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Sox talk has Garciaparra sore

By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / August 3, 2004

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Setting aside his usual reticence to discuss such matters publicly, Nomar Garciaparra last night took strong exception to assertions made by Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino and general manager Theo Epstein regarding how much time he would have to miss because of his injured right Achilles' tendon. Lucchino and Epstein reiterated yesterday that they had little choice but to trade Garciaparra after he told team trainers and manager Terry Francona last week that he would have to miss "significant time" this month because of the injury.

Epstein said he informed Cubs GM Jim Hendry last Thursday that talks might have to be broken off because he could not trade Garciaparra if the shortstop was hurt and likely headed for the disabled list. Epstein said he told Hendry that if the Cubs elected to acquire another shortstop, Orlando Cabrera, from the Montreal Expos, that he wanted to speak to Hendry about possibly trading for the Cubs' incumbent shortstop, Alex Gonzalez.

But Hendry, relying on reports filed from his scouts and satisfied by a conversation Saturday between the Cubs and Sox trainers that Garciaparra could continue to play, elected to make the deal, a four-team trade in which the Sox ended up with Cabrera from the Expos and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz from the Minnesota Twins.

Garciaparra, aware of published reports that raised the question of whether he had misled the Sox, and informed of the Sox executives' comments by agent Arn Tellem, called last night from Denver, where the Cubs are playing the Rockies tonight, to give his side of the story.

"I don't know why they brought up private conversations," said Garciaparra, who was clearly agitated but spoke in even tones. "But I'll just give you the facts.

"We were concerned with how the Achilles' was going, so I talked to the trainers and the manager to make sure we were all on the same page.

"Was it sore? Yes. Did it hurt? Yes. But it was about avoiding going on the disabled list, it was about avoiding time off. I also was saying that I couldn't continue playing every single day that season. I never said I couldn't play.

"The issue was the six games on turf [three in Minnesota, three in Tampa Bay]. You [media] guys were aware of it. Was it sore? Absolutely. Does it hurt? Absolutely. But I was playing on it. Maybe I'd have to miss more than one day once in a while, maybe consecutive days to make sure it was OK. But after I missed the first game Friday [in Minnesota], I was in the lineup the next day."

Garciaparra insisted he didn't tell the team he would have to go on the DL, a direct contradiction to assertions made by Epstein yesterday that Francona and the trainers, after that meeting last Wednesday in Baltimore, had called him and told him that Garciaparra said he would have to miss "significant time" in August and that there was a "significant chance" that he would have to go on the DL. Epstein said he was so alarmed by that report that he arranged for principal owner John W. Henry to hear first-hand the trainers' report.

"I wanted to make sure that I would be able to go the last month of the season," Garciaparra said. "But I didn't say I'd have to miss significant time, or that there was a significant chance that I would have to go on the DL. We talked about the possibility that I might do some DHing certain times when we were playing on turf.

"You heard what [Cubs manager] Dusty Baker said, that I might have to miss about one day a week. I've never denied [having to miss some games]. Coming off an injury, I knew I probably would have to battle it."

Epstein, also in a telephone interview, said yesterday that he was particularly distressed to hear that Garciaparra had told the trainers and Francona that he feared the tendon might "blow out," a potentially catastrophic injury that would have ended Garciaparra's season and possibly placed his career in jeopardy. Faced with a scenario in which the options at shortstop for the final two months were Garciaparra in a very limited role and newcomer Ricky Gutierrez (a third shortstop, Pokey Reese, is currently on the DL with a strained rib cage), Epstein said he felt compelled to make a trade for another shortstop. When Hendry, despite the full medical briefing he received from Epstein and from his trainers, still was willing to take Garciaparra, the Sox moved ahead, consummating the complicated transaction just a few minutes before the 4 p.m. deadline.

Garciaparra last night denied that he had told the Sox he felt the Achilles' might blow out. "There are times when I'm running that it feels tight and stiff, like a tight hamstring," he said.

Published reports have suggested that Garciaparra may have misled the Sox about his condition. Fueling those suspicions in part is a conversation Lucchino said he had with Garciaparra right after the trade (initial reports had Lucchino saying he called Garciaparra before the trade was finalized, but Lucchino corrected that, saying it was afterward), which he originally shared with Boston Herald columnist Gerry Callahan.

