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Baldelli close to signing with Red Sox; Smoltz not far behind

Posted by Nick Cafardo, Globe Staff  January 7, 2009 09:52 PM

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Rocco Baldelli is scheduled to be at Thursday night's Boston Baseball Writers dinner at the Westin Waterfront Hotel to accept the Tony Conigliaro Award. Will Baldelli have some good news as to his whereabouts for next season? And will his new employer be the Red Sox?

According to sources close to the talks, the 27-year-old Baldelli is inching closer to a deal with the Sox. Boston has done extensive background work on Baldelli's health, including a mitochondrial disorder that has been rediagnosed as the less severe channelopathy this winter.

Sox general manager Theo Epstein declined to comment on Baldelli.

The Sox also are trying to hash out an agreement with free agent righthander John Smoltz, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. Smoltz, 41, would likely not be able to pitch until late May, but the Sox normally overstaff their starting rotation to account for injuries, as they did with Bartolo Colon last season.

Sources indicated last night that Smoltz was leaning toward Boston's offer, which was said to be in the vicinity of $5.5 million guaranteed, with the opportunity to earn up to $10 million with incentives. The Sox and Smoltz have been talking since before the winter meetings. One of the incentives being discussed would be a roster bonus if Smoltz is with the team by June 1.

Smoltz has spent all 20 of his major league seasons with Atlanta, which has expressed a desire for him to return.

Smoltz, an eight-time All-Star and the National League Cy Young Award winner in 1996, has a career record of 210-147 with a 3.26 ERA, as well as 154 saves.

There's hope Baldelli, through diet and medication, can play more than previously anticipated and not suffer the same muscle fatigue to his legs that nearly ended his career a year ago.

Since losing Coco Crisp in the Ramon Ramírez deal with the Royals, the Sox have been in need of a fourth outfielder, preferably one who bats righthanded. Baldelli, a Cumberland, R.I., native, also has drawn interest from the Reds and Pirates, but would prefer to remain closer to home.

The Rays signed former Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell to a two-year, $16 million deal Monday that would seem to end Baldelli's stay with Tampa Bay.

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