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ON BASEBALL

No payoff for the Sox' efforts

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- All along, Theo and the Trio warned that this day would come, although they did what they could to forestall it. Pedro Martinez wanted a third year guaranteed? Done. His ego demanded a higher average annual value than Curt Schilling? In the end, that was done, too, as the Sox, according to club sources, raised their final offer to three

years and $40.5 million, an average annual value of $13.5 million, slightly higher than the AAV for the new sheriff in town. There also was a club option for a fourth year. But then, on Sunday, the New York Mets guaranteed a fourth year -- a place the Sox would under no circumstances go -- and a day later Martinez instructed agent Fernando Cuza to tell the Mets yes to a deal that is expected to guarantee him $54 million by the time Hillary Clinton runs for President. Martinez told friends last night that he is "extremely happy" to be going to New York, though it will be interesting to see whether Martinez passes the physical upon which the whole deal hinges. "He may have less chance than Jaret Wright," said one veteran Pedro-watcher, noting how the sore-shouldered Wright failed his first physical with the Yankees.

The Sox, according to someone in the inner circle, are a little shocked by the turn of events that has Martinez headed for Flushing, but make no mistake, they are not unprepared. Where do they go from here without their little Dominicano (and Nelson de la Rosa, too), who in seven seasons with the Red Sox won games at a better clip (117-37, .760 winning percentage) than any Sox pitcher with at least 100 decisions?

They made a major run at Carl Pavano, offering him virtually the same deal that Pavano accepted from the Yankees (four years for a guaranteed $39 million) but lost him because, in part, he couldn't overcome a lifelong family allegiance to pinstripes (his Mom went out and bought a Yankee cap a month ago).

Red Sox manager Terry Francona was personally involved in recruiting Jon Lieber, but he elected to go back to the National League and signed with the Phillies. They also made a run at Brad Radke, but the righthander decided to return to the Twins.

They asked about Randy Johnson, but he's still hung up on the Yankees and Johnson's agent said there's no chance he'll go to Boston.

They've worked on a possible three-way deal for A's ace Tim Hudson, but team sources said that isn't likely to happen, either, and Oakland GM Billy Beane may in the end elect to send Barry Zito to the Orioles.

Several club officials said yesterday that a deal for Hudson was not going to happen. "I don't think Billy Beane wants to do business with the Red Sox," one club official said.

The most likely alternatives at this stage -- and Derek Lowe's agent, Scott Boras, said last night Lowe will not accept arbitration from the Sox by the Dec. 19 deadline -- are two righthanders with pedigrees admittedly far more modest than that of Martinez, who at the turn of the century (1999-2000) put together back-to-back seasons that statistically are favorable to any in the previous 100 years.

One is Matt Clement, the free agent with whom Sox GM Theo Epstein has a long history, given that they grew up together in the Padres' system. Epstein, as the righthand man to San Diego GM Kevin Towers, was present when the Padres drafted Clement and was heavily involved in negotiating Clement's first multiyear contract, which the Padres gave him after just one season in the big leagues. Towers turned down numerous trade offers for Clement, who was rated the best pitching prospect in the organization, before finally relenting and sending him to the Marlins for outfielder Mark Kotsay. Clement was traded a second time, to the Cubs for reliever Antonio Alfonseca and a throw-in prospect, Dontrelle Willis, who became the National League's Rookie of the Year in 2003.

Clement finished last season with a 9-13 record and 3.68 ERA for the Cubs, who in midsummer refused to include him in a trade for Nomar Garciaparra. But Epstein had informed Clement's agent, Barry Axelrod, throughout the winter meetings that the Sox would like to be considered by Clement if Martinez went elsewhere, and yesterday, the sides were talking, which could not have been happy news for the Anaheim Angels, who thought they were front-runners for the 6-foot-3-inch, 213-pounder who was paid $6 million last season. Watch this one closely.

The other strong possibility involves another John W. Henry favorite, A.J. Burnett, who was perhaps the most promising of the Marlins' young guns until hurting his elbow and requiring Tommy John tendon transfer surgery, which sidelined him for virtually all of last season. Burnett, who gained early notoriety for his nipple rings, a personality quirk that barely will raise eyebrows in the Sox clubhouse, is the guy who pitched a no-hitter in San Diego while walking nine. Henry was in town but not at the ballpark for the game; he was supposed to be taking his wife out to dinner, but when he heard that Burnett was about to complete his no-no, he commandeered a cab to the ballpark and ran by foot through the traffic exiting the stadium so that he could join in the clubhouse celebration of Burnett's feat.

Burnett is a big (6-5, 230 pounds) hard thrower who, in his last full season of health (2002), struck out 203 in 204 1/3 innings, went 12-9 with a 3.30 ERA, and threw five shutouts. But he, too, is sub-.500 (37-38) for his career, and it is by no means certain that the Sox can make a trade work, though Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria may owe Henry one.

This much we know about Epstein -- he is resourceful, relentless, and has the revenue streams necessary to retool the Sox pitching staff.

"We're obviously disappointed he took the Mets' deal," Sox chairman Tom Werner said last night, "but if the Mets wanted to give him four years, there's not much we can do about it. We certainly have nothing but the best things to say about him. We don't want to be seen as anything less than happy for him, that he did what he wanted to do."

But the Sox will carry on. They already have David Wells, assuming he passes his physical. They expect Boras, who is also Jason Varitek's agent, to eventually come back to them and hammer out a deal for the catcher. They were waiting to hear back on their proposal for shortstop Edgar Renteria, a deal that was not done, they said, late last night. Life without Pedro? A much easier existence to contemplate, when you've got World Series rings on order. 

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