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Beantown bonanza

Red Sox look to complete A-Rod deal to finish off their winter spree

Posted: Tuesday December 16, 2003 12:36PM; Updated: Tuesday December 16, 2003 7:30PM
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The Boston Red Sox put two priorities at the top of their winter agenda: a starting pitcher and a reliever. They wound up with the best available ones, Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. Fans in Boston are so happy with the moves that ticket sales are running 60 percent ahead of last year's pace. But something else will speed Red Sox Nation's recovery from that ALCS Game 7 defeat for the ages even more: Boston just might also wind up with the best player in baseball, Alex Rodriguez, while getting rid of Manny Ramirez. And if the trade goes down this week, as insiders expect, it will be hard to tell which end of that deal pleases the Sox more.

Red Sox ownership has been pushing hard to complete the swap in great part because they see it as perhaps the only opportunity to rid the organization of Ramirez and his bloated contract, according to a source familiar with negotiations. Boston is weary of Ramirez and his pining to play anywhere else, especially New York.

On Monday, the Red Sox told Arn Tellem, the agent for Nomar Garciaparra, that any talks about an extension for the incumbent shortstop are tabled. One reason is, Miguel Tejada's new $12 million-per-year contract with Baltimore reduced the odds that Boston could satisfy Garciaparra. The Red Sox had hoped to pay Nomar $12 million per year, while acknowledging all along all along that Garciaparra's value is clearly greater than that of Tejada.

And negotiations between the club and Nomar were pointless because the Sox owners were determined to close the deal for Rodriguez. Garciaparra was essentially victimized by Ramirez's contract and high maintenance. Now Garciaparra is likely to wind up with the Dodgers, Mariners, Angels or White Sox.

The Red Sox may not have the same firepower they had last year, but they outscored everybody else by 67 runs, so they have room for an offensive decrease, especially with Schilling and Foulke upgrading their staff. What's more, Garciaparra and Ramirez will be replaced by Rodriguez and a power-hitting left fielder to be determined. The Sox will come out of the A-Rod-for-Manny deal with $6 million to spend on the position -- or about $11 million if they can dump Byung-Hyun Kim and Scott Williamson. Boston had been talking to St. Louis about J.D. Drew before the Braves snagged him.

Schilling as a No. 2 starter. The AL saves leader in the bullpen. The best player in baseball in hand for the next seven years. No more Ramirez . . . The Red Sox are on the best run of the winter, with the Phillies (who added Billy Wagner and Eric Milton while the division rival Braves downsized) a distant second.

As the market slowdown continues after a tepid winter meetings -- scores of players will still be looking for jobs come January --- here's a glance at the other winners and losers of the shopping season.

WINNERS

Yankees: They are better with Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez and Gary Sheffield than they were with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Nick Johnson. The cost, however, will be a temperamental clubhouse filled with players who have not proved themselves in New York, where The Known Factor is more important than anywhere else. This is a very good team, but one Yankees fans don't find very familiar or likeable, which means there will be tremendous heat on this group to succeed quickly.

Kenny Lofton. The guy should be sure to send George Steinbrenner a Christmas gift. The veteran leadoff batter wasn't even signed by anybody when spring training opened last year and yet he wound up with a two-year contract from New York, even though he's an aging, awkward center fielder who can't hit lefties. Yes, Bernie Williams needed to move out of center field, but a player as limited as Lofton forces Williams into an ungraceful demotion to DH.

Blue Jays. Miguel Batista (lowest ERA of any free-agent pitcher), Ted Lilly and Pat Hentgen fortify the rotation at low costs. If it somehow can snag free-agent shortstop Rich Aurilia, Toronto will become a legit wild-card contender. "The Blue Jays have made better moves -- considering their resources -- than anybody else," said one AL GM.

Mets. The signing of Mike Cameron, the team's first legitimate center fielder since Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson, received rave reviews at the winter meetings in New Orleans. Happiest of all might be Tom Glavine, who really missed Andruw Jones last year while being undermined by that awful Mets outfield. And if he can actually unload Roger Cedeno, GM Jim Duquette will have the inside track on executive of the year.

Larry Bigbie. The Orioles outfielder could be a star-in-the-making. It's more likely to happen if there's a veteran power bat to anchor the lineup. Mr. Bigbie, say hello and thank you to Mr. Tejada. It's also possible Baltimore will add one or two more big names from among the remaining free-agent group that includes Vladimir Guerrero, Ivan Rodriguez and Javy Lopez.

LOSERS

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Pirates. Before the Rule V draft Monday morning, a Pittsburgh front-office executive told an AL GM, "I just hope we don't lose anybody.'' Five of the first six picks in the draft were swiped out of the Pirates' system. It was an embarrassment for the franchise; people in the ballroom laughed as other clubs continued to take Pittsburgh's minor leaguers. Remember, too, that the Pirates' current 40-man roster barely outhomered Jim Thome last year, 54-47, and that only two of the players on that roster have more than five years of major league service: Brian Boehringer and Jason Kendall.

Marlon Anderson, Jay Payton, Freddy Garcia and other likely non-tenders. It's a cold world out there when productive players price themselves off a club because they have arbitration rights.

Athletics. They whiffed on Cameron and Foulke, lost Tejada, still have Jermaine Dye, are a below-average offensive team and are so desperate for a closer that they actually gave some thought to adding Armando Benitez and Arthur Rhodes. Consider their grade incomplete, though. GM Billy Beane still has moves to make.

Braves. They replaced Lopez, Sheffield and Greg Maddux with Johnny Estrada, Drew and John Thomson. Enough said. And if the brittle, underachieving Drew doesn't have the first 550-at bat, All-Star season of his career, this team could finish in third place in he NL East.

Tigers. Rondell White and Fernando Vina? Multi-year contracts for aging guys on the downhill of their career with recent history of leg injuries -- not the greatest idea for turning around a 119-loss team.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci covers baseball for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.

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