Santana sweepstakes heating up

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If the Red Sox relent and include young outfield phenom Jacoby Ellsbury in trade talks for Johan Santana, Boston would probably lead the high-stakes sweepstakes for the two-time Cy Young Award winner. But to this point, the Red Sox have declined to include Ellsbury in a package that centers around young left-handed pitcher Jon Lester.

If they remain firm in their stance to keep Ellsbury, the New York Yankees could be in the best position to land Santana.

Boston remains hopeful that the Minnesota Twins will accept center fielder Coco Crisp as part of a multi-player package. But for now, "the Twins are stuck on Ellsbury,'' a league source said.

If Ellsbury remains out of the package, and Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein is known to be enamored of him, the Yankees could be the favorite to win the services of Santana, the 28-year-old lefty who went 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA in 2007. Minnesota is fielding offers for the pitcher who is 93-44 for his career.

The Twins have asked the Yankees for one of three top pitching prospects -- Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy -- plus center fielder Melky Cabrera and one or two younger prospects. While the Yankees say they won't surrender Chamberlain, who became a fan favorite during his late-season callup, they must know they'd have to give up either Hughes or Kennedy to have a chance at Santana. The Yankees are also believed willing to deal Cabrera for Santana even if it leaves a temporary hole in center field.

At least the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels are seen as contenders to land Santana, who is a free agent after the 2008 season and has a full no-trade clause.

The Mets have talked to the Twins, but their chances are hindered by Minnesota's apparent disinterest in the Mets' pitching prospects. The Mets quickly dismissed the Twins' request for either Jose Reyes or David Wright, and while Minnesota appears interested in the Mets' positional prospects, the situation is complicated because the Twins might have to spin off one of the Mets' prospects for a pitcher to have any chance to make it work for them.

Further hindering the Mets' chances, their top positional prospects -- Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez -- are all outfielders. The Twins were reportedly in serious talks Wednesday to send their young pitcher Matt Gaza in a trade to Tampa Bay for a package that includes five-tool outfielder Delmon Young.

The Angels are focused on acquiring a hitter -- Miguel Cabrera, preferably -- for the middle of their order. The Dodgers have suggested recently that they may not do anything major in terms of player acquisitions.

All of which could leave the Santana derby as a battle between the Yankees and Red Sox.