Red Sox Eye Ace Santana

While Hank Steinbrenner set deadlines and publicly lusted after Johan Santana, the Red Sox just bided their time and stayed in the game.

And what do you know? As Monday night turned into Tuesday morning at the winter meetings, suddenly it was the Red Sox who loomed as the favorites to pull off a deal for the best pitcher in baseball.

ESPN the Magazine's Buster Olney reported early Tuesday that the Twins asked the Red Sox for permission to review the medical records of pitcher Jon Lester, amid indications a Red Sox-Twins trade could go down sometime during the early-morning hours.

If the Twins were satisfied with Lester's medicals, it's believed they would accept a swap of him, Coco Crisp, shortstop prospect Jed Lowrie and either highly regarded pitching prospect Justin Masterson or another player.

Or if the Twins reversed field and decided they wanted center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury instead, it's believed that would be a 3-for-1 trade -- with only Ellsbury, Masterson and Lowrie going to Minnesota.

However, the Red Sox apparently remained adamant that while either Ellsbury or Lester was available, they would trade one or the other -- but not both -- in any trade.

The Twins also spent much of Monday night exploring potential 3-for-1 and 4-for-1 trades with the Yankees -- and getting shot down on all their proposals.

According to baseball officials who were aware of those talks, the Twins initially asked for pitcher Ian Kennedy, along with pitcher Phil Hughes and outfielder Melky Cabrera.

After being told Kennedy wasn't available if Hughes was part of the deal, the Twins apparently proposed expanding the trade into a 4-for-1 swap, with players they considered to be lesser prospects than Kennedy. But the Yankees quickly rejected that pitch, too.

That last proposal included Hughes, Cabrera, pitcher Jeff Marquez and either pitcher Alan Horne or outfielder Austin Jackson.

All this took place while the Yankees counted down toward their self-imposed Monday night deadline, set against senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner's threats that the Yankees felt they had the best deal on the table and they would walk away if the Twins didn't say yes.

"It's still something that we can't do," Steinbrenner said Tuesday morning, according to The Associated Press. "As far as I'm concerned, it's probably off."

The deadline was intended to nudge the Twins into action. Little did the Yankees suspect it might actually work to the Red Sox's benefit.

New Twins general manager Bill Smith didn't seem concerned about the deadline at any rate.

"We've got good players. We have players that maybe other clubs would like to acquire," he said, according to the AP. "We've had a lot of years where we keep going over and picking up the phone receiver to be make sure the dial tone was still [there]. We couldn't get the phone to ring."

All along, the Yankees seemed to believe that the Red Sox weren't seriously pursuing Santana, that the Boston game plan was to stay just interested enough to force the Yankees to overpay for him. Apparently not.

One source who spoke with the Red Sox delegation told that the Red Sox group was just sitting around its suite Monday night, watching the Patriots-Ravens game, when Smith called and asked to see Lester's medicals.

That got those teams' wheels turning again -- and did so, coincidentally, at the same time the Yankees were almost simultaneously beginning to talk themselves out of this trade.

Officials from other clubs said several of the Yankees' baseball personnel at the meetings had begun openly questioning whether they even wanted to make this trade if the Twins said yes.

"The more this goes on," said one AL executive, "the less they want to do it."

The Twins haven't budged since Friday. They wanted Kennedy then, and they still did on Monday.

Meanwhile, officials from other clubs said some Yankees baseball personnel at the meetings have continued to agonize over the inclusion of Hughes in their offer, out of fear Hughes could come back to haunt them for years. So clearly, the decision to include Hughes in the first place was far from unanimous.

Cashman admitted there's a fear that players he might trade could win Cy Young Awards for another team.

"I'm definitely fully invested in a lot of the young talent. You get attached to it," Cashman said, according to the AP.

And if the Yankees had any inclination whatsoever to waver on their stand a few days ago, the news Monday that Andy Pettitte had decided to return undoubtedly helped ease those concerns.

With Pettitte back, the Yankees can mount a respectable rotation, with or without Santana -- around Pettitte, Chien-Ming Wang, Hughes, Chamberlain, Kennedy and Mike Mussina. They also are expected to renew their efforts to trade for Oakland's Dan Haren.

But if the Red Sox wind up sweeping Santana out from under them -- and adding him to a rotation that already includes Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka -- it will be fascinating to see if the Yankees feel the need to respond by reeling in another ace of their own.

"If the Red Sox get Santana," said an executive of one NL team that's grateful to be in the other league, "they might be the best team in the history of the frigging universe."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and now is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. The Associated Press contributed to this report.