The Boston Red Sox won't give the Minnesota Twins a deadline to accept their offer for ace lefthander ace Johan Santana, declining yesterday to match the ultimatum issued a day earlier by the Yankees.

While refusing to discuss Santana specifically, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said at the baseball winter meetings that there was no expiration date on any trade talks. In the past, he has set a deadline for potential deals if they were holding up other deals.

"I think we've only done that when we thought it was in our best interest," Epstein said in his suite at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. "We don't have current discussions ongoing for which I think that would be in our best interest. We're pretty content with where we are and we don't think anything major is getting held up."

The Red Sox and Yankees are both in talks to land Santana, who is eligible for free agency next year and could become too pricey for the smaller-market Twins.

The Yankees have offered pitcher Phil Hughes, center fielder Melky Cabrera and a midlevel prospect for the two-time Cy Young Award winner. The Red Sox have reportedly offered a package that includes one of their top prospects - Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury - but only one.

The Yankees appeared set to pull out of talks for Santana unless the Twins were prepared to strike a deal last night.

"I want to get it done by tonight, one way or another," Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner said.

In other Yankees news, lefthander Andy Pettitte has decided to return next season and and put off retirement. His agent, Randy Hendricks, said yesterday that Pettitte, 35, had started telling teammates on Sunday. Hendricks then informed Yankees general manager Brian Cashman of the news.

Hendricks said Yankees captain Derek Jeter and catcher Jorge Posada had lobbied Pettitte to return, and the pitcher consulted his wife.

"Players such as Jeter and Posada told him how much they needed him back, as did Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi," Hendricks said. "Andy decided this weekend that he didn't want to keep the Yankees on hold as they sought to determine their team for next year."

The Yankees also finalized their 2-year, $4 million deal with catcher Jose Molina on Monday and designated infielder Andy Phillips for assignment.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, reached a preliminary agreement on a 1-year contract worth $3 million with righthanded reliever Mike Timlin.

Noteworthy

* The Pittsburgh Pirates claimed infielder Josh Wilson from Tampa Bay and pitcher Ty Taubenheim from Toronto, adding both to their 40-man roster. To make room for the two, the Pirates designated first baseman Brad Eldred and righthander Brian Rogers for assignment.

* The Pittsburgh Pirates claimed infielder Josh Wilson from Tampa Bay and pitcher Ty Taubenheim from Toronto, adding both to their 40-man roster. To make room for the two, the Pirates designated first baseman Brad Eldred and righthander Brian Rogers for assignment.

* Japan punched its ticket to the Beijing Olympics with its third straight victory in the Asian qualifying tournament, routing host Taiwan, 10-2.

* John Abbamondi left the baseball commissioner's office and was hired as assistant general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. He replaces John Mozeliak, who was promoted to general manager on Oct. 31. *