Has Johan Santana made his final start as a Twin?

The Twins have no plans to deal their ace. But he's a year away from free agency, and he's willing to waive his no-trade clause if the team changes its mind.

As the Twins enter the offseason seeking to fill several holes in the everyday lineup, two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana has indicated he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause.

"Everything about the Twins, I love," Santana said. "At the same time, if I have to go somewhere else, and it's for the better, I'll do it. I won't have any problems with that."

In 2008, Santana will enter the final season of a four-year, $39.5 million contract. The Twins, who tried unsuccessfully to sign him to an extension in spring training, now must deal with Santana as well as free agents Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva while trying to fix an offense that was 25th out of 30 major league teams in runs scored last season.

If the Twins don't like what the cost of greatness is -- Santana is 93-44 with a 3.22 ERA in his career -- they could approach the 28-year-old with a request for him to waive the no-trade clause in his contract. The package of players they could receive could fill needs at third base, designated hitter and elsewhere.

"As long as it makes sense," Santana said. " It's going to take for my agent and us to figure things out and make sure what is best for us."

Santana likely would reject a deal to any non-contender. And the Twins might need to be prepared to buy out the no-trade clause, which kicked in last year after Santana won his second Cy Young. The Phillies paid Bobby Abreu about $1.5 million to waive his no-trade clause when they dealt the outfielder to the Yankees last year; Abreu and Santana have the same agent in Peter Greenberg.

And if Santana is traded, an extension with his new team could be a requirement.

Greenberg said on Monday that he has touched base with new Twins General Manager Bill Smith, who officially replaced Terry Ryan on Monday, but no timetable for negotiations were discussed.

Twins President Dave St. Peter said last week that his team's immediate offseason tasks are to try to re-sign Hunter and Silva before meeting with Santana. He also said there are no plans to trade Santana.

"We're not going to get into specifics on contracts," St. Peter said. "Johan is a critical objective for this franchise. The reality is that he's under contract. I'm sure our organization will engage in some discussions over the winter about going forward. We're not there yet. Priority 1 is our free agents, Mr. Hunter and Mr. Silva."

The Twins expressed interest in signing Santana and other top players to multiyear deals as far back as January, but ultimately, only Joe Mauer signed a long-term deal. Santana warned them at the time that market forces would drive up his price.

"I know Johan was disappointed," Greenberg said. "He definitely wants to be a Twin and finish his career a Twin. I'm sure he wanted to work something out. He really didn't want to get into the last season of his contract and be in this situation.

"But the Twins have their reasons for doing business. We just have to respect that and take it one day at a time."

The price for pitching continues to rise. San Francisco lefty Barry Zito is in the early stages of a seven-year, $126 million contract. Chicago Cubs righthander Carlos Zambrano signed a five-year, $91.5 million extension in August.

Zito has one Cy Young; Zambrano owns none. That's why there have been whispers of Santana earning $20 million a year.

Twins owner Carl Pohlad is the country's 114th-richest person, according to a recent Forbes report, with an estimated worth of $3.1 billion. The Twins' new stadium is partially funded by taxpayer dollars. Can the team afford to pay Santana $20 million per year? Sure. But the Twins project to set their 2008 payroll at around $80 million, and even if it went up to $100 million in subsequent years, Santana's salary could make up 20 percent or more of the total payroll.

"We're certainly sensitive to the percentage of payroll going to one player," St. Peter said.

Conventional thinking is that one player shouldn't make more than 20 percent of a club's payroll, and very few teams do so. Todd Helton, who earned $16.6 million this season, ate up a little more than 30 percent of the Rockies' Opening Day payroll. Even the Yankees' highest-paid player -- Alex Rodriguez, at $27 million -- makes up only 14 percent of the Yankees' $189 million payroll. Teams such as the Angels, Red Sox and Mariners have payrolls exceeding $100 million but no one making $20 million.

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