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Pedro Martinez was the main attraction on Main Street at Disney World yesterday, but his future in Boston is uncertain.
Pedro Martinez was the main attraction on Main Street at Disney World yesterday, but his future in Boston is uncertain. (Photo / Walt Disney World)
ON BASEBALL

Change is on the horizon

After celebrations, Sox will get back to business

Business can wait, but not for long.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein is getting word out to the team's prospective free agents and their representatives to enjoy the weekend, especially today's parade, but negotiations will pick up again Monday.

And when they do, Sox fans should brace themselves for inevitable change, which should come as no surprise as Epstein has said the club did not expect to re-sign all of its elite free agents, which include pitchers Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, catcher Jason Varitek, and shortstop Orlando Cabrera.

There was one bit of bookkeeping that took place yesterday. The Sox, as expected, exercised the $2.1 million option they held on third baseman Bill Mueller, whose base salary remains the same as it was in 2004. The number of Sox players who have officially filed for free agency grew to three, as pitchers Terry Adams and Pedro Astacio, neither of whom is expected to be back, filed yesterday, joining outfielder Gabe Kapler, who filed the day before.

Martinez was in Disney World yesterday, along with teammate David Ortiz, shooting a TV spot, and for all his stated desire to return to Boston, the likelihood remains that Martinez will be curious to see what he can command on the open market. There are only a handful of quality pitchers coming onto the market, none with Martinez's pedigree, which may make it likely another team could trump what the Sox believe Martinez is worth. The rumblings out of New York are that George Steinbrenner is as enamored with signing Martinez as he was last winter with Gary Sheffield.

"Look out for George -- he likes to mess with the heart of this team," said former Sox star Luis Tiant, who can speak firsthand of what it's like to be wooed away from the Sox by Steinbrenner.

Is Martinez a staff ace? Not in Boston, where Curt Schilling has usurped that title, but even if his incarnation as a seven-inning pitcher makes him fit more a No. 2 profile, Martinez has this going for him in his negotiations with the Sox: Unlike a Carl Pavano, Brad Radke, Matt Morris, Eric Milton, Russ Ortiz, or any other free agent pitcher, Martinez has proven he knows how to win, and knows how to thrive in a demanding environment.

Lowe's postseason performance has thrust him back to the top of many shopping lists, and probably made a greater impression on those on the outside than the Sox, who will weigh three splendid October games against his full body of work this season, which was far less impressive. Lowe will appeal to numerous teams, including the Indians and Tigers, both of whom are in position to spend, as well as Baltimore, Texas, and perhaps even the Yankees. The suspicion here is that his price will get too rich for the Sox.

There appears, however, to be room for some compromise in the case of Varitek, who was at the State House yesterday with Manny Ramirez, taking part in ceremonies honoring the World Series champions. Varitek's agent, Scott Boras, is believed to be seeking a contract in the vicinity of five years and $50 million for a player widely regarded as the Sox' backbone. The Sox offer is believed to be $24 million for three years and does not include clauses that would make the contract worth less in case of injury or declining performance.

If the sides would be willing to meet in the middle, Varitek could remain in a Sox uniform, although if he decides he wants the biggest possible payday, he is the only elite catcher on the market and might be able to name his price.

Cabrera, who made such a vital contribution after being acquired in a July 31 trade, also might price himself out of the Sox market. Cabrera, who was paid $6 million last season and is a free agent for the first time, also may be aiming for the $9 million-$10 million-a-year range and may have a built-in market with the Mets, whose new general manager, Omar Minaya, had him in Montreal and loves him.

The Sox also have this to weigh: They have two highly regarded shortstop prospects, Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia (who is hitting .375 in the Arizona Fall League), both of whom may be ready for the big leagues in 2006.

The Sox might consider going after someone like perennial Gold Glover Omar Vizquel, who at 37 was just cut loose by the Indians but still performs at a high level. He might make sense for a year or two.

What about Pokey Reese? He probably doesn't hit enough to match the Sox' criteria, and his old team, the Cincinnati Reds, might want him back to take Barry Larkin's place.

The Sox have an interesting situation at first base, where the presence of Doug Mientkiewicz and Kevin Millar presents Epstein with a number of options. Mientkiewicz played sparingly after coming over from Minnesota, but with an exceptional glove and a track record that shows two .300 seasons in the last three years, he could become the everyday starter. In that scenario, Millar, who attracted interest from some clubs this summer, including Tampa Bay, could be traded.

On the other hand, Millar led the team in hitting in the second half and is a key ingredient in the team's chemistry. Epstein would likely think twice about tampering with that.

Mark Bellhorn, who is arbitration eligible, remains relatively cheap and should be back. Johnny Damon, who had his best season in a Boston uniform this summer, is entering the walk year of his contract, but it is unlikely the Sox will sign him to an extension this winter.

Trading Manny Ramirez, whom the Sox tried to give away last year? That's highly unlikely, even with reports surfacing that the Mets might make him a target, but with Epstein having traded Nomar Garciaparra, nothing can be dismissed out of hand.

The Sox expect free agent prize Carlos Beltran, the Astros' outfielder, to wind up with the Yankees, and don't figure to be involved in the bidding for Dodgers' third baseman Adrian Beltre. But a lot may depend on what their own free agents do. The clock starts ticking Monday.

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