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Santana deal brings parity to NL East

Santana deal brings parity to NL East

ATLANTA -- While they were having breakfast before a Chamber of Commerce meeting on Tuesday morning, Tom Glavine reminded John Smoltz that things were going to be different if his former Mets were able to win the Johan Santana sweepstakes.

Approximately 10 hours later, long after it had been revealed that the Twins had indeed agreed to send Santana to the Mets in exchange for four top prospects, Glavine still hadn't heard back from Smoltz, who like everybody else, knows that this single trade immediately changes the complexion of the National League East.

"I'm sure he's cussing me for bringing it up," said a joking Glavine, whose offseason exit from New York increased Mets general manager Omar Minaya's need to fortify his rotation with a front-line starter.

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As long as Santana passes his physical and gets the overwhelming six- or seven-year deal that he's seeking, the Mets will have filled their most obvious offseason need with the best possible solution.

A little more than a month away from his 29th birthday, Santana has already captured two Cy Young Awards and created a strong belief that he is the game's finest pitcher. Dating back to when he became a full-time starter after the 2003 All-Star break, Santana has gone 78-34 with a 2.92 ERA.

The only pitcher with a better ERA during that span is Roger Clemens, whose 2.86 mark comes with the benefit of throwing about 270 innings less than Santana during that span.

In addition, The Rocket spent a large majority of this span in the more pitcher-friendly environment that awaits Santana, who is believed to be looking for the Mets to provide a six- or seven-year deal with an annual salary in the neighborhood of $25 million.

As long as they satisfy Santana's contractual demands, the Mets immediately cloud the NL East picture. If they weren't considered contenders with the Braves and Phillies before, they certainly now find themselves with that label.

"This certainly evens the balance within the division," said Glavine, who signed a free agent contract with Atlanta in November. I don't think this makes [the Mets] the class of the division. I think it puts them in a position where their rotation is much better and that was their biggest need.

"Within the division, I think you have three teams that can now not only win the division, but also the World Series. I think all three teams did a nice job of filling their biggest needs."

Willis, Cabrera

With Glavine, the Braves found a 300-game winner to add depth to their rotation. In Santana, the Mets gained a pitcher who legitimizes any rotation, including the highly criticized one they previously had.

Even with Santana, there's reason to wonder whether Pedro Martinez will ever be himself again and if Oliver Perez and John Maine can build upon last season's success.

But things aren't exactly much different in Philadelphia or Atlanta. The Braves have their fingers crossed about Mike Hampton and are hoping that Glavine and Smoltz don't start pitching like mortal 40-somethings. As for the Phillies, they hope Brett Myers makes a smooth transition back to the rotation and that Kyle Kendrick wasn't just a rookie flash in the pan.

"It wasn't like you looked at the Mets and thought they wouldn't contend," Glavine said. "They have too good of a team. But when you looked at the team, there was obvious concern about their rotation. When you looked at their needs, you said they needed a young, front-line starter and they certainly addressed that in a big way."

Having played the past five seasons with the Mets, Glavine is very familiar with the four prospects the Mets are sending to the Twins. The Braves left-hander believes that outfielder Carlos Gomez and right-handed pitcher Phil Humber both have very bright futures.

"I think Carlos Gomez has a chance to be a fantastic player," Glavine said. "You hear a lot about five-tool guys and he's definitely a legit five-tool guy. Humber -- the same way -- has a great arm and great potential. Long-term, this could be a very good trade for the Twins."

Having drained their already-thin Minor League system by sending four top prospects to Minnesota, the Mets are clearly focused on completing the task that went unfulfilled last year.

Hot Stove

Santana could certainly help them prevent a second straight September collapse. But for now, the Braves are just looking at him as somebody who will increase the challenge as they look to take the NL East title away from the defending champion Phillies.

"It's going to be a dog fight," Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann said. "Obviously our division is up for grabs and I think it's going to stay close until the end. The Phillies upgraded. The Mets upgraded and we believe we've upgraded. Nobody is going to run away with this thing."

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

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