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Mirabelli a good catch, so Sox hold on to him

Boston close to deal for backup

The Red Sox last night signed Doug Mirabelli to a one-year contract, retaining one of the game's top backup catchers. They closed the deal before the midnight deadline for teams to offer contracts for next season to the unsigned players on their 40-man rosters.

 

By signing Mirabelli before the deadline, the Sox avoided exposing themselves to salary arbitration in which the five-year veteran could have more than doubled the $805,000 he earned last season. The Sox did not disclose terms, but the deal, reported by the Associated Press to be for $825,000, was a compromise that fit the team's budget and reasonably compensated Mirabelli, 33, who worked all but two of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield's 202 1/3 innings last season.

In addition to reaching an agreement with Mirabelli, the Sox offered contracts to Trot Nixon, David Ortiz, Byung Hyun Kim, and Scott Williamson among the nine unsigned players on the 40-man roster who were eligible for arbitration. They did not offer contracts to Gabe Kapler, Lou Merloni, Damian Jackson, and Scott Sauerbeck, making all four unrestricted free agents.

However, the Sox were expected to strike a one-year deal with Kapler as early as today. Kapler, 28, earned $3.4 million last season, and the Sox could not risk going to arbitration, where Kapler could command a sizable raise that would make him unaffordable as a fourth outfielder. But Kapler, like Mirabelli, has made no secret of wanting to remain with the Sox and appeared willing to accept less than he would receive if the Sox offered him a contract.

Baseball rules prohibit clubs from tendering their unsigned players contracts that reduce their salaries by more than 20 percent from last season or more than 30 percent from the previous year. But teams can offer free agents any amount.

The Sox had no immediate plans to try to retain Merloni, Jackson, or Sauerbeck. The three will join a crowd of free agents on the market, with Sauerbeck likely to draw the most early interest because he fared well as a situational lefty for the Pirates before struggling with the Sox after they acquired him in July.

General manager Theo Epstein has opened negotiations aimed at reaching multiyear deals with Nixon, who earned $4 million last season, and Ortiz, who was a steal at $1.25 million. The Sox snapped up Ortiz after the Twins chose not to tender him a contract last December. Epstein also could try to strike a multiyear deal with Kim, who is projected as the fifth starter after earning $3.25 million last season.

As for Williamson, Epstein has agreed to try to trade him to a team where he could serve as a closer or a starter, with the White Sox a leading candidate. The Sox have room for Williamson only as a setup man after signing Keith Foulke as the closer and indicating Kim would lead the competition for the final spot in the rotation. Bronson Arroyo is expected to compete with Kim for the No. 5 job.

The Sox also nontendered two unsigned pitchers who were not eligible for arbitration, righthanders Jason Shiell and Edwin Almonte, in the hope of reaching agreements with them as early as today. Shiell, 27, went 2-0 with a 4.63 ERA and a save in 17 appearances last season for the Sox. Almonte, 27, was claimed off waivers last month after he posted an 11.12 ERA in 12 appearances for the Mets.

The Sox tendered contracts to the remaining unsigned players on the 40-man roster who were not eligible for arbitration, including third baseman Kevin Youkilis and catcher Andy Dominique. The rest were pitchers: Arroyo, Jamie Brown, Jerome Gamble, Colter Bean, Lenny Dinardo, Anastacio Martinez, Bryan Hebson, Mark Malaska, and Phil Seibel.

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