ORLANDO - Twins General Manager Bill Smith has enjoyed passing through the Hyatt Grand Cypress lobby in relative anonymity this week, while reporters flock to some of his high-profile brethren at the annual general managers meetings.
By Tuesday, his cover was blown.
Major League Baseball corralled most of the game's GMs in one hallway for a 45-minute interview session, and Smith quickly found himself surrounded by notebooks and tape recorders, fielding various versions of the same question:
Will the Twins trade Johan Santana?
Without ever completely ruling that out, Smith stressed that the team hopes to sign Santana beyond 2008, when his current contract expires.
"We'll certainly talk and do the best we can to re-sign him," Smith said. "And if we can't, he's still the best pitcher in the game, and we're excited to get [Francisco] Liriano back hopefully next year."
With Liriano making steady progress in his recovery from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery, the Twins hope he and Santana can form the 1-2 punch that was so powerful in 2006.
But others continue to speculate that the Twins will trade Santana, figuring a big-market team will swoop in with enough talent to pry him from the Twins and enough money to sign Santana to a long-term extension.
His trade value is particularly high because of the relatively weak free-agent pitching class this offseason.
"We're always looking for a frontline starter, and that's difficult to do," New York Mets GM Omar Minaya said. "Teams aren't willing to give them up unless you really blow them away and give them a lot of players."
One rumor making its way among scouts in the Grand Cypress lobby Tuesday had the Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers discussing a Santana trade. Several Twins officials shot that down, saying they have had no discussions with the Dodgers about anything of late.
Still, other Santana rumors will surely follow.
Cleveland is in a similar situation with All-Star lefthander C.C. Sabathia, another potential free agent after 2008, but Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro has blunted any Sabathia trade speculation.
Shapiro said he would like to sign Sabathia before spring training, and even if that proves impossible, Shapiro said he still wants Sabathia pitching for Cleveland next season.
"Our prevalent goal right now is to win a championship, and I can't imagine any criteria where C.C. doesn't give us the best chance to do that," Shapiro said.
After the national media cleared, the Star Tribune asked Smith if he could rule out any scenario where Santana would be traded this offseason.
He didn't bite.
"We're going to do what's best for the Minnesota Twins," he said.