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Sox are playing along

Papelbon, Youkilis OK with contracts

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On a $160 million payroll loaded with big contracts, they represent two of Boston's biggest bargains, a product of a compensatory system that rewards experience and past performance more than excellence at the outset of a player's career.

Jonathan Papelbon, a big leaguer for one year and 64 days, agreed to terms with the Red Sox on a contract that will pay him $425,500, just $45,500 more than the major league minimum and a fraction of what most of his bullpen mates will be making, even though Papelbon was an All-Star closer last season.

The plan is for Papelbon to be a starter this season. The rest of the rotation -- Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield -- will be paid an average of $7.25 million. Matt Clement, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and is uncertain of pitching this season, is being paid $9.5 million.

Kevin Youkilis, whose big-league service time of 2 years and 93 days left him slightly more than a month short of being eligible for arbitration, had his contract renewed at $424,000, just $44,000 over the minimum. At .385, Youkilis had the second-highest on-base average among American League leadoff hitters. Eric Hinske, who is Youkilis's backup at first base, is scheduled to be paid $5.625 million this season. Mike Lowell, whose acquisition a year ago triggered Youkilis's move across the diamond from third base, is being paid $9 million in 2007.

But neither Papelbon nor Youkilis yesterday complained about their place on the salary pecking order.

"For me, it was something where they treated me right," Papelbon said after throwing 62 pitches in an intrasquad minor league game. "I felt like I wanted to keep a good relationship going. They did some things they said they were going to do for me.

"Just the way they treated me ever since I've come here. The thing about letting me go into the starting rotation and giving me the opportunity to make the most of my career, just little things like that mean a lot to me, you know what I mean?"

Having his contract renewed meant Youkilis could not negotiate a new deal with the club, which exercised its right to arbitrarily determine the value of his contract. The lowest number the Sox could have paid Youkilis was $380,000, the same figure he was paid last season.

"That's what's going to go on the next three years," said Youkilis, who will be able to file for salary arbitration after the season. "It's just a disagreement on the contract. No hard feelings. It is what it is.

"Our side, we felt we had good points about this and that, but until you have contract [leverage], it's just part of the business. You can't think it's bad. They have a system in place. We didn't think the system was right.

"But the best thing about it, I want to play here for a long time, so it's not like I'm mad. I'm not going to dog it or anything, just go out there each day, play hard, and what happened with this is in the past."

The first significant jump for both players should come once they become eligible for salary arbitration, but that's assuming, of course, both continue to perform and remain injury-free. Papelbon already has had one significant injury, when his shoulder slipped out of its joint because the rotator cuff muscles had become tired. Papelbon was relieved to learn that he had not torn anything, but the injury, according to the club, played the biggest role in the decision to convert him to starter.

Youkilis, who had two hits in three trips in last night's 7-5 Sox win to improve his average to a team-best .462, has been on the disabled list only once in his career, when he bruised his ankle in August 2004. He took a fastball in the ribs from Yankees pitcher Ross Ohlendorf in the seventh last night and came out for pinch runner Ed Rogers, but Francona said he was OK ("He said it caught a little fat").

"I talk to a lot of football guys who say, 'You guys have guaranteed contracts and make millions,' " Youkilis said. "I tell them, 'It takes three years to make a million dollars. It's hard work until you get there. You guys make these big huge bonuses. It's a lot different in baseball. You have to put in three years just to get to arbitration.' "

And then there's the cost of living in Boston. "Places like Boston, New York, and San Francisco, they'll empty your pockets," Youkilis said with a smile.

With the Sox playing on the road today in Dunedin, manager Terry Francona left his starters in for extended at-bats last night. Tim Wakefield was touched for three runs in the first inning, two on a cue-shot infield hit by Josh Phelps that was smothered by second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Wakefield's best work came in the second, when he gave up a leadoff triple to Chris Basak and left him stranded. The Yankees tacked on a fourth run on a couple of base hits and a sacrifice fly.

The Sox tied it on Doug Mirabelli's two-out, two-run opposite-field double off Carl Pavano in the second and two more in the sixth, J.D. Drew hitting his first homer of the spring and the tying run scoring on a base hit by Pedroia, who has been struggling at the plate. Craig Hansen got the save.

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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