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Baseball notebook

Japan market may come in handy for Sox

Email|Print| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / November 6, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. - Don't count the Red Sox out of the Japanese free agent pitching market.

It appears that Sox international scout Craig Shipley has his share of recommendations for general manager Theo Epstein, who won't have to worry about posting fees this time. The Sox might be intrigued by a few relievers on the market who can come to the majors as straight free agents, as Hideki Okajima did a year ago.

The most attractive include Kazuo Fukumori, a righthanded reliever, and Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who was the closer in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

The big prize will be starter Hiroki Kuroda, 32, who was 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA for Hiroshima and who some believe is better than Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Kuroda, who reportedly prefers to play on the West Coast because he doesn't like cold weather, could command a salary greater than the six-year, $52 million deal Matsuzaka got because of his age and the scarcity of starting pitching in the market.

Another possibility is 34-year-old righthanded reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta, who played for Bobby Valentine's Chiba Lotte Marines. Yabuta, who has not yet declared for free agency, had 34 holds and a 2.73 ERA this season. Significant here is that the Sox have a working agreement with the Marines.

Another big player, outfielder Kosuke Fukudome of Chunichi, will garner interest for teams seeking a center fielder, but it does not appear the Red Sox would have interest.

New guys in town

New Los Angeles manager Joe Torre was introduced to about 200 reporters at Dodger Stadium yesterday, while in Pittsburgh, John Russell was named the new Pirates skipper.

Torre, 67, announced he is bringing coaches Don Mattingly and Larry Bowa with him from the Yankees staff, but he has yet to determine whether either will be bench coach. Mattingly was Torre's bench coach and hitting coach, Bowa the third base coach. There's also some talk that Alex Rodriguez could be wooed to LA, though it's unlikely owner Frank McCourt would pay $350 million for the third baseman.

"We have a good association," Torre said of A-Rod. "So much was made about me hitting him eighth [in the playoffs two years ago]. I don't know what we'll do, but our relationship is fine. I think he's comfortable with me and I'm comfortable with him, and I'm sure he'll do what's best for his family."

Torre, who hasn't talked to many of the current Dodger players, said he has a lot of studying to do after 12 seasons in New York.

"It's all about wanting the same thing between the lines," Torre said. "It's important everybody's on the same page. My job in spring training is to make sure they have the direction to go in. It's not unusual at times for people not to get along. You must be mindful of what's important."

Spurned by Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, new Pirates GM Neal Huntington tapped Russell, 46, who had been the Phillies Triple A manager.

At his news conference at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Russell said, "Accountability to me is the backbone of what we're going to have to do on the field. Great players that I have been around are accountable for what they do. They are hard workers. That's what we're going to do. If the program runs true and the players do it, then we'll get better."

Russell said he expects the Pirates to be a winning team in April. "That's my goal," he said. "We're going to compete. I know that people are going to look at me like, 'This guy's stupid,' but that's my goal. If I had any other thought in my mind, then I don't deserve this job."

Pettitte thinks it over

Andy Pettitte declined his $16 million option to stay with the Yankees, as he decides whether he'll keep pitching or retire. There was some talk that Pettitte might be tempted to follow Torre to Los Angeles, but it appears that if he decides to pitch, it would be with the Yankees. His agent, Randy Hendricks, told the Associated Press, "If Andy decides to play, I am confident we can reach an agreement with the Yankees within 24 hours. The only options, as Andy has stated, are the Yankees or retirement. He appreciates the Yankees' willingness to give him the time he feels he needs. I do not expect him to make a decision for quite some time." . . . Mets GM Omar Minaya did all he could to throw cold water on reports that he was hot after A-Rod. Minaya said he has talked to infielders David Wright and Jose Reyes in the last day or so, amid reports that Wright was going to move to second base. Minaya emphasized that he already has a strong third baseman and shortstop. Hmmm, didn't say anything about first base, did he?

Old faithful

The Padres reached a one-year deal with 41-year-old Greg Maddux for $10 million. He was 14-11 with a 4.14 ERA in 34 starts for them last season . . . Indians GM Mark Shapiro was named the Sporting News Executive of the Year and was presented the award at the GM meetings yesterday . . . Former manager Grady Little's bench coach, Dave Jauss, will not be back with the Dodgers and may land a job in the Pirates organization . . . Epstein, who is the co-chair of these meetings, acknowledged that they were held a week earlier, before free agency, because, "We tried to cut down on the media frenzy. These meetings were originally designed to give general managers a bit of a break, where they can catch up to one another and take a breath before the offseason. But somewhere along the line, it evolved into a hot stove extravaganza, complete with large media presence. There was a bit of an attempt this year to bring it back to its original purpose." In an attempt to create more private time for GMs, Epstein created a "general managers' lounge," which he called "my contribution to the industry this year. A lounge where no media and no agents are allowed. An after-hours type thing where there's card tables and pool tables, flat-screen TVs, a couple of bars to get clubs in a social environment where you can talk trades."

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com; material from wire services was used in this report.

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