Compromise, creativity sealed deal

Compromise, creativity sealed deal

NEW YORK -- Motivation is where and in whatever form you find it. At some point just before 5 p.m. ET Friday, Omar Minaya seemingly found some in the fear of failure. With the deadline for a contractual agreement between the Mets and Johan Santana minutes away, the Mets general manager wondered what words he would use to explain how the club failed to satisfy Santana and allowed its 2008 season to slip through its hands two months before Opening Day.

Minaya didn't care for what he called "the worst case scenario." And though he hardly was convinced the negotiations would fail -- "At 5 o'clock," he said, "I pretty much felt we're not going to get it done" -- he was quite pessimistic about what appeared to be a stalemate in the making. The Mets and Santana's representative stood -- rather rigidly -- $5 million apart. The words Minaya said to himself were "Oh my God, this doesn't look too good."

Then, with each side still quite motivated to find a way and with the deadline extended 120 minutes, compromise and creativity joined hands and pushed aside rigidity. And after all but 15 of the extra minutes had passed, the Mets joined hands with Santana. Deal done. Season saved. Future brightened. General manager at ease. Brilliant pitcher guaranteed $137.5 million, able to purchase Easy Street and put houses and hotels on it.

A physical examination -- far less challenging than the negotiations -- remained, and when Santana passed it Saturday, the Mets finally reverted to being a bona-fide contender for a National League East championship and a team of undisputed relevance in their ultra-competitive market.

By 4:45 p.m. Saturday, Minaya could speak about it -- openly, officially and happily. And the words he used in a conference call with reporters were "thrilled" and "historic" and "unusual," and the phrase "the fans didn't want to hear [why we didn't get it done]."

A monumental week in the club's 47-year history had come and almost gone, and the Mets had made the most of it. Almost a week passed from the moment they decided they would include prospect pitcher Deolis Guerra in their response to the Twins' request for their "best offer." In the interim, the club ownership had spent a fortune and gone beyond its own boundaries, agreeing to a contract for a pitcher for six seasons and a possible seventh.

And, at the same time, it had challenged its other players to make it all work. Minaya spoke of the commitment of the Wilpon family to bring a World Series to Flushing and added, "And our players, they have to commit too, and get it done."

Santana made no public comments Saturday. The Mets plan to introduce him next week after the Super Bowl frenzy and Super Tuesday have passed. For now they -- and presumably he -- are content and relaxed after a week of pressure unlike what normally exists in baseball contract negotiation.

Contract breakdown
Johan Santana's contract has a guaranteed value of $137.5 million and includes an option that can boost the total value to $157 million over seven years.
2008$19 million
2009$20 million
2010$21 million
2011$22.5 million
2012$24 million
2013$25.5 million
2014$25 million, if he vests option or $5.5 million buyout

The clock was a factor. "We were looking at our watches all the time," Minaya said. Seventy-two hours became nearly 74. A person present during the closing minutes of negotiation at the SNY offices in Manhattan said an agreement was in place about 6:40 p.m. Friday, "but not until sometime between 6:40 and 7 was there a document."

And Peter Greenberg, the agent representing Santana, said "Without [the extra time], we wouldn't have gotten it done." And he noted his client had been "ready to walk away" from the fortune on the table.

In the end, the $5 million gap was eliminated by the Mets agreeing to add $2.5 million to what had been their final offer and Greenberg reducing his by the same amount. However, a person familiar with the Mets' thinking said, "Neither side budged from what it thought was important."

"We got creative," Greenberg said, "because [agreement] was something both sides wanted." He acknowledged a return to the Twins wouldn't have been easy for his client. "He's extremely happy. We're all very happy," Greenberg said. "We're still kind of pinching ourselves to make sure this is really true. This is a match made in heaven."

Willis, Cabrera

The Mets initially sought a five-year deal and later extended it to six. At one point Friday, they increased their offer from $128 million to $135 million. Each proposal was rejected. Santana already had moved off his original proposal -- seven years (2009 through 2015) at $25 million per, plus the $13.25 for 2008 that his existing contract included, plus another $7 million to put his 2008 earnings at more than $20 million.

"The figures were where, 10 years ago, I never thought they would be," Minaya said. But then he explained the Mets' thinking. "It's either pay now or pay more next year [when Santana could have become a free agent]. And there was no guarantee he'd be available then."

The Mets also suspect the Yankees will be more active in the next free agent market when they no longer are paying Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina. This was the time for the Mets to act, given their intent to purge the memory of their 2007 collapse from their fan base. "We're looking ahead now," Minaya said.

So the Mets acted, agreeing to a contract that, according to a number of people, guarantees Santana $19 million this year followed by salaries of $20 million, $21 million, $22.5 million, $24 million and $25.5 million. There is no signing bonus. The final year of Santana's contract with the Twins was eliminated.

The Mets have an option on 2014 for $25 million. If they don't choose to exercise it, and it hasn't already vested, they will owe Santana an additional $5.5 million. But the option can vest if the two-time Cy Young Award winner is on the active roster Sept. 1, 2013 and:

• Wins one Cy Young Award and finishes in top three of Cy Young Award voting one other year
Or finishes in the top three in Cy Young Award voting three times in the six years
Or pitches 215 innings in 2013
Or averages 210 innings in the last two or three guaranteed years

If it the option vests or is exercised, the value of the contract will be $157 million. But $5 million of each salary is to be deferred at a relatively low interest rate, so the present value is less than the $137.5 million.

The deferrals and the rates may be what Minaya and Greenberg referred to when they spoke of "getting creative" after 5 p.m. Friday.

Each side said Santana's presence in the late stages of negotiation had made the exercise unique. The soon-to-turn 29 year-old pitcher had no intention of even traveling to New York from his home on Fort Myers, Fla., until a deal was in place. But Tony Bernazard, who knew Santana from his days working in the office of the players' union, convinced Greenberg that his client's meeting the Wilpons -- owner Fred and COO Jeff -- would benefit the negotiations.

Santana's option year
Johan Santana's option can vest if the two-time Cy Young Award winner is on the active roster Sept. 1, 2013 and he:
Wins one Cy Young Award and finishes in top three of Cy Young Award voting one other year
Or finishes in the top three in Cy Young Award voting three times in the six years
Or pitches 215 innings in 2013
Or averages 210 innings in the last two or three guaranteed years
Santana flew in on the Wilpon jet. "We wanted to use the little time we had,"Jeff Wilpon said, "in the best way possible." Hence the meetings that each side said did benefit the cause and create some levity. "It's very strange when you have a player in the room," Minaya said. "I asked him 'Are you a math teacher? How much do you know?'"

Wilpon called the acquisition of Santana "a major event in our franchise's history that will have profound influence for years to come." And who could dispute that?

"We've been lacking what we consider a true No. 1 starter," Minaya said. "It doesn't get much better than Johan Santana."

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.