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Lowell deal still in play

Medical clearance is last Texas hurdle

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / December 11, 2009

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INDIANAPOLIS - Word began to leak out late Wednesday night about a deal that would ship out one of the Red Sox’ most popular players, reports saying that a preliminary agreement had been reached with the Texas Rangers. And though there’s still a good chance that Mike Lowell ends up in Texas, the deal was not done by the time the baseball general managers and front office staff began to filter out of Indianapolis yesterday morning.

That, of course, does not mean that the deal - which would send Lowell and much of his $12 million salary to Texas for catcher Max Ramirez - won’t be completed. But as of yesterday, the teams had not yet filed the paperwork with Major League Baseball, and had not looked at medical reports, something that could hold up the deal, given the hip surgery Lowell had a year ago.

“Both clubs understand where the other one is and what we’re looking to do, and at the same time we’re also both looking at alternatives and what our options are,’’ Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said.

By that point, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein had already departed the winter meetings, bound for Boston, having not commented on the situation. Epstein also did not respond to a phone message.

“I think there’s always different layers to these things,’’ Daniels said. “Both clubs are kind of evaluating. I think the general parameters are understood. Both clubs need to decide whether it’s the right fit.’’

According to a baseball source, the deal and money considerations have been agreed to. Because of the questions about Lowell’s health - even though the Rangers would be tied to him only for 2010 - Texas will have to look closely at his medical records and give him a physical.

Lowell, who was the World Series MVP with the Sox in 2007, is not the only player in the deal with injury concerns. Ramirez was plagued by problems with both wrists last season, causing him to spend time on the disabled list with Triple A Oklahoma. He hit .234 with a .323 on-base percentage and .336 slugging percentage over 76 games in Triple A in 2009, after playing 17 games in the majors in 2008.

Ramirez has generally been regarded as a strong offensive player with subpar defensive skills. He’s currently playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, and is tied for the league lead in home runs with 12 and tied for sixth in RBIs with 33. He could serve as a good bat off the bench for the Sox, if the deal goes through.

Lowell, meanwhile, showed decreased range last season while coming back from surgery to the labrum in his hip. He played just 119 games, hitting .290 with 75 RBIs and 17 home runs. The surgery was almost exactly a year ago, which means that Lowell should finally be fully recovered. The Rangers already have a third baseman in Michael Young, and are likely to play Lowell at a combination of first base (where they also have Chris Davis) and designated hitter.

The Sox would have to eat a large portion of Lowell’s contract, reported to be $9 million. The Rangers are under financial constraints and cannot take on much salary.

As Daniels said, “There’s a financial component to it. I’m not going to address that specifically.’’

It was unclear yesterday how long it would take for the deal to go forward. “I don’t want to put a timetable on it,’’ said Daniels.

If it does go through, the Sox clearly have more work to do. Not only do they need a left fielder, but they would have to add another piece, though they have flexibility in terms of which piece to add. They could either sign or trade for a third baseman, such as free agent Adrian Beltre, who has been linked to them in recent days. Or they could move Kevin Youkilis to third and sign a first baseman.

The Sox were involved in numerous trade and free agent discussions at the winter meetings, which concluded yesterday, and Epstein has said multiple times that the Sox are sorting through many scenarios. For now, though, Daniels said, “Both clubs know what’s on the table. We’ll continue to talk here and work through it.

“There’s a lot of moving parts. Sometimes I think it’s beneficial to take a half-step back and evaluate things.’’

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

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