"We were legitimately interested in acquiring him," Epstein said. "We were willing to pay a significant price. We got close at a couple of different points to a deal. We left them with a couple of offers. Contrary to some reports, we didn't pull out at the end. They were left with a couple of offers, and they thought that the Mets offer was better."
So instead of flailing lamely at Santana's changeup on Monday -- they mustered two hits off him in four scoreless innings -- the Sox could have been riding it to victory. Yet the reality of Santana in a white uniform instead of a red one had nothing to do with a lack of effort. Epstein pitched his best offer, and Twins general manager Bill Smith simply believed that the Mets had pitched a better one.
Reports flew around Boston this winter as to which young players the Sox might deal -- center-field prospect Jacoby Ellsbury seemed to be the feature of one proposal, while the other centered around Jon Lester and Coco Crisp. Yet Epstein noted that none of the reports were entirely accurate.
What mattered was that the offers were there -- sitting, waiting, growing stale. Smith considered them, countered with one of his own, and the Sox said no thanks.
"In my mind, it was too much," said Epstein, who wouldn't comment on the specific players involved. "It was not just one or two really good young players. It was a whole generation of young players that I think will make a significant impact for us over the long haul."
One member of that generation, Lester, did his best to justify his general manager's faith on Monday afternoon, silencing the Mets over four shutout innings. On the mound at Tradition Field, what-could-have-been matched up quite well with what-still-might-be.
Lester heard all the winter gossip, of course, tending to his business with one ear to the telephone. Just weeks earlier, he had won the clinching game of the World Series. Suddenly, that didn't seem to matter.
"When you win the World Series, you think you're doing all right," Lester said. "And then your name comes up in trade talks. It gets you a little bit, but then you realize it's business and that's what they have to do to make the team better."
Lester, though, wasn't simply some pawn. The Sox genuinely wanted Santana, and while they were enamored with their own young players -- Lester and Ellsbury had already long since won the hearts of Red Sox Nation -- they knew what Santana could bring.
"We'd be crazy if we had a blanket rule that we never traded good prospects for established talent," Epstein said. "I don't believe in extremes like that. You've got to strike a balancing act, and there are certain players who are so impactful and so talented and young and healthy that they justify significant costs in a trade. Santana's certainly one of those players."
Now he's a Met. He will be for a long time -- and that's just fine, too.
"We thought our offer was strong and fair, and it wasn't enough," Epstein said. "So we move on."