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Hair and gone

Damon's exit forces Sox to shift gears

As soon as tomorrow, at Yankee Stadium, the viewing will be held. His hair might be cut, his beard shaved, his predilection for solid colors shelved for the allure of pinstripes. His baptism to the Yankees will, in effect, be his living wake as a member of the Red Sox.

And with that benumbing sight will set in the realities: He is gone, and he must be replaced.

''We have a list of people we're going to go after," Sox co-general manager Jed Hoyer promised yesterday.

Barring a blockbuster deal, the list figures to include no one in Damon's class -- as an offensive catalyst, as a winner, as a marketing commodity capable of transcending race and gender, or as a media magnet who in answering the hard questions made life easier for his teammates.

''He has been a team leader," Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino said yesterday. ''He has been an offensive force. He has been a cult figure. He has been, in some ways, the personification of the franchise. And we will miss him.

''We will miss him."

So, who is on the Sox' list? The team is not saying, but any of the following players could be on a potential Sox list under the heading ''Possible Trade Targets": Seattle's Jeremy Reed, Cleveland's Coco Crisp, the Cubs' Corey Patterson, San Diego's Dave Roberts, Tampa Bay's Joey Gathright, Minnesota's Torii Hunter, Philadelphia's Jason Michaels, and Texas's Brad Wilkerson. The following could fall under the heading ''Free Agent Possibilities": Juan Encarnacion (formerly of the Marlins), Preston Wilson (Washington), Terrence Long (Kansas City).

There also were indications yesterday that the Sox could use the money earmarked for Damon and go in a different direction, namely the signing of top free agent pitcher Kevin Millwood.

Of those players mentioned above, only Crisp, Roberts, and Gathright are considered legitimate leadoff-hitter material. The Sox have already discussed a deal for Crisp this offseason. The Indians, according to multiple baseball executives, have received more hits on Crisp than any other player this offseason but have not come close to dealing the 26-year-old, who hit .300 with 16 homers and 69 RBIs last season.

However, Indians GM Mark Shapiro has an excellent working relationship with the Sox' baseball operations department (he worked with Sox co-GM Ben Cherington in Cleveland in 1998 and likes and respects Hoyer). Shapiro, earlier this week, in an interview for a profile of Hoyer and Cherington, called the Sox' baseball operations department ''well run, responsive, creative." So, while Cleveland appears likely to hold on to Crisp, the Sox certainly can feel comfortable picking up the phone to dial the Indians if they feel so inclined.

Roberts is in all likelihood going to remain in San Diego. A source with direct knowledge of the Padres' thinking said at this time the club is unlikely to deal Roberts, who is expected to start in left field. The Padres need his leadoff abilities and range in the outfield.

San Diego's apparent unwillingness to deal Roberts certainly would make it more difficult for the Sox to consummate a deal that would send David Wells to San Diego. The Padres, according to the source close to the Padres, still have ''genuine interest" in Wells, but the teams ''are having a hard time matching up." The Padres dealt reliever Akinori Otsuka to Texas in a deal for Adrian Gonzalez earlier this week, meaning they can't afford to include reliever Scott Linebrink in a deal for Wells. And the Padres intend to hold on to Gonzalez, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman whom the Sox asked Texas about earlier this offseason.

Therefore, unless the Sox are willing to take on aging starter Woody Williams -- and they most likely aren't -- they might have to accept prospects if they decide to deal Wells back to his hometown team, as is his preference.

Gathright is the most available of the three leadoff-batting center fielders. He's just 24, and has tremendous speed, but he simply doesn't fit on a Tampa Bay team with lots of holes but none of them in the outfield. The team is expected to start the year with Carl Crawford in left field, Rocco Baldelli in center, and Aubrey Huff or Jonny Gomes in right.

