Meanwhile last winter, Santana was looking for a five-year, $100 million extension. He was under contract for two more years, so the total package would have been almost identical to the seven-year, $126 million deal Barry Zito signed with the Giants.
Now, the Twins could try offering that same $100 million extension and Santana wouldn't take it.
The closer players get to free agency, the less risk they have of getting injured and spoiling their chances at a big fortune. Insiders say Hunter was the one keeping the Twins at arm's length during the season, when the team was finally ready to negotiate.
This week, Hunter said the Twins are at a pivotal crossroads with Santana.
"Either you step up this offseason," he said, "or Johan might be out."
The Twins argue that they were proactive with both Hunter and Santana earlier in their careers.
They gave Santana his current four-year, $40 million contract after he won the Cy Young in 2004.
And Hunter was coming off his 2002 All-Star season when the Twins signed him to a four-year deal with an option for 2007. When they picked up that option, it brought the total value of the contract to $44 million.
"I don't have any regrets [with Hunter] because we made him a huge offer five years ago," Twins General Manager Bill Smith said. "He had a tremendous year in '06. We picked up the option. I think everybody got out of that deal what they anticipated."
One of the Twins' quiet strengths is their ability to avoid bad contracts. Outside of Joe Mays, they have signed few players for deals that wasted several million dollars.
But the Hunter saga proved it's sometimes wise to take the gamble. It's too late for the Twins with Santana, but they can apply those lessons with Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer.
Joe Christensen email@example.com