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Winter wonderland

Manny widens wish list; latest on Bonds, Maddux, Zito

Posted: Friday December 1, 2006 9:07AM; Updated: Friday December 1, 2006 11:19PM
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The Red Sox are expected to make a serious run at trading Manny Ramirez next week.
The Red Sox are expected to make a serious run at trading Manny Ramirez next week.
Chuck Solomon/SI
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Also in this column:
• Matsuzaka update
• Piazza, A's are close
• Lugo's option play
• More news and notes

This offseason was supposed to be a dud. But we already have two $100 million contracts. And heading into the annual Winter Meetings next week at Disney World -- where a lot of teams are hoping dreams do come true -- even after Tom Glavine decided Friday to return to the Mets at least four certain Hall of Famers remain in play.

Three of them are free agents (Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux and Mike Piazza). The fourth is Manny Ramirez, who wants nothing more than to stay out of the spotlight and yet has already managed to steal it from all the others.

There's little question he's the No. 1 storyline among six pretty good ones heading into the Winter Meetings. And here they are:

1. Is Manny going anywhere?

This being Manny, a couple of extra questions have to be asked about his latest trade demand. Is it real or is it all one big put-on? And secondly, does he even remember making it?

Believe it or not, this time he apparently does mean it. Allegedly, he so badly wants out of Boston's fishbowl that he has expanded his list of preferred teams from three to about 13 or 14.

Ramirez's roster of possible locations now includes San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles of Anaheim, Los Angeles of Los Angeles and about 10 other places where the fans aren't so rabid as in Boston. Of course, Manny being Manny, there's no guarantee he abides by his own preferred list and agrees to waive his no-trade clause, or that he won't ask his prospective new team for a cash windfall (picking up his twin $20 million option years of 2009 and '10, for starters).

Of course, the greatest right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio isn't going anywhere cheap. The Red Sox have been through this drill before, and while they have to find Ramirez's nature wearying, they also love his bat and understand that there isn't a trade out there that will replace all those RBIs. They also know that with two years and $38 million remaining on his contract, he is the big-bat bargain of the winter.

Talks picked up this week, but all things considered, folks who have spoken to Boston are saying now it appears "less than 50-50" that Ramirez goes anywhere. The Red Sox are intrigued by adding a haul of players who are in their early-to-mid 20s to a mix that already includes twentysomethings Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka (they hope). But they also know if they keep Ramirez and present a 3-4-5 of Ramirez, David Ortiz and J.D. Drew (who's on his way to Boston, inch by inch), they possess baseball's best middle of the order.

Understandably, the Red Sox are insistent upon getting big leaguers or youngsters ready to crack the majors in exchange for Ramirez. There will be no A-ball players going to Boston. As an executive of one team that's talked to them said, "They want sizzle." Can you blame them?

With Texas, the Red Sox have inquired about Michael Young. With the Dodgers, a package of younger players might do the trick, possibly including some combination of Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andy LaRoche, Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton.

Padres GM Kevin Towers on Thursday squelched the rumor that Boston wanted Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez. Which raises the question: Why wouldn't they? "They've asked about them in the past," Towers said. "They probably know we wouldn't move them."

With the Red Sox interested in bullpen help, perhaps they've tried instead for reliever Scott Linebrink, and maybe even their former property Cla Meredith. Towers didn't say. "We've engaged in some conversations," Towers did say. "But I can't tell you whether we're on the frontburner or backburner. Only Boston can tell you that."

The Giants don't appear to have what it would take. The Angels have the best young talent of just about anyone and surely could consummate a deal if they'd only part with reliever Scot Shields and one of two top young starters, Ervin Santana or John Lackey. Alas, they still aren't stepping forth with the right deal. Earlier, L.A. of Anaheim expressed a keen interest in adding a big bat. But it appears they either may be refocusing their aim on pitching and defense or getting cold feet.

Changing one's mind is one's prerogative. As Ramirez well knows.

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