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For Sox, winter is when they try to stock up again

Email|Print| Text size + By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / December 2, 2007

Just as there is a generation of fans who can hardly imagine a season when the Red Sox are not playing in October, so it has become a given that the Sox will make at least one major move in the offseason.

Just check some of the winter transactions of the last decade:

1997 - trade for Pedro Martínez

1998 - lose Mo Vaughn, sign Jose Offerman

1999 - trade for Carl Everett

2000 - sign Manny Ramírez

2001 - sign Johnny Damon

2002 - add Mike Timlin, Todd Walker, Bill Mueller, David Ortiz, and Bronson Arroyo

2003 - trade for Curt Schilling, sign Keith Foulke

2004 - lose Martínez, Derek Lowe, and Orlando Cabrera, sign Edgar Renteria, Matt Clement, and David Wells

2005 - trade for Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett, trade for Coco Crisp and Mark Loretta

2006 - win posting for, and sign, Daisuke Matsuza ka, sign J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo

Winning a World Series has hardly served as a braking influence on roster turnover. It did not have that effect in 2004, and change is again in the offing this winter, as general manager Theo Epstein and the Boston contingent head today to Nashville for baseball's winter meetings, which officially begin tomorrow.

Epstein's primary moves this offseason have been to preserve the status quo. He re-signed Schilling after the veteran righthander signaled his willingness to come back for significantly less money. He re-signed Lowell, who also left millions on the table when he accepted a take-it-or-leave-it three-year deal from the Sox. He reached terms with veteran setup man Timlin, although the club has yet to announce a deal. And he exercised contract options that assure the return of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and swingman Julian Tavarez.

But the Sox also have been engaged in serious negotiations with the Minnesota Twins about ace lefthander Johan Santana, who almost certainly will be traded in the coming days. After Santana rejected a reported four-year, $80 million offer from the Twins, Minnesota has been actively engaged in trying to move the two-time Cy Young Award winner.

Making a deal problematic for any team acquiring Santana is that because he is eligible for free agency after next season, any team dealing for him not only will be surrendering prime young players, they also need to sign him to a long-term contract extension.

Twins GM Bill Smith was already on his way to Nashville yesterday, but with the Yankees having elected to include prize pitching prospect Phil Hughes in a package that also includes center fielder Melky Cabrera, there were indications that Smith was planning to give the Sox one more chance to include either center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury or pitcher Clay Buchholz in the package the Sox would be willing to exchange for Santana.

To date, the Sox have been unwilling to do so, preferring to offer a package centered around lefthander Jon Lester, pitching prospect Justin Masterson, center fielder Coco Crisp, and perhaps pitching prospect Michael Bowden.

If nothing else, the Sox appear to have succeeded in driving up the price the Yankees may wind up paying for Santana. Another serious bidder could emerge, perhaps the Seattle Mariners, who have such young players as outfielder Adam Jones, pitcher Brandon Morrow, and catcher Jeff Clements to offer.

If the Sox do not land Santana, they are expected to explore whether they match up with Oakland on a deal for ace Dan Haren, who drew the starting assignment for the American League in the 2007 All-Star Game.

"Just because we think we're in a sound place right now doesn't mean we ignore opportunities that make us better, both in the short term and in the long term," Epstein said in a conference call yesterday. "I think it's our job to explore those opportunities.

"Whether or not anything major happens, I can't tell you. I can tell you we'll be thorough in at least exploring opportunities that might make us better."

The Sox yesterday officially announced they had offered salary arbitration to relievers Eric Gagné and Timlin, which means they would receive a draft pick as compensation if either signs elsewhere. They did not offer arbitration to their other free agents, which include Bobby Kielty, Eric Hinske, Doug Mirabelli, Matt Clement, and Royce Clayton. In the past, that would have guaranteed those players would be headed elsewhere, but under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Sox can continue to negotiate with all five.

The switch-hitting Kielty seems the most likely to return, especially if the Sox succeed in finding a new team for Crisp (perhaps the Twins in a lesser deal). There are a number of center fielders on the market - Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand, Mike Cameron, Milton Bradley - so Epstein may not be able to move Crisp this week.

Epstein said he also is in the market for bullpen and bench help. Yesterday, the Sox signed a six-year minor league free agent outfielder, Jonathan Van Every, and added him to their 40-man roster, bringing to 38 the number of players on the 40-man.

Van Every, 28, is a lefthanded hitter who batted .307 with 12 home runs in a season split between Double A Akron and Triple A Buffalo. Van Every has spent his entire pro career in Cleveland's system and provides organizational depth.

The Sox earlier signed a minor league relief pitcher, Lee Gronkiewicz, but he was not added to the 40-man.

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

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