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RED SOX NOTEBOOK

Time for bargain hunt

Team likely will economize at 2B

NEW ORLEANS -- Barring blockbuster trades involving Manny Ramirez or Nomar Garciaparra, the Red Sox last night completed their major maneuvering of the offseason by signing All-Star closer Keith Foulke. Any other moves, particularly acquiring a second baseman, are expected to be low budget, according to general manager Theo Epstein.

 

"Now, there's no doubt that we are going to have an inexpensive solution at second base," Epstein said. "But that was part of our plan all along, and that's part of the reason that, unfortunately, Todd Walker is not going to be part of the Red Sox."

The Sox told Walker, who earned $3.45 million last season, they expected to seek a low-cost alternative, Epstein said, "because we thought we had an opportunity to make a real impact on this club with two elite pitchers [Foulke and Curt Schilling], and we were going for them."

The Sox will be looking for a second baseman who is sound defensively and adheres to the team's emphasis on on-base percentage, even if he is unlikely to approach Walker's production. Unless the Sox acquire a second baseman in a trade, they are expected to shop for one from the pool of players who are not tendered contracts by next weekend's deadline.

With Foulke in the fold, the Sox are likely to make another move involving a pitcher before the winter meetings end tomorrow. It could be as minor as moving lefthander Scott Sauerbeck for a prospect or as significant as filling another need by dealing Scott Williamson or Byung Hyun Kim.

"There's a lot of interest in our pitching," Epstein said. "The phones picked up a lot after the Foulke signing was announced."

Williamson was most directly affected by the Foulke move since he ended the season as Boston's closer.

"We're going to have to talk to Scott in the next couple of days because his future role with us is related to some other things that we might have coming up on the horizon," the GM said.

Epstein acknowledged that Williamson has expressed an interest in starting but has also said he would be open to serving as a setup man.

"He certainly deserves to close, but he might not get that opportunity here," Epstein said. "We're going to wait a couple of days to talk to him so we can give him some good information."

In addition to an inexpensive second baseman, the Sox plan to assemble a low-budget bench. "We're not going to start the season with Bill Mueller and David Ortiz on the bench," Epstein said, as the Sox did last season.

Talking points

The way the offseason has unfolded, Sox manager Terry Francona and his Texas counterpart, Buck Showalter, may have a common item on their agendas when spring training begins: sitting down with their shortstops, particularly if they are the incumbents. Both Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez have been the subject of high-profile trade talks, and their skippers may want to make sure the superstars have weathered the storms.

Francona has yet to hear from Garciaparra despite leaving messages for him, though the new skipper hasn't taken it personally.

"He's coming off a honeymoon," Francona said. "I wouldn't want to talk to me, either."

Francona knows Garciaparra from managing him in the Arizona Fall League in 1994.

"Nomar and I have a good relationship," Francona said. "We'll do just fine. If there's some patching up that needs to be done, we'll get it done. You've seen Nomar. He plays the game right, regardless of how he feels about the media. He goes out there and he plays to win. As a manager, you're thrilled by that."

For his part, Showalter did not seem thrilled to hear about Rodriguez apparently speaking longingly in yesterday's Globe about the prospect of playing in Boston. Asked how Rodriguez could reconcile those comments with the fans in Texas if he stays, Showalter said, "I think that's something, as things play out, that we'll have to address. I've spent a whole year in Arlington/Fort Worth/Dallas, and I think I have a better grip on what people want us to be about. I think Alex has been and can be that, but I really don't have an answer for you."

Honor for Ortiz

Ortiz was named the American League's outstanding designated hitter. Ortiz, who appeared in only 74 games as the DH, batted .310 with 27 home runs and 73 RBIs in that role. His .700 slugging percentage was tops among all designated hitters with 100 or more at-bats. He became the fourth Boston player to win the award, joining Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda (1973), Jim Rice (1977), and Don Baylor (1986). Ortiz, who finished fifth overall in the MVP voting, edged Seattle's Edgar Martinez, one of the top DHs of all time. Martinez hit .295 with 24 homers and 98 RBIs in 140 games as a DH. Overall, Ortiz hit .288 with 31 home runs and 101 RBIs in 128 games. But many of his biggest hits came as the DH, including the decisive two-run double in Game 4 of the AL Division Series against Oakland. He also had two homers and six RBIs as the DH against the Yankees in the AL Championship Series . . . Foulke, who said he has a fondness for beer and hockey, had some initial reservations about dealing with Epstein. "Honestly, I didn't know what to expect from Theo," he said. "The guy's younger than I am, and the first thought is, what does he know about baseball? But after meeting him and spending a good 24 hours with him, the guy impressed me to no end." Foulke, whose agent, Dan Horwits, said the player option in his new contract effectively guarantees the deal for four years at a minimum of $24 million, passed a physical, allaying any concerns the Sox had about back spasms he suffered several years ago with the White Sox and again during the playoffs in October. Signing Foulke will cost the Sox their first-round draft choice next June as compensation to the A's . . . Epstein declined to say whether the Sox have a policy about exceeding the luxury tax threshold of $120.5 million.

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