Tampa Bay, several major league executives said yesterday, is the likeliest trading partner for the Sox, given that the Devil Rays could fill all of the Sox' needs in one deal (with Gathright, shortstop Julio Lugo, and Huff, who could platoon with Kevin Youkilis at first base). But, Tampa Bay has traditionally been demanding when it comes to making deals, and it's yet to be seen whether the new regime (Andrew Friedman and Gerry Hunsicker) acts like the former regime, headed by Chuck LaMar.

The Devil Rays, at last check, were willing to deal Lugo for Andy Marte. The Sox don't appear overly interested in the deal because they value Marte highly, but there were indications yesterday that the Sox might have to make that deal, if they don't sign free agent shorstop Alex Gonzalez, who, according to agent Eric Goldschmidt, is in discussions with three teams.

Tampa Bay and Florida, according to MLB.com, discussed dealing Gathright for pitching prospect Scott Olsen, rated the No. 2 prospect in Florida's system. That is the best-known barometer of what Tampa Bay may be seeking for Gathright.

Patterson, who is young and quick, looks like leadoff material but hasn't played like it. He hit just .215 last season with a .254 on-base percentage and was demoted during the season to Triple A. The Cubs tendered him a contract but appear very willing to deal him.

The team, according to a major league source, is willing to discuss a deal with the Sox. However, the Cubs' roster is rather set, and they don't need what the Sox have to offer -- excess starting pitching. The Cubs also are waiting on Baltimore to respond to proposals for shortstop Miguel Tejada.

Seattle's Jeremy Reed has been on the Sox' radar this offseason, after a less-than-stellar rookie season (.254, 3 homers, 45 RBIs). But, the Mariners appear to be a more difficult match with the Sox, after signing starter Jarrod Washburn and re-signing Jamie Moyer, which gives them a full rotation and reduces their need for a starter such as Matt Clement or Bronson Arroyo.

Furthermore, Reed is going to make less than $400,000, is highly regarded by his organization, and will be under their contractual control through 2010. They wouldn't figure to be interested in dealing for Marte, because they have Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson signed long term.

As for Hunter, a Twins source said he is not available. The team needs all the offense and defense it can get, and just about the last thing it would do at this juncture is move him. Philadelphia's Michaels is viewed as a fourth outfielder and probably nothing more, and his recent court appearance on a charge of assaulting a police officer certainly wouldn't seem to make him attractive to a Sox team having a difficult offseason, public relations wise. If the Sox did make a deal for him, he'd likely do no more than platoon.

The Rangers, who dealt Alfonso Soriano to Washington in the deal for Wilkerson, are likely to hold on to Wilkerson, though they have made no secret of their deep desire for pitching.

Free agent wise, Encarnacion, according to his agent, Goldschmidt, is drawing the interest of about five or six teams. He was Florida's right fielder last season and, according to Goldschmidt, is most comfortable in center and right. But, few center fields are considered trickier than Fenway.

The Sox are not believed to have any interest in Long, who struggled in Kansas City.

Interestingly, it was Long who replaced Damon in the Oakland outfield in 2002 when Damon left for Boston, the same year Jason Giambi left for New York, opening gaping holes for a 102-win team. Giambi was replaced by Scott Hatteberg, and despite losing Damon and Giambi for Long and Hatteberg, the 2002 A's won 103 games. Hoyer cited that example yesterday, and another more recent example, in explaining that Damon's loss can be overcome.

''Last year the best center fielder on the market [Carlos Beltran] destroyed the Astros' season by leaving in January," Hoyer said, ''and they went to the World Series with a rookie in center field."

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. For one, Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox' top pick in 2005, won't be ready until 2007, at the earliest. The consensus, across the industry yesterday: The Red Sox have their work cut out for them. Or, they're going to become a pitch-and-play-defense club, if they were to go the Millwood route.

''I would acknowledge this [losing Damon] is a setback in terms of our relative short-term plans," Lucchino said. ''But keep the faith. We will redeploy this money intelligently. We'll balance our long-term plans with our short-term needs and we'll find players who can play for this team."

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