Do I think Johan Santana will get traded this offseason?
But that is just a gut feeling based on recent conversations with Twins officials and others from around the game.
So far, the Twins seem to be in a fact-finding mode. They are learning which teams are interested, though as of Monday, they said they had yet to receive a specific offer.
They are canvassing their coaches and scouts for opinions on players from other organizations, preparing themselves for every scenario.
Since Santana can veto any trade, he likely will demand a contract extension of at least $120 million. At that price, only a few teams are in the running.
We keep hearing the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers. Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner told the Associated Press on Monday that his team has started talking with the Twins about a Santana trade, saying, "It's preliminary right now."
This is a crucial phase. The Twins expect to know whether they will trade Santana by the end of the winter meetings, which run Dec. 3-6.
Remember: They don't have to trade him now. Publicly, they say they haven't given up hope of signing him beyond 2008.
No matter how unlikely that sounds, they still can wait to move him until the July 31 trade deadline.
I think the trade will happen soon. But it's going to take some real guts because the offers probably are not going to be as impressive as Twins fans hope.
Other trades have spoiled them.
If the Twins could get Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano for A.J. Pierzynski -- an above-average catcher -- what might they get for Santana?
He has two Cy Young Awards. He never has had a serious arm injury. And he doesn't turn 30 until March 2009.
But this isn't that simple because he is eligible for free agency after next season.
Think about what the Twins are really offering.
Santana, yes, but for only one season, only about 34 starts. That, plus the exclusive right to pay him that bulky contract extension.
How much is that worth to teams?
His value isn't what it was after 2006. By his enormous standards, he had a substandard 2007 season, going 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA. He gave up 33 home runs, nine more than his previous career high, and scouts have mentioned subtle warning signs, such as his reluctance to throw his slider.
In any Santana trade, the Twins might want an established star, such as Robinson Cano or Jose Reyes, along with multiple prospects. But that is a pipe dream.
The game has changed. Teams are far more reluctant to part with young, established stars.
In 1998, the Twins shipped Chuck Knoblauch to the Yankees for Cristian Guzman, Eric Milton, Brian Buchanan and Danny Mota. Guzman and Milton became All-Stars for the Twins.
But the Yankees have become wiser in recent years. So have the Red Sox.
And for all his credentials, Santana isn't even the most coveted player on the trade market. That would be Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera.
Asked which one would bring the bigger return, one National League scout said Cabrera, adding, "it's not even a discussion."
The 24-year-old Cabrera could transform a lineup with his righthanded bat. And he's not eligible for free agency until after 2009.
The Marlins have been shopping Cabrera all month and have yet to find the right match.
The good thing is, it only takes one team to make the process all worthwhile.
When the Twins traded Pierzynski four years ago, they had the Giants bidding against the Cubs. The Twins weren't satisfied with either offer until the Giants agreed to include Liriano as a throw-in.
For Santana, the Twins could get five or more teams into the sweepstakes.
The Mets have the biggest need. They are desperate for starting pitching.
The Yankees need a front-line starter, too. And since the Yankees are interested, the Red Sox are too, if only to drive up the Yankees' price.
Ultimately, the Twins will have their pick of some good offers. But probably nothing that would make their fans forgive them for giving up a pitcher who is 93-44.
Joe Christensen firstname.lastname@example.org