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Trade bait

Ramirez wants out, which doesn't surprise Lucchino

Red Sox president Larry Lucchino confirmed last night that Manny Ramirez has asked for a trade, though Lucchino, speaking through executive vice president Charles Steinberg, significantly downplayed the relevance of the slugger's request.

''Manny's made the request consistently all [the] years [we've] been here," Lucchino said through Steinberg. ''It's not anything unusual. It's a rite of passage. It was the fourth time."

Lucchino appeared on WEEI yesterday morning and initially confirmed a report in Sports Illustrated this week, citing Ramirez's desire to leave. But, when reached on his cellphone yesterday evening, Lucchino deferred all questions to Steinberg ''in the interest of not contradicting ourselves."

Lucchino, in that interview, said, ''Our general response [to Ramirez] was, 'It's that time of year' and we'll explore it as we explore other trades.

'' . . . Certainly Manny's name will come up from time to time, I'm sure, in the next 72 hours. We have until 4 on Sunday afternoon."

Ramirez's problem?

''Manny has issues with Boston and privacy," Lucchino said.

Ramirez's agent, Greg Genske, did not return messages yesterday. General manager Theo Epstein refused comment, saying he thought it ''wise of us to refrain from talking to the media until Sunday night," at which time the nonwaiver trade deadline will have passed.

Dealing Ramirez would be difficult -- some say impossible -- given his contract. He's owed $7.2 million of his $20 million salary for this season and $57 million over the upcoming three seasons.

Furthermore, he's baseball's leading run producer this season -- he leads the majors in RBIs (92) and he's tied for the American League lead in home runs (28). Ramirez has done his best work of late; he's clubbed 16 home runs in his last 37 games, leaving the yard once every 7.94 at-bats.

But, just as appealing as that bat is to other contending teams, his contract has, in all likelihood, zero appeal.

''Because of the size of his contract, obviously, it's hard," Lucchino said. ''There aren't a lot of clubs that are going to be interested, but it depends how little you're willing to take in return with respect to trades. I'm not talking about Manny specifically, although it certainly applies to him.

''If you're willing to take a broken bat and a couple of baseballs and a player to be named later, I supposed that makes it more possible, but there's just a certain set of clubs that will never be interested because of the dollars involved. But then again that club may say, 'Hey, if he's got a $18-20 million contract this year, and you pay 95 percent of it, you know, we'll trade with you.' But that's not a particularly intelligent thing for us to do."

Philosophically, the Red Sox have been unwilling to eat salary, though the club made an exception in March when assuming all but about $315,000 of the $6 million owed Byung Hyun Kim in dealing him to Colorado.

Ramirez will be a 10-5 player -- 10 years of major league service, five consecutive with the same team -- at season's end, meaning he can block a trade to any team.

The left fielder most recently drew significant attention to himself Wednesday in Tampa Bay by refusing to play. According to manager Terry Francona, Ramirez wanted a day off Sunday in Chicago. Sensing the importance of the game -- the White Sox began last week's series against Boston with baseball's best record -- Francona asked Ramirez to wait until Wednesday in Tampa Bay.

But Trot Nixon landed on the disabled list Tuesday night with a strained oblique muscle. Short on outfielders, Francona approached Ramirez that night and asked if he could play the following day. Ramirez said he needed the day off, leading Francona to start Kevin Millar in left field for only the fifth time in his career.

''I think his attitude is, 'I've got to take care of me in the best way that I can in order to make the contribution that I think I can make,' " Lucchino said.

Ramirez didn't run out a 10th-inning ground ball Tuesday night in an extra-inning game the Sox won. Francona said Ramirez looked ''tired," though, given the context -- Matt Clement had left the game after being struck in the head by a line drive and Nixon had left with a muscle strain -- that rationale appeared rather thin.

Lucchino said he didn't ''mean to be an apologist for Manny" but explained that having a set of rules for Ramirez and rules for others isn't all that unacceptable.

''There are times when . . . you've got to differentiate between and among employees," Lucchino said. ''You cannot expect to treat everyone exactly the same. We've all been part of a team, or growing up members of a team, when we recognize that there are different people and personalities within the team who were treated differently.

''I know there's an old bromide that says, 'This is a team, we're all treated the same, we all act the same,' well that's not the way life is. That's not the way human nature is."

The fear lingers that, if upset and unhappy, Ramirez's level of attentiveness, and production, could dip. But, he's been unhappy before and followed with a blistering period at the plate.

In 2002, he did not run out a ground ball in Tampa Bay, making a U-turn for the dugout. Manager Grady Little criticized Ramirez, and interim GM Mike Port pulled aside the left fielder to let him know such behavior would not be tolerated. That September Ramirez hit .396.

On Labor Day 2003, he refused to pinch hit in Philadelphia, infuriating Little, who benched him the next day. But Ramirez hit .375 for September that year.

And, after attempting to trade Ramirez following the 2003 season, he went out and homered 43 times to lead the American League, then was named Most Valuable Player of the World Series.

That's why, in the wake of yesterday's admission by Lucchino, Steinberg wrote off Ramirez's request as mere dinner conversation that's been had many times.

''My response," Steinberg said, ''is pass the salt."

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