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Meetings are at a standstill; Sox may eye Garciaparra pact

NEW ORLEANS -- All eyes were on the Red Sox last night as Day 1 of baseball's winter meetings wound down with the prospect still viable of Boston both trading Manny Ramirez for Alex Rodriguez and acquiring All-Star closer Keith Foulke.

 

While the Sox situation, with its vast implications, stalled much of the action at the annual trading bazaar, Rodriguez and industry sources indicated Boston owner John W. Henry and Texas counterpart Tom Hicks had yet to close the door on talks that could lead to the exchange of the only $20 million-a-year players in baseball history. And all parties involved in the struggle between the Sox and A's for Foulke, the top reliever on the free agent market, said the righthander remains excruciatingly close to deciding his future.

The outcome of both matters will affect every other move the Sox make this winter and influence the way many other major league rosters are shaped.

Hicks said he hasn't talked to Henry and still thinks Rodriguez will stay with the Rangers. He said they will talk early next week. "Both clubs are going to work on other things right now," Hicks told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "It's not on the front burner."

Notable among the teams eagerly awaiting a resolution of the Boston matters were the Dodgers, who remain intensely interested in acquiring Nomar Garciaparra. The Sox would certainly trade Garciaparra if they acquired Rodriguez, though they are likely to move their incumbent shortstop even if A-Rod remains in Texas. While the Dodgers and several other teams, including the Angels and Orioles, remained potential matches for Garciaparra, Sox general manager Theo Epstein and Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem, have resumed negotiations without any lingering acrimony after the flare-up earlier in the week involving Henry and Tellem. The Sox dropped their four-year offer to Garciaparra from $60 million in March to $48 million last month. Talks are likely to intensify when Tellem arrives in New Orleans tomorrow or Monday.Amid some reports that the Ramirez-for-Rodriguez deal was kaput, sources said the teams were expected to continue to talk this weekend, though the final outcome remains in the hands of Henry and Hicks. The sticking point has been Henry's refusal to contribute $5 million a year over the next five years to the Rangers in addition to assuming the $179 million balance of Rodriguez's contract through 2010. Texas would take on the $97.5 million balance of Ramirez's pact through 2008, an $81.5 million savings before any additional cash from the Sox. While there has been little movement amid the brinksmanship between the owners, they remain receptive to resolving their differences, according to the industry sources. Whether they succeed remains to be seen, amid all of baseball's keen interest.

As for Foulke, his agent, Dan Horwits, talked several times yesterday with the Sox and A's, with the negotiations running late into the night as the teams jockeyed for a decisive advantage. Both teams increased their offers during lengthy negotiations and presented their final packages to Foulke late last night.

"It's all in his hands now," Horwits said just before 1 a.m. "It should be fairly quick, I would think."

He said he expected Foulke to decide today.

"There have been so many ideas in the last week thrown around with different options and different types of scenarios that it's more just finalizing them and narrowing them down and choosing," Horwits said. "I think it's fair to say everyone knows that Oakland will probably not be as high as Boston, and Keith is OK with that if he were to go back to Oakland for less dollars. But it is going to come down to his heart and what he thinks is a good move for him personally and his family."

As agonizingly drawn out as the process has become, Epstein showed no sign of losing his patience or of preparing to issue an ultimatum.

"Compared to other negotiations, this one has taken a while, but there are valid reasons why it's taken so long," Epstein said. "You have an intelligent, thoughtful player who has a new baby and who pitched somewhere last year that he enjoyed. But I think he's also excited about the possibility of pitching in Boston, so he's making what appears to be a difficult decision. I wish him luck in making the right decision for him. There's no rush."

Still, Epstein said he anticipated a final decision before the meetings end Monday. Indeed, Horwits said yesterday morning that Foulke could decide as early as last night.

The Sox have no alternative to Foulke on their agenda. Should they fail to land him, they appear intent on opening the season with Scott Williamson as their closer, with Byung Hyun Kim another possibility.

"There's no Plan B, so to speak," Epstein said. "If we don't get him, it means we have some flexibility and more options in other areas, but our clear preference is to get Keith signed at the right deal for us."

The Sox and A's each have offered Foulke at least three years plus an option for a fourth. The proposed terms have changed during the process and have been reported to range from $20 million to $26 million, though Epstein said, "The reports in the media about our offer have been inaccurate."

Epstein would not address the Ramirez-for-Rodriguez deal, which all parties have said is being negotiated primarily by Henry and Hicks. And while he acknowledged that the resolution of the Foulke matter would heavily influence how he proceeds with restocking his pitching staff (Williamson and/or Kim could be moved if the Sox land Foulke), Epstein said his hands were not tied while the issues remain in play.

"We're used to pursuing multiple tracks at the same time," he said.

He had spoken with at least seven other teams by 7 p.m. and expected to talk with several more before the night ended as he gauged the market. He also is shopping for a second baseman, bench help and, depending on the Foulke matter, the final pieces of his bullpen.

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