The Yankees likely will pull out of trade talks for Johan Santana if the Twins don't make a decision by late today.

"I'm not going to be played against the Red Sox. That's not something I'll do. That's not something the Yankees should ever do, and that's I think what they're trying to do now," Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner said yesterday in Nashville, Tenn., site of the winter meetings.

The Yankees have proposed swapping pitcher Phil Hughes, centerfielder Melky Cabrera and a midlevel prospect for the two-time Cy Young Award winner, who can become a free agent after next season.

Boston also is competing to land Santana. The Red Sox are thought to have offered a package that would include pitcher Jon Lester or centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, but not both. Centerfielder Coco Crisp also could be part of a trade.

Steinbrenner wouldn't set a specific time for pulling out. "We'll see how it goes, but this is not an act. It's not a bluff. It's just reality," he said. "Because as much as I want Santana, and you can make that clear - for his sake, to know that I do want him - but the fact is that I'm not going to play the game."

A trade likely would have to be made on a conditional basis, giving the Yankees or Red Sox 72 hours to work out a new long-term contract for Santana, who is owed $13.25 million next season.

Noteworthy

* Sammy Sosa wasn't offered salary arbitration by the Rangers, who still might be interested in bringing back the slugger. Sosa, 39, hit .252 with a team-high 21 home runs and 92 RBI in 114 games for Texas following a year out of baseball.

* Second baseman Kaz Matsui, 32, finalized a $16.5 million, 3-year contract with the Astros. The switch-hitter batted .288 with four homers and 37 RBI for Colorado, stealing 32 bases and scoring 84 runs - his best totals in the majors.

General manager Ed Wade said Matsui will likely bat second, behind speedy centerfielder Michael Bourn, acquired last month from the Phillies. *