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RED SOX NOTEBOOK

Bellhorn in mix at second base

Deal is close for veteran infielder

NEW ORLEANS -- Filling at least part of the void at second base, the Red Sox last night were poised to announce they have purchased Massachusetts native Mark Bellhorn's contract from the Rockies. The acquisition most likely means the Sox will not tender a contract to Damian Jackson by Saturday's deadline, opting for Bellhorn as a less-expensive alternative as a utility player.

 

Bellhorn, 29, has hit .230 with a .345 on-base percentage over parts of six seasons with the A's, Cubs, and Rockies. Colorado signed him last month to a one-year, $495,000 contract. Jackson, 30, earned $625,000 last season and could double his salary through arbitration if he is tendered a contract by Saturday's deadline.

Lou Merloni, 32, who earned $560,000 last season, would be similarly positioned for a hefty boost through arbitration.

Bellhorn has played every position except pitcher and catcher, though he has mostly played second and third base, and is considered to be slightly above average defensively.

The Sox can only hope he hits more like he did in 2002 (.258 with 27 homers and 56 RBIs and a .374 on-base percentage) than he did last season (.221 with two homers and 26 RBIs and a .353 on-base percentage). He has thrived this winter in the Mexican Pacific League, batting .258 with 10 homers and 21 RBIs and a .422 on-base percentage in 53 games. Bellhorn was born in Weymouth before his family moved to Florida soon after his birth. Still, he expressed delight before he played at Fenway Park in 2001. "This is what it's all about," Bellhorn was quoted in the Globe. "This is what you look forward to when you're a kid."

The Sox plan to continue shopping for a second baseman and have identified players they could acquire either in a trade or on the free agent market. The talent pool will grow significantly when a number of players are not tendered contracts by Saturday.

"We're close to a lot of different acquisitions," general manager Theo Epstein said. "If we want to reach out and consummate them, we probably can, but I'm not sure we're going to do that just yet."

As for Todd Walker, the Rangers have talked to him about playing second base, with Michael Young moving to shortstop, if Alex Rodriguez is traded to the Boston. Texas and Cleveland have been Walker's chief suitors.

Taking the fifth

In the annual search for a diamond in the rough, the Sox selected two pitchers in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft: lefthander Lenny Dinardo from the Mets and righthander Colter Bean from the Yankees. Each cost the Sox $50,000, and the players must be offered back to their former teams for $25,000 if they do not remain on the major league roster all next season.

Dinardo, 24, split last season between Single A and Double A, going 3-8 with a 2.01 ERA as he held opponents to a .211 batting average and struck out 93 batters in 85 innings. The Mets originally selected him in the third round of the 2001 amateur draft out of Stetson University.

"He is a very, very crafty lefty," Epstein said. "His stuff does not blow you away, but he really knows how to pitch. If he sticks, it will be as a lefthanded long guy. He's got a chance."

Bean, 26, went 4-2 with a 2.87 ERA and four saves in 50 appearances last season for Triple A Columbus. He limited opponents to a .210 batting average, including a .177 mark against righthanders. A graduate of Auburn University, the 6-foot-6-inch sidearmer signed with the Yankees in 2000 as a non-drafted free agent.

"He's very, very tough on righthanded hitters," Epstein said. "If he sticks, it will be as a righthanded specialist."

The two selections increased the number of players on Boston's 40-man roster to 36.

The Sox also selected lefthander Mark Carter from the Cubs in the Triple A phase of the draft. Boston lost only two players, both in the Triple A phase: infielder Jim Goelz, who rose last season from Single A Sarasota to Triple A Pawtucket, and righthander Wes Anderson, who pitched briefly for short-season Single A Lowell.

Tender subjects

The Sox will spend part of the next few days making the final decision on whether to tender contracts by Saturday's midnight deadline to Jackson, Merloni and the rest of their players who are eligible for salary arbitration: Trot Nixon ($4 million last season), Gabe Kapler ($3.25 million), Byung Hyun Kim ($3.25 million), Scott Williamson ($1.6 million), Scott Sauerbeck ($1.55 million), and David Ortiz ($1.25 million). Players who are not tendered contracts become free agents . . . Epstein said the commissioner's office approved Curt Schilling's contract without any revisions despite an unprecedented clause that would vest the righthander's $13 million option for 2007 at $15 million if the Sox win the World Series in any of Schilling's first three years with the team . . . With midwinter interest in the Sox as high as ever, the team is on pace to end the year more than 60 percent ahead of last year's pace in ticket sales for next season. The Sox, who sold more than 150,000 tickets during last weekend's "Christmas at Fenway" event attended by Schilling, projected its sales by the end of December to reach 1.45 million tickets for next season, far ahead of last year's total of 900,000 in the same period. The inventory of new season tickets is virtually exhausted, with only a limited number of "10th Man Plans" and Sox Pax remaining. Most single-game tickets will not go on sale until February.

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