"I called him to wish him good luck and good health and said thanks for all you've done," Lucchino said yesterday. "I told him I was calling on behalf of John [Henry] and Tom Werner as well, and that we all had a lot of respect for what he'd done for the franchise.

"Then I asked him, `How's the heel?' He said, `Great.' I said, `Great? A couple of days ago you said you had serious concerns.' He said, `That was then. It's great now.'

"Maybe that was a medical assessment. An injury like that does go up and down. But I was puzzled by that. I said I was a little puzzled. He said, `It's great now.' I said, `Oh, I guess. Good luck, and I'm glad you're in the other league.' "

Garciaparra gives a much different version of that call. He said he was back at the team's Minneapolis hotel, preparing to travel to Chicago and speaking with his parents by phone, when he saw on his cellphone that Lucchino was calling.

"I had just gotten traded," Garciaparra said. "He had just gotten rid of me. I was talking to my parents. Do you think I really wanted to talk to him right now? He was the last person I wanted to talk to, to be honest with you.

"I wasn't saying much. I was really short. He was saying thank you and stuff. Then he said, `By the way, how's the Achilles'?' That's the first time he'd ever asked me about the Achilles'.

"I said, `It's great. It's fine.' "

Was he being sarcastic?

"Yeah, I was. I'd just gotten traded. He said, `What do you mean, it's great?' I said, `It bothers me, but it's fine. Yeah, it bothers me, but I'm fine.' Just like, `I'm playing.' I never said, `I'm fine now.' "

Lucchino was asked if he thought Garciaparra was trying to "stick it" to the Red Sox by telling them the injury, which had caused him to miss the first 57 games of the season, might require him to miss additional time, then telling Lucchino after the deal was done that it was "fine."

"I'm not going to go there," Lucchino said. "That calls for too much speculation on my part."

Asked if he thought Garciaparra was being sarcastic, he said, "I don't know. I'm just representing the truth of the conversation."

What was important, Lucchino emphasized, was not the post-trade conversation, but the concerns raised by Garciaparra to Francona and the trainers that in the Sox view left them little choice but to trade the shortstop, especially since they felt they had little chance of re-signing him before he became a free agent after the season. The relationship between the team and player may have been irreparably fractured last winter when the Sox attempted to make a trade for Alex Rodriguez.

The Sox justified that pursuit by saying they believed Garciaparra had turned down their offer of a four-year, $60 million deal in the spring of 2003. The player and agent Tellem contend that they believed talks had broken off in amicable fashion at the end of spring training, with the understanding they would resume after the season. But by that time, not only were the Sox already in talks with the Texas Rangers about Rodriguez, they had reduced their offer to Garciaparra to a four-year, $48 million deal, citing a "market correction."

"I'm so tired of them saying I turned [the $60 million down]," Garciaparra said. "How many times do I have to make it clear I didn't turn it down? It was part of negotiations. We countered. We thought we would be talking again after the season."

Yesterday, both sides confirmed that last December, during the winter meetings in New Orleans, Epstein met with Tellem and told him that the Sox would drop their pursuit of Rodriguez if Garciaparra accepted the Sox' offer on the table. Epstein said that the following morning, he spoke to Garciaparra by phone on his way to the airport, telling Garciaparra that he was on his way to New York to meet with Rodriguez but would call the whole thing off if Garciaparra accepted their proposal.

By then, however, Garciaparra was already upset to have learned of the Sox' interest in A-Rod, and was in no mood to take an offer significantly less than what had been on the table just months earlier. Tellem told Epstein, the GM said, that he doubted Garciaparra would take the offer and that if the Sox were going to trade him, to please trade him to one of the teams in Southern California, the Dodgers or Angels. A short time later, Epstein had a deal in place that would have sent Garciaparra to the Chicago White Sox for Magglio Ordonez, a deal that never materialized after the talks with A-Rod and the Rangers broke down.

"You tell me, after being shocked like that, what were you going to do? Say, `Well, OK?' " Garciaparra said of Epstein's take-it-or-leave-it offer. "It was for $12 million. And by the time they made that offer, they already had decided to go after A-Rod."

Garciaparra said he was distressed that all of this has been raised in the aftermath of the trade.

"Stuff is coming out, they're saying stuff about my agent," he said. "It's sad. Here's the truth. Those are the facts. This is it.

"I'm not mad at them. I'm not going to rant and rave. I'm not jabbing anybody. If they don't want me, fine. They traded me. Why can't that be enough?"