no choice but to act and in many cases a rush of blood to the head can lead to regrets.

Johan Santana apparently became tired of waiting around for the Twins to make a decision on his future, so he used the bargaining power of his no-trade clause and made them act. If the Yankees had really put Phil Hughes on the table a month or so ago, or if the Red Sox had dangled Jacoby Ellsbury, there’s little doubt that the Twins’ didn’t cope very well under the pressure of the deadline. You could argue that they only have themselves to blame: they (more specifically former GM Terry Ryan) were the ones who agreed to the clause when signing Santana back in 2004. Winning the Cy Young in 2006 activated his no-trade clause and he is justifiably using it to leverage a massive pay day. It’s fair to say that Santana and his agent have played their cards perfectly and you wouldn’t bet against them doing it again.

So now we will have to see how the Mets respond in a similar situation. Their conditional deal looks like a masterstroke, but they’ve still got to come up with a lucrative multi-year deal that is to Johan’s liking. And they’ve only got until 17.00 ET tomorrow to reach an agreement. By 22.00 UK time, Mets fans should know whether they will be celebrating the arrival of the best pitcher in baseball, or if they will be drowning their sorrows at seeing a bright new future dashed at the final hurdle.

The extremes at play here make me lean towards an optimistic prediction for fans of the Mets and fans of all teams in the AL. Can Omar Minaya really let Santana slip from his grasp when he is so close to pulling off such a monumental deal? After the way their 2007 season ended in such a harrowing fashion? I don’t think so. The only potential sticking point is that Santana and his agent will know as well as anyone how desperate the Mets will now be to make sure the deal doesn’t fall apart. The New York press will have their knives out ready to feast on another ‘last minute choke’ by the Mets and with the deadline looming, it will be hard for Minaya to turn down a demand for an extra $20 million, or an extra year. And that $20 million or one year could be the difference between an acceptably lucrative contract and a burdensome one.

The Mets knew the score when they entered this race: Santana’s going to end up with the largest deal ever signed by a pitcher. If Barry Zito can get a 7 year/$126m deal from the (admittedly insane) San Francisco Giants, Santana must be looking for something in the region of 6/$125m or 7/$145m. That’s a big commitment to make in a starting pitcher. We’ll have to wait and see what the pressure of the deadline produces.

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