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Red Sox hold tight in Vegas

Deals on the table, but hit wasn't in the cards

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / December 12, 2008
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LAS VEGAS - Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein opened his first media session here Monday with the words, "I wouldn't expect anything to come out of these meetings, to be honest."

Indeed, while there were certainly talks and offers to free agents, very little came out of the Sin City version of the annual bargaining sessions, at least for the Sox. Though other teams - notably the Yankees and Mets - splashed in with free agent deals, the Sox remained content to head to Boston with deals percolating but unconsummated.

The Sox, whose biggest moves during the four days were selecting three righthanded pitchers in yesterday's Rule 5 draft, remain in pursuit of Mark Teixeira, are unwilling to bid against themselves for Jason Varitek, and are still searching for a few pieces and parts before the team heads to Fort Myers, Fla., in two months.

"It was productive; lot of talk went on," Epstein said yesterday morning. "It was probably not the most efficient [winter meetings]. It's not sort of like a model for how you draw it up. But we're through it and we made some progress on some fronts.

"We'll keep going."

Epstein confirmed the Sox made offers to three free agents during the winter meetings, adding, "But there are a number of other guys we kind of discussed parameters with. It's kind of a fine line between an offer and a non-offer." As a policy, the club declines to comment on offers to players.

"Kind of still in the middle of the process," Epstein said. "Not at the end. We're just in the middle of the process with a lot of guys."

One of those guys is Teixeira, the first baseman who is the offensive prize of the free agent market. Angels GM Tony Reagins told MLB.com yesterday that "Mark's our main priority," and it is clear from the eight-year, $160 million offer from the Nationals that the same is true in Washington. The Orioles are in on him, and the Yankees might be, too, but they seem to be focused on pitching, hot in the hunt for A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe after agreeing to terms with CC Sabathia for a seven-year, $161 million deal Wednesday.

For the Red Sox, the main focus is Teixeira, who fits the team's offensive philosophy (.449 on-base percentage in 54 games with the Angels). His next address wasn't determined at the winter meetings as the Bellagio Hotel cleared out by midafternoon. Teams headed home with more work to do, more offers to make.

According to a source familiar with the talks, the Sox did not make an offer for Varitek, despite agent Scott Boras's assertion Wednesday. The offer of arbitration was the only one the Sox made to Varitek.

Varitek declined arbitration, and the market for him has not seemed to materialize. The Marlins are still in need of a catcher, but they do not seem to be a top destination for a player with designs on a multiyear deal. When the Dodgers learned Varitek wanted more than a one-year deal, their interest dropped. The Tigers decided against Varitek because it would cost them a draft pick.

That leaves the Sox under no pressure to offer Varitek a big-money deal, and certainly not one for multiple years at this point.

The Sox remain interested in some of the young catchers on the Rangers - Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden - and Arizona's Miguel Montero. Montero and Teagarden are advanced defensively, but Saltalamacchia's offense exceeds his defensive capabilities. Saltalamacchia would likely benefit from working with Gary Tuck, the Red Sox bullpen coach and catching guru.

On the catching front, the price appears to remain high. The Rangers are interested in Texas native Clay Buchholz. But the Sox will get something done with their catching situation, beyond nontendering Kevin Cash today. They might not get something done with Teixeira.

Despite the slow-developing trade and free agent market, the dealing is not done. Most of the remaining free agents will find homes by the spring. Some might even find that home in Boston.

"I think we're still [in a place] where we have to be patient, see how things go," Epstein said. "People don't leave Vegas after four days usually optimistic about anything in life.

"We're optimistic about where we are as an organization and our foundation. Those are sort of the core elements that people are probably sick of hearing me talk about. As far as specific moves, or adding certain players, until you get those things done you can never be too optimistic."

Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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