FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When it comes to signing players, age discrimination is not a federal offense. So general manager Theo Epstein, confirming what Curt Schilling announced earlier yesterday on his weekly radio appearance, said the Red Sox are not going to offer Schilling a contract extension before Opening Day, citing his age (he'll be 41 in 2008) as the primary reason.
Schilling declared he will file for free agency after the season and will cut off contract discussions with the Sox until that time.
"Curt's going to be 41 and at that age we get a little more conservative," Epstein said. "That doesn't mean we don't want him back. We have all the confidence in the world that Curt wants to pitch in 2008, and if he pitches effectively as I expect he will, we'll find a way to keep him in a Red Sox uniform. It doesn't make sense from a business standpoint right now to guarantee that kind of money a year in advance to a 41-year-old. Again, that doesn't change how we feel about Curt, his place in the organization. No. 1, he's our Opening Day starter and we couldn't be happier about that."
Epstein cited Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina as one precedent. The Yankees elected not to exercise a $17 million option last spring on Mussina, who had an identical record (15-7) as Schilling last season. They waited until November, a month before Mussina's 38th birthday, to sign him to a two-year, $23 million deal, which will take him through 2008.
"There's a bit of a sliding scale based on age," Epstein said. "The deeper you go into your career, I think the more hesitant the club might be to guarantee salaries years in advance."
When asked if Schilling's physical condition -- he appears heavier than last year --was a factor in the club's decision, Epstein said: "It's always a factor for every player. The older you get, the better condition you have to stay in. He'll be where he needs to be by Opening Day."
By the time Epstein met with the media at midday, Schilling already had declared his intent to file for free agency as a response to the Sox' stance, then reiterated his position after Epstein spoke.
"Disappointing? Yeah, but it's something I understood coming in was a possibility," said Schilling, who a month ago publicly reversed his decision to retire and told the Sox he'd be willing to pitch next season for the same $13 million the team is paying him this season.
"That's the way it happens sometimes. That's a decision they made. Whether you like it or not, it's the way things are."
Since 1980, a dozen 41-year-olds have made 30 or more starts in a season, including five pitchers in the last three seasons -- Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Kenny Rogers, Jamie Moyer, and David Wells. Clemens went 18-4 at age 41, while Johnson and Rogers won 17 games, Wells a dozen, and Moyer seven. All are still pitching except Clemens, who turns 45 Aug. 4 and hasn't ruled out returning this season.
Schilling's announcement, which came a day after he had a brief discussion with Epstein in which the GM informed him of the team's decision, came on the same day the Sox had to answer more questions about outfielder Manny Ramírez.
On Wednesday, the Sox announced that Ramírez was not going to report until March 1 because of "family issues," which jibed with teammate Julian Tavarez's assertion earlier in the week that Ramírez's mother had undergone surgery for an undisclosed condition. But later that day, reports surfaced that the left fielder was being promoted as a participant in a classic car auction in Atlantic City scheduled for tomorrow. A man who said he bought and sold classic cars for Ramírez said the Sox slugger had made plans to stay with him, depending on his mother's health.
Epstein said he called Ramírez's agent, Greg Genske, upon learning of Ramírez's supposed participation in the event.
"We talked to his agent -- he's not going to be there," Epstein declared. "It's fine. There's a family issue. We're not going to document his exact whereabouts on an hour-by-hour basis. [Genske] told us he's not going to be there and he's tending to his mother."
Tony Averso, the classic car dealer who said he is auctioning a 1967 Lincoln Continental custom convertible for Ramírez, a car Averso said should command at least $200,000, said last night he did not hear from Ramírez yesterday. Asked if Ramírez was still planning to come, Averso said, "I can't answer for him."
But a producer for WYSP-FM, which is broadcasting live from the Atlantic City Convention Center, where the auction began yesterday, said Jay Silberman, whom he identified as the promoter of the event, said Ramírez was still planning to make an appearance at noon tomorrow.
Although Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry refused comment on Ramírez yesterday, president and CEO Larry Lucchino downplayed the controversy.
"I think it's a stale issue," Lucchino said. "You guys are making a tempest in a teapot."
Red Sox captain Jason Varitek, however, was not as dismissive.
"This is a huge one for us to wait out and see what actually happens," Varitek said. "We can only go off [whether] it happens, what to do. There's not a whole lot to do. If it's a 'post' thing and already occurred, it changes the dynamics quite a bit.
"He's scheduled to be here, what is it, March 1? We hear he's in great shape and ready to go. We'll see what happens [when] we get him here March 1."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.