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They're not done shopping by a long shot

Terry Francona is bound by organizational dictates not to give his stamp of approval on Edgar Renteria as the Red Sox' new shortstop until after the two-time Gold Glover comes to Boston, takes his physical, and has his official unveiling, all of which should take place by tomorrow at the latest. Until then, it doesn't matter what Renteria told the Globe's Indira A.R. Lakshmanan at his poolside yesterday; his arrival, according to the Yawkey Way manual, remains a rumor, nothing more (wink, wink).

Still, as one who managed four years in the National League, and saw Renteria become one of the most dependable shortstops in the game, Francona's opinion carries some weight, even if Dan Patrick might have his doubts. (After Francona's appearance on Patrick's ESPN Radio show yesterday, the host jokingly mused about how Francona has had more than his share of characters everywhere he's been -- Philadelphia, Oakland, and Boston -- and surmised, "Maybe he's the whack job.")

Renteria will not make anyone forget, Francona said, how Orlando Cabrera performed afield in the short time he was in a Sox uniform.

"What we saw from Orlando," Francona said, "was three months of amazing shortstop. And before that, remember, we also saw what Pokey [Reese] could do.

"But Renteria is a good player, a really good player in all facets of the game. He can hit, he can hit home runs, he can steal bases, he plays defense. And when you have a guy who can do all that at the shortstop position, you have yourselves a really good player. He's not quite as flashy as Orlando, but he's very steady."

A thought for all the people so quick to condemn Pedro Martinez for leaving the Sox for a better offer from the Mets: Renteria left St. Louis, the place he went after delivering a World Series-winning hit for the Florida Marlins in 1997 and found a home where he was universally admired, for more money from the Red Sox, and like Martinez, said it was a respect issue. That is likely to play as well in St. Louis as Martinez's reasoning played here.

"I think we went beyond reasonable for us," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of the Cardinals' attempt to sign Renteria, which included bumping up their final offer to $9 million a year for four years, while the Sox' four-year, $40 million deal is believed to contain mostly upfront money.

"There is a figure that doesn't make sense for us. That money can only go so far. If another club wants a guy for more than what you think the market is for him, then they've got him. I thought $8 million was at the top of where we needed to be. That's what he indicated he wanted to stay. And that still wasn't enough."

Renteria, who has the plate discipline and bat control Cabrera was lacking -- the kind that should make him an ideal No. 2 hitter in the Sox' lineup -- gives the Sox the leverage now to include top prospect Hanley Ramirez in a deal for another pitcher. In fact, when one major league executive heard of the Sox coming to terms with Renteria, his response was: "Great, but can he pitch?"

For those convinced the Sox will be weakened beyond recognition by losing Martinez and Derek Lowe from the rotation, and would have been better off leaving well enough alone with Cabrera, there's always a chance that events will prove them right. But don't be so certain. For the money it would have taken to sign Martinez and Lowe, the Sox may walk away with three pitchers. Despite earlier pessimism by some Sox executives, they remain in contention for Oakland ace Tim Hudson, and can now include Hanley Ramirez in a package for him. They have an offer on the table for Matt Clement, who is expected to choose from among seven teams in the next 24 hours. They are talking to the Marlins about a trade for A.J. Burnett, although there were indications yesterday that the Marlins will move Burnett only in a deal in which they will net Hudson in return. They are expected to be among the bidders for lefthander Odalis Perez, and could jump in for lefthander Eric Milton, who seemingly was packaged for the Yankees but now is on the back burner, pending what the Bombers are able to accomplish with Randy Johnson.

A rotation that would include Curt Schilling, Hudson, David Wells, and Tim Wakefield would enter spring training as no worse than co-favorites in the AL East. Add a Clement and another arm, and the Sox still would loom as a dangerous team in October.

As one friendly e-mailer said in his signoff last night: "In Theo we trust -- I guess."

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