ORLANDO, Fla. - A telltale sign that Mike Lowell is returning to the Red Sox? Yankees manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman both commented yesterday that they will have to make a deal for a third baseman to replace Alex Rodriguez, the insinuation being that they expect Lowell, the top third baseman on the market after A-Rod, to stay put.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who made the biggest splash of the GM meetings so far by reaching agreement with Curt Schilling on a one-year deal that was finalized yesterday, has been optimistic about the progress of talks on Lowell but has not gone as far as to say they are near completion.
Schilling agreed to stay for a one-year, $8 million salary, with incentives that could boost the package to $14 million. The incentives include provisions for innings pitched and conditioning.
Sources familiar with the Lowell negotiations indicate that the popular third baseman - who officially filed for free agency yesterday - would need a third year guaranteed, and if he gets it, he's likely to take a hometown discount.
In recent days, the market for Lowell hasn't been as active as expected. Phillies GM Pat Gillick stated that he will not devote a lot of his resources toward a third baseman but will earmark the money toward pitching. Other Phillies personnel would love to see Lowell in Philadelphia.
The Yankees seem to be focusing on a trade for either Florida's Miguel Cabrera, whom Girardi managed and who is being made available by the Marlins, or the White Sox' Joe Crede.
Epstein wasn't specific on Lowell except to say no deal was imminent.
"We talk every single day to Theo," said Lowell's agent, Sam Levinson. "Nothing yet, but we're trying. Mike loves being a Red Sox and we're trying to make it happen."
As for Schilling, Epstein sounded thrilled to get him tied up, as he gives the Sox great flexibility with the starting pitching. With Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Tim Wakefield, and now Schilling aboard, the Sox can do a few things, perhaps even package a young pitcher in a trade.
Both the Twins and A's are eyeing Boston's young talent. The Twins might entertain a Johan Santana deal, while the A's might make Dan Haren available. Haren is interesting because he is tied up through 2009 at $4 million and then $5.5 million, with an option for $7.75 million in 2010.
The Sox would have to part with one of their young pitchers in either scenario, though a Santana deal would be contingent on getting him signed long-term, at money that could reach north of $20 million per season.
"We're probably out of the free agent market unless there's a real value there," said Epstein. "As far as the trade market is concerned, if we have a chance to add a real good, young, controllable pitcher, sure.
"But we're pretty happy with our depth right now. What we needed was quality to protect the remainder of the rotation."
Epstein was asked about going to a six-man rotation and did not close the door on the idea. In fact, he said, it had been and would be up for discussion. Matsuzaka and Schilling likely would benefit by an extra day's rest.
"We're really happy this got done," said Epstein. "We think it's a great thing for the club and it will work out for Curt as well. A lot of times, players say it's not about the money and it ends up being about the money. It wasn't about the money. That's something to be commended in this day and age."
Schilling confirmed that sentiment last night in Wilbraham, Mass., where he appeared at an event on behalf of his wife Shonda's SHADE Foundation to combat skin cancer.
"If you had to pick the job of your life and everyone in your profession made zero dollars, where would you work?" he said. "If we played for free and you could pick anyplace to play that you wanted to, this would be the place I would pick.
"The passion in which this city embraces my family is unprecedented. It's the perfect place to finish your career."
Schilling's deal has a $2 million incentive for which he must make weight six times during the season. There also is up to $3 million in incentives for innings pitched and a $1 million bonus if he receives a single vote for the Cy Young Award. The weight restriction will be challenging for Schilling, but it was he who volunteered the clause.
"We had traded initial offers and there had been some discussion about incentives," he said. "I knew after last spring [weight] had been a concern of theirs. On my second offer to them, I put that [weight incentive] to let them know that I understood. It really falls on me from a responsibility standpoint to take care of that. That was kind of a no-brainer.
"It's something I need to take care of. It's only going to help me and help the club. I brought it on myself. I have no one to blame. It's a mistake I made; I won't make it again."
Despite speculation that Schilling was done in Boston after helping the Red Sox wrap up their second World Series title in his four years with the team, there apparently wasn't much haggling.
"There wasn't much going back and forth on the numbers," Schilling said, "because we were fairly close from the beginning."
And in the end, both parties thought it was a fair deal.
"How we project him for next year, we thought $8 million was a reasonable number," Epstein said. "If there's a downside or things don't go well next year, then $8 million seems reasonable under that scenario. If everything goes right, if he gets himself in great shape and pitches the whole season, then we're comfortable with the higher number, which is why the contract is structured that way."
The innings clause starts at 130 and goes in 10-inning increments up to 200. Schilling makes $375,000 per increment.
Those are the particulars, but there seems to have been one overriding consideration.
"Staying in Boston," said Schilling. "That's what this is all about."
Material from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette was used in this report.