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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

When it comes to trade talks, silence is golden

Don't give up on the idea of Alex Rodriguez coming to Boston. Not just yet.

 

Reports from New Orleans yesterday indicated that the Sox and Rangers have cooled to the idea of swapping the mega-contract superstars. After a flurry of early week commentary from both sides, it got quiet on the Boston-Texas trade front.

But anyone who has followed a sports labor stalemate can tell you the surest sign that the parties are coming together comes when they stop talking to the media. Sudden silence often means the deal is finally getting done.

The Globe's Gordon Edes hunted down A-Rod in Miami last night and the shortstop's comments did nothing to discourage the notion that he's coming to Boston. It still seems too good to be true, but maybe too many people want this done for it not to get done.

Theo Epstein is going to meet with the Rangers in New Orleans. There's a chance he's negotiating with Texas at the very moment you are reading this. There are still sticking points, which include Boston paying some of Manny Ramirez's salary, requests for the Sox to put another player into the deal, and the ever-present obstacle that is the Major League Baseball Players Association. But there is precedent for contract restructuring when a deal like this is made. The Mets got some help when they assumed the whopping pact Mo Vaughn signed with the Angels. The presence of A-Rod's agent, Scott Boras, in New Orleans should also improve Boston's chances of tackling the difficult issues head-on.

Sox CEO Larry Lucchino is still in Boston and owner John W. Henry is reportedly at his home in Florida.

Forget about the Sox making a radio-invented mega-deal with the Phillies (Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon for Jimmy Rollins and Bobby Abreu?). Forget about the Sox making a bid for Miguel Tejada. Boston's interest in Tejada is the figure he signs for. When Tejada agrees to a deal, it'll set a baseline for Nomar's negotiation. Nomar's agent, Arn Tellem, believed Garciaparra could get a six- or seven-year deal in excess of $15 million per year, but we all know that's not going to happen now.

Events of last week indicate Nomar's probably going to be traded, but the Sox won't give him away -- not even if the Rodriguez deal officially implodes. Keeping Nomar for one more year is not the ideal scenario -- Epstein has even resumed negotiations with Tellem on a new pact -- but the Sox are willing to let Mr. Mia play out his contract in 2004. They know that no matter how angry he might be, they'll get the very best from a star shortstop in the final year of his contract.

They are also comfortable going with Scott Williamson as the closer in the event Keith Foulke decides to stay with the A's.

The fact of the matter is that the Red Sox, even if nothing happens between now and Opening Day, are considerably better than they were last season because they have added Curt Schilling to the top of the rotation. Meanwhile, Boston's nemesis is weaker. The defection of Andy Pettitte to Houston did not go unnoticed on Yawkey Way and if the Sox' early offer of $54 million made it easier for Pettitte to leave the Yanks, all the better.

It's nice to have a little fun at the expense of the Yankees, but Sox fans would do well to stop the premature burial of the Pinstripes. Certainly, there are cracks in the foundation in the Bronx, but let's not get too smug in comparisons with the team that just finished ahead of Boston for an eighth consecutive time. The Yanks are the ones who won Game 7 of the ALCS, they've got a roster of All-Stars, and they are bound to do more as George Steinbrenner's payroll spirals toward $200 million.

Meanwhile, as we sit on the A-Rod/Nomar/Foulke watch, there is more in the air for Boston's management. Pedro Martinez has said if his contract is not extended by the start of the season, he'll flee at the end of 2004. He's also hinted he recognizes the corrected marketplace, in which Schilling signed for $5.5 million per year less than Pedro will make next season. David Ortiz is another guy the Sox want to lock up for a couple of years.

It's going to be a busy holiday season for Theo and the Trio. This could still be the most important Red Sox offseason since 1919-20, when the best player in the game was traded away from the Red Sox.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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