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NL teams warm up to idea of a Ramírez deal

The Manny Ramírez trade chatter predictably spiked upward yesterday, with the winter meetings just days away.

While the Red Sox continued to close in on a deal for free agent outfielder J.D. Drew, and have made an offer to shortstop Julio Lugo, whom they project forming a speedy on-base combination at the top of the order with Coco Crisp, the speculation about possible destinations for Ramírez intensified.

The Padres were identified as "an interested party" by a team source, there was further confirmation that the Giants had spoken with the Red Sox about Ramírez, and the Dodgers were among the teams that have "kicked the tires" about the left fielder.

Meanwhile, the usual suspects, Texas and Anaheim, appeared improbable destinations for Ramírez, who as a 10-5 player (10 years in the majors, 5 years with the same team) can veto any deal. The Sox are all but conceding that they cannot wrest shortstop Michael Young from the Rangers, while the Angels, who last week signed center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. to a five-year, $50 million deal, have no interest in moving setup man Scot Shields, and with Garret Anderson, Vladi Guerrero, and Juan Rivera to share the corner outfield spots and DH, have little motivation to surrender top prospects for Ramírez, who will turn 35 next May 30.

Other teams mentioned as potential trading partners include the Phillies, who were shut out in their pursuit of Alfonso Soriano; the Orioles, who were among the also-rans for Carlos Lee; and the Mets, who even after signing a left fielder, Moises Alou, could conceivably offer their other corner outfielder, Shawn Green, as well as top outfield prospect Lastings Milledge, should general manager Omar Minaya's enthusiasm for Ramírez be rekindled.

The Padres, of course, have been a regular trading partner for Boston general manager Theo Epstein, who was once a protégé and top aide to San Diego GM Kevin Towers. The two names that instantly spring to mind in a potential Sox-Padres deal are starting pitcher Jake Peavy, San Diego's ace who had a disappointing 2006 season (11-14, 4.09), and Scott Linebrink, who had a league-leading 36 holds as Trevor Hoffman's primary setup man.

But there are compelling reasons why San Diego may not wind up as the destination for Ramírez.

"Sandy Alderson is not going to spend $20 million a year on Manny Ramírez," said one National League executive, referring to the Padres' CEO who built a tight-fisted reputation when he was building champions in Oakland. "That goes against everything he preaches."

The same executive also saw little reason why Ramírez would consent to a deal to a National League team, calling such a move "the worst possible thing a hitter could do at Manny's stage of his career, switching leagues when he knows all the pitchers and how they work him in the American League."

The spacious expanse of Petco Park, in a division, the NL West, where nearly all of the parks have big outfields, would also likely expose Ramírez's shortcomings. Being in the NL, of course, would also preclude him DHing except in interleague games.

Still, Epstein's long track record of dealing with the Padres makes San Diego a team that bears watching. As an assistant GM in 2003, Epstein engineered the trade that brought Alan Embree to the Sox from the Padres, and more recently he made deals for Jay Payton, Mark Loretta, and George Kottaras, sending, among others, Dave Roberts, David Wells, Josh Bard, and Cla Meredith to San Diego. Clearly, there is a comfort level between the teams.

The Giants? They are considering alternatives to Barry Bonds, a free agent, but according to one source with direct knowledge of talks between the teams, there is "no way" a deal will be struck with the Sox because the Giants don't have enough to offer in return. It would appear the only way Ramírez winds up in San Francisco is if a third team becomes involved.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, spoke with the Sox during the GM meetings but those talks went nowhere after Boston asked for LA's top prospects.

Phillies GM Pat Gillick had expressed doubts about dealing with the potential "headaches" Ramírez might bring, but it's conceivable that they may revisit the issue at the winter meetings in Orlando, though the Sox have little interest in taking outfielder Pat Burrell in return.

The Orioles? Last winter, they engaged in serious discussions with the Sox about a Miguel Tejada-Ramírez swap; those talks could conceivably be revived, especially if the Orioles were convinced they could get Ramírez and sign Lugo to replace Tejada at shortstop.

Friday is the deadline for teams to offer salary arbitration to their free agents; if they do so, the signing teams would have to surrender draft choices as compensation; if arbitration is not offered, no compensation is required. That is why the Sox may wait until the weekend to close their deal for Drew.

Lugo may take longer, though the Red Sox have clearly signaled their desire for the former Devil Rays shortstop, who had a .373 on-base percentage before being dealt to the Dodgers in midseason. The Giants and Cubs, along with the Orioles, are teams with interest, in addition to the Sox, and the Dodgers are expected to offer Lugo arbitration.

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