After signaling contrary intentions the day before, the Red Sox last night elected not to offer salary arbitration to outfielder Trot Nixon, who under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement could still return to the club, but almost certainly at a much reduced price than the $6.5 million he was paid last season.
The Sox had six free agents this winter. One, Alex Gonzalez, already signed with the Cincinnati Reds, and the Sox will receive a supplemental draft choice as compensation.
Of the others, the Sox offered arbitration only to reliever Keith Foulke, who elected free agency after the Sox declined to exercise the option they held on his contract, choosing to pay him a $1.5 million buyout instead. Foulke could have remained with the Sox by exercising a $3.75 million player option, but declined, his agent saying Foulke was hoping to find a team closer to his Arizona home. Foulke has until Thursday to accept the offer of arbitration, which in essence would make him a signed player.
But the Sox don't expect Foulke to accept arbitration after already turning down the option on his contract. By offering arbitration, though, the team can receive a supplemental draft pick after another club signs Foulke, who, like Gonzalez, is a Type B free agent.
The Sox declined arbitration to Nixon (a Type B), catcher Doug Mirabelli, second baseman Mark Loretta, and outfielder Gabe Kapler. Of that group, only Loretta was classified as a Type A free agent, meaning the signing club would have had to surrender their first-round pick to the Sox, who also would have received a supplemental pick sandwiched between the first and second rounds. With Loretta not being offered arbitration, those teams interested in signing him no longer are in jeopardy of losing draft picks, which should accelerate the process of Loretta signing elsewhere.
Among the players offered arbitration by other clubs was the Dodgers' Julio Lugo, in whom the Sox have expressed interest. If Boston signs the free agent shortstop, it would relinquish its first-round draft pick next June to Los Angeles. The Dodgers were prohibited from offering arbitration to outfielder J.D. Drew, whom the Sox are expected to sign, as part of the clause in his contract that allowed him to opt out with three years and $33 million remaining.
The Sox remain in trade talks for Manny Ramírez, with the San Diego Padres remaining one of the most interested parties, but a source close to those talks insisted that Padres pitcher Jake Peavy was not on the table. These situations are, of course, fluid, and while the Sox are committed to moving Ramírez, it remains to be seen if they can strike a deal with the Padres if Peavy is not part of the package.
There had been indications that the Sox were interested in keeping Nixon as part of their outfield alignment in the event Ramírez was traded, but while Nixon still has the option of coming back, he is expected to receive a multiyear offer from another club in need of a starting outfielder.
Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who is back from Japan and last night spoke at the "Fenway Park Great Writers" series, said he remained optimistic that the club would sign Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka before the Dec. 14 deadline. Negotiations are likely to be protracted with Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras, who is believed to be seeking a six-year deal in the $12 million-a-year range. Tacked onto the $51.1 million posting fee the Sox paid for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka, that would mean the team, in essence, would be paying him more than $20 million a year, which would set a standard for a long-term contract for a pitcher.
The Sox, for their part, take the position that they should not have to compensate Matsuzaka as an elite pitcher, like Roy Oswalt or Barry Zito, because he is not a true free agent. Their position is that part of the payback for bidding such a high price for Matsuzaka is to have the player under their control for six years, when he would be eligible for unrestricted free agency. That will a tough gap to bridge.
"The good thing is there is a defined period for it," Lucchino said of the negotiating window. "It will have to be done by Dec. 14.
"I can really speak for only one side. Our interest is legitimate, deep, longstanding, sincere, and we're determined to try and sign him. It takes two to tango . . . but we remain optimistic."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.