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12/05/07 1:24 AM ET

Sox alone in Santana chase?

Boston remains favorite as suitors for ace appear limited

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- By Tuesday night, the Red Sox remained hopeful of making a blockbuster deal for Twins ace Johan Santana, and still appeared to be the favorites in the derby.

But until every aspect of the transaction is complete, the Sox aren't going to start fitting Santana for that No. 57 jersey.

For the second consecutive day, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein didn't refer to Santana by name in his session with the media. But on Tuesday, he did discuss the hot rumor-mill topic -- Boston's pursuit of the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner -- in broad terms.

"It's tough to tell," said Epstein. "It takes two teams to make a trade. I know there's been a lot of speculation out there that we're close to something big, but until we actually reach agreement, then we're not that close."

However, the field seemed to be shrinking. Perhaps it will come down to the Red Sox or the Twins simply opting not to trade Santana.

The Yankees -- stuck at an impasse because they wouldn't add Ian Kennedy to a package that already included Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera -- are said to have backed out of the talks, at least for now.

Earlier in the day, there were rumors that the Angels -- who lost out to the Tigers in the race for stud slugger Miguel Cabrera -- were ready to swoop back in. But Angels general manager Tony Reagins denied having any talks with the Twins regarding the ace.

If other teams are in on Santana, they've kept an extremely low profile at the Winter Meetings.

Could it be that Boston is Minnesota's only dancing partner for a pitcher who many consider to be the best in the game?

"I don't know," Epstein said. "We're just focusing on what we're doing."

What the Red Sox have done is offer the Twins multiple packages. One reportedly included left-hander Jon Lester, center fielder Coco Crisp, shortstop Jed Lowrie and right-hander Justin Masterson. The other one consisted of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, Lowrie and Masterson. It is believed that the Twins -- looking to bolster their pitching staff with highly-rated prospects -- are more interested in scenario A.

The Red Sox, at least at this point, have been unwilling to include Ellsbury and Lester together in any proposal.

"Our approach in certain transactions is to be as flexible and accommodating and respectful as we possibly can be, while at the same time making sure we only offer things that we're very comfortable with," said Epstein. "I never really say that you've exhausted every avenue. There might be some other way to reach a deal that you haven't thought of just yet."

Winter Meetings

Asked if the process was nerve-wracking, Epstein said it wasn't. In fact, he is confident in the state of his organization with or without the addition of another ace pitcher to go alongside Josh Beckett.

"I think we're in a great position," said Epstein. "[Manager Terry Francona] said it well earlier today. He said, 'Last year, when I left your office and you were telling us how the free-agent pitching didn't excite you and how we had a plan to kind of lay low and go after [Daisuke] Matsuzaka, I left your office thinking, "This is going to be great if we get this guy, but we're [in trouble] if we don't."' [Francona] said, 'I don't have that feeling at all today.'"

"I think with some of the things that we're discussing as an organization, we all feel as if it's a win-win, that we're in a great position regardless," continued Epstein. "We've worked hard to get in this position, we feel good about our team at the Major League level. We feel good about our future. We're excited to see how it plays out. We're open to opportunities to get better. So, no, it's not nerve-wracking, because either alternative is a good one."

There were some reports that the Twins had informed the Red Sox they wanted something done by the end of Tuesday.

"I'm not comfortable commenting on timelines, or what other teams are indicating," Epstein said.

Similarly, Twins general manager Bill Smith wouldn't say if he had instituted any deadline.

"I can't predict the future," Smith said. "It takes two to tango always. So I don't know."

Epstein didn't sound as if he was ready to jump through hoops to acquire another starting pitcher in the event that efforts to reach Santana are unsuccessful.

After all, Boston already has Beckett, Matsuzaka, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Lester and Clay Buchholz.

"It's one of the most difficult things to do in baseball, is to compete at the highest level while developing young talent and while growing with that talent. I think we're in a position to do that," said Epstein. "I think we've done that, to some extent. I think we're in a position, to continue to do that and that's not to be taken lightly. We've worked really hard for a long time to get in this position and this is a big part of our philosophy that we believe in. We're not going to actively seek other deals just for the sake of making deals. Within that philosophy of growing with your own young talent and competing while developing, there are times to consider big moves that are almost too good to pass up that can make you a lot better."

Though Santana has clearly been Boston's hot-button topic at these Winter Meetings, Epstein was making sure other business -- such as improving the bullpen and the bench -- doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

"We have other things going on as well," said Epstein. "We're going to meet [Tuesday night] and sort of distribute assignments to our scouts for the evening and check in with other teams on smaller deals and make sure we don't miss any opportunities because of any one transaction."

But the big transaction -- the one Epstein won't refer to by name due to his respect for protocol -- is the one that all eyes continue to be fixated on.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.