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Santana sweepstakes could be over

The New York Yankees may now be the frontrunners in the Johan Santana sweepstakes.

Following internal discussions among front-office executives, the Yankees on Saturday offered young right-hander Phil Hughes in a three-player package for the Twins' ace. Outfielder Melky Cabrera and a third prospect would also be included in the trade.

The Yankees told the Twins the third prospect will not be pitchers Ian Kennedy or Alan Horne or outfielder Jose Tabata.

If the Twins accept the offer, it is believed the Yankees will come to terms with Santana on a five- or six-year extension worth more than $20 million per season.

The Yankees had been offering a package leading with Kennedy and Cabrera, but Minnesota insisted that Hughes be included. The Yankees made Joba Chamberlain off limits, but it appears the Twins would be happy to accept Hughes.

The Boston Red Sox are having similar debates in their own front office over two players the Twins have requested from them -- outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and pitcher Clay Buchholz. But it appears that the Red Sox are unlikely to surrender either Ellsbury or Buchholz, two highly-coveted players unless the Twins are willing to expand the deal and include other players.

The Red Sox are proposing a four-player package that includes young left-hander Jon Lester, center fielder Coco Crisp and minor-league shortstop Jed Lowrie. While the Twins showed interest in Crisp earlier in anticipation of losing Torii Hunter, they appear steadfast in their request that either Ellsbury or Buchholz be included in the package for Lester.

The Yankees, Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers are believed to be the most active pursuers of Santana, whose contract expires after the 2008 season. Any acquiring team would have to get Santana's blessing, as he has a full no-trade clause. They'd also want to try to lock him up to a long-term deal before a trade can be completed.

New York senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner said Friday outside Legends Field, the Yankees' spring training complex, that the team will not be publicly addressing negotiations with Minnesota.

"Anything said at this point, and I expect the other people in the organization to follow suit, you never know how it affects whatever, especially with other teams we're dealing with," Steinbrenner said. "It's just no comment for now. At this point, until we get something done or don't get something done on whatever we're looking to do, it's kind of as far as I'm concerned a lockdown now."

The Yankees could finalize contracts with third baseman Alex Rodriguez, closer Mariano Rivera and backup catcher Jose Molina after next week's winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.

"Everything is going smooth with all three of those guys," Steinbrenner said.

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