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Francona will make it work

Red Sox manager Terry Francona was Christmas shopping with his wife last night at a mall near his home. It's apparent now that a gift he might have liked, Alex Rodriguez, will not be delivered to Boston, as yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline passed and the Red Sox reportedly walked away from a deal that would have sent Manny Ramirez and lefthanded pitching prospect Jon Lester to the Rangers for Rodriguez.

 

Despite reports all day that Rangers owner Tom Hicks had moved off his demand for money in the deal, a source close to the Rangers said last night that Hicks never moved off his demands for a package that included the players and $15 million from the Sox.

What the deal's demise left was two managers -- Francona and the Rangers' Buck Showalter -- likely dealing with the players they had from the outset. And both felt that wasn't too bad.

"I've been going about my business all along that I would have Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra on the team," said Francona. "I've spoken to Nomar and he's fine. I've known Nomar for a long time [since the Arizona Fall League in 1994] and we talked about it and he understands that this is a business. Manny has been a little harder to reach [by phone]."

Showalter will have Rodriguez returning to a team that he actively sought to leave, but Francona said smoothing over hurt feelings is part of the job.

"I'm paid to manage a baseball team and make sure that the players are going out there every day and giving it their best," Francona said. "I've said all along that I can't lose in this situation. I've got two great players on the Red Sox. Management and ownership have the right to conduct their business and do what they feel is best for the team. My job is to manage the players, and it's something I'm very, very excited about."

The Red Sox, who still aren't through making moves, will have basically the same lineup minus second baseman Todd Walker, who will be replaced by a combination of Pokey Reese and Mark Bellhorn. The Sox have added starter Curt Schilling and closer Keith Foulke. For a majority of Sox fans, having the enhanced pitching staff is exciting enough, even if there is a dropoff in hitting.

Of course, the main focus of general manager Theo Epstein now will be to work out a long-term deal with Garciaparra and his agent, Arn Tellum. The sides have gone back and forth for some time and it appears with Miguel Tejada's deal in Baltimore, there's a market in place now that they'll have to work from if Garciaparra wants to remain with the team beyond next season.

Showalter thinks it won't be difficult to have a great player like Rodriguez back in the fold.

"Not at all," he said. "I haven't talked to Alex in the last couple of days, but, you know, once you get a great player like that back in the clubhouse and he's back interacting with everyone and we're getting into the business of trying to win baseball games and improve our ballclub, everything will be fine. It'll be the same for the Red Sox. They have very professional players over there. Nomar is a great player."

Francona defended Kevin Millar's comments to ESPN in which the Sox first baseman, when pressed on whom he'd rather be playing with this season, spit out Rodriguez's name over Garciaparra's at a time when it appeared the deal was a go.

"I haven't got ahold of Kevin, but I've left him a message," Francona said. "I honestly believe what he said didn't come out the way he meant it. Those things tend to get blown out of proportion and it goes away. I don't think what was said is something that will linger.

The Red Sox put out a statement yesterday from owners John Henry, Tom Werner, and team president Larry Lucchino that said, "There is nothing further to report relating to the consummation of a transaction between the Boston Red Sox and the Texas Rangers involving Alex Rodriguez. No further discussions regarding this transaction are planned."

In this on-again, off-again situation, it's certainly tough to figure out whether this one is for real. Even the Garciaparra camp was being cautious about making any further comment. Garciaparra was traveling for the good part of yesterday and could not be reached.

One source in his camp said, "I'm sure Nomar will address this at some point when we know all of the facts and we know that the deal is dead. Really, the way it's gone, we have no idea what to believe. I'm sure that's the way it is for all of the parties involved."

Epstein has maintained all along that the Sox' goal is to get Garciaparra in the fold. Various reports have had Garciaparra turning down a four-year, $48 million offer, which was reduced from a $60-million offer in spring training. But with Tejada having signed for $72 million for six years with the Orioles, it appears Garciaparra's potential earnings have risen again.

The second part of the deal allegedly being over is that the Sox no longer can trade Garciaparra to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez (Garciaparra then was to be shipped from the White Sox to the Dodgers). The White Sox are trying to clear payroll and Ordonez's $14 million salary.

There are still whispers that the deal isn't over. But the parties involved yesterday, getting ready for the holidays, were inclined to believe that there was no turning back now.

At least that's the way Francona and Showalter were proceeding.

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