Shifting the balance of power in their century-old rivalry with the Yankees, the Red Sox last night struck a pivotal deal with Arizona's prized righthander, Curt Schilling, that figures to make Boston's starting rotation one of the most feared in baseball. The move occurs amid a sweeping effort by Sox ownership to end the franchise's 85-year championship famine after a devastating loss to the Yankees last month in the struggle for a World Series berth.
Schilling, a five-time All-Star widely ranked among baseball's most dominant pitchers, ended three days of negotiations with Sox officials at his home in Paradise Valley, Ariz., by agreeing to waive a no-trade clause in exchange for a two-year, $25.5-million contract extension for 2005 and '06 with a $13 million mutual option to remain with the team in '07. He is due to earn $12 million next season as he completes a $32-million extension he signed with Arizona before he helped lead the Diamondbacks past the Yankees in the 2001 World Series.
"I just know that I am looking forward to having a ball in my hand whether it be Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium and pitching in that first game as a Red Sox against the Yankees," Schilling said in a news conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"I have been a part of a Yankee matchup with other clubs, but the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry transcends sports. It's so much bigger than everything else in sports, and being a part of that was certainly an attraction in all of this."
The deal is the most significant in baseball since the season ended and is certain to send rivals such as the Yankees scrambling to catch the Sox in the race to restock for '04. By joining Pedro Martinez in the rotation, Schilling figures to give the Sox a 1-2 punch as powerful as Arizona packed when Schilling and Randy Johnson led the Diamondbacks to the world championship in '01. The Sox have strived since they obtained Martinez in 1997 to match the three-time Cy Young Award winner with a pitcher of Schilling's caliber.
"I think it's very rare when an organization has a chance to acquire a player that can change the fundamental nature of the team we can put on the field the next year," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "We wanted another top-of-the-rotation starter, but never did we think that we would have the ability to land one as good as Curt."
By waiving his no-trade clause, Schilling, 37, cleared the way for the Sox to acquire him for three young pitchers -- Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon and minor leaguer Jorge de la Rosa -- and a player to be named, expected to be minor league outfielder Michael Goss. As a measure of Schilling's power, only four active pitchers ended last season with more career strikeouts: Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, and Chuck Finley.
"It's great from the standpoint that now we have two bona fide aces, and not too many teams have that," Derek Lowe said, referring to Martinez and Schilling. "I think the owners are showing they are serious about bringing a championship to Boston."
The Sox reached the agreement with Schilling only after they received a 24-hour extension of their 5 p.m. deadline yesterday to negotiate with him. Even after Epstein shared Thanksgiving dinner with Schilling and his wife, Shonda, the sides were locked in a stalemate that seemed almost beyond hope to Schilling, who acted as his own agent.
"I felt and I think Theo felt when we parted ways [Thursday] night that the deal was not going to get done," Schilling said. "I was disappointed."
The Sox insisted Schilling drop his no-trade clause from any contract he signed with them. The Sox have never given a player a no-trade clause, and Manny Ramirez has language in his contract that would grant him the privilege if the club extended the provision to another player. Schilling described the club's request to drop the no-trade provision as "a big deal," though he said there were additional stumbling blocks. Citing the number of core players whose contracts are due to expire after next season (Martinez, Lowe, Jason Varitek, and Trot Nixon among them), Schilling said he also sought assurances during the process that the Sox would remain competitive during his tenure in Boston.
Amid the stalemate, Sox president Larry Lucchino and Epstien held a midnight conference call with principal owner John W. Henry and chairman Tom Werner to try to keep the talks on track. Lucchino indicated Henry and Werner made crucial concessions that made the deal possible. But Epstein said Schilling, who initially was expected to seek about $30 million in a two-year extension plus a similar amount in the option year, made special concessions.
"Curt wasn't out for every last dollar, very far from it," Epstein said. "He wanted to structure a deal that would allow the team to remain competitive every year of his contract. He deserves a lot of credit because that's a rare request coming from a player."
Once the Sox received permission to extend the deadline another day, Schilling viewed it as "a signal of hope." And the sides ultimately found common ground thanks to what Lucchino, an active participant in the negotiations, described as "a sweet reasonableness" among the principals.
"We're pleased," Lucchino said. "We think it's a fair deal, and we're happy it came together in relatively short order."
Epstein also was relieved. "I was upset and frustrated 24 hours ago," he said. "I didn't think I was going to be able to get this thing done and now I'm elated."
Martinez and Schilling will anchor a rotation that includes Lowe, whose 38 wins over the last two years were the second most in the majors, and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who ranked among the American League leaders last season in strikeouts (169) and opponents' batting average (.246). Byung Hyun Kim and Bronson Arroyo rank among the possible contenders to round out the rotation.
Schilling acknowledged he has not always harbored fond feelings about Fenway Park or Martinez.
"The one thing I know about being a visiting player is that I hated the fans," he said. "And I think there's a lot of disliking players until they're on your side. A guy like Pedro, I think I was quoted in the middle of the playoffs when that situation occurred [involving Karim Garcia and Don Zimmer] as calling him a `punk.' I can't take it back. I felt that way at the time, and I've played with guys that have done the same thing and I thought it was pretty sweet as a teammate. It's going to be different from anything I've ever done on a consistent basis and it's going to be a challenge."
Schilling said he has no expectations of supplanting Martinez as the No. 1 starter.
"Pedro has three Cy Young Awards, which by my count is three more than I've got," he said. "I didn't have a problem pitching behind Randy Johnson in Arizona, and I'm going to be equally comfortable pitching behind Pedro Martinez in Boston."
The Schilling deal unfolded just days before the Sox are expected to announce the hiring of a new manager, Terry Francona, who managed Schilling with the Phillies from '97 to 2000. Schilling initally told reporters he would waive his no-trade clause only to play for the Phillies or Yankees, but he added the Sox to the list after Francona became the front-runner to succeed Grady Little.
"He's not the manager yet, but during the process of the negotiations, I became more than comfortable with their criteria for selecting a manager," Schilling said. "And I felt that, regardless of how it ends up, it'll be a situation I'll be comfortable with."
In addition, the Sox are aggressively pursuing Oakland free agent Keith Foulke, the American League's top closer last season. The addition of Schilling and Foulke potentially would eliminate two of the team's greatest weaknesses last season.
"They're plugging a lot of holes," Lowe said. "When an organization does something like this, it makes all the guys excited to start spring training, especially the guys in the starting rotation."
Schilling, who returns to the organization that selected him in the second round of the '86 draft, has gone 167-113 with a 3.33 ERA over 16 seasons in the majors while holding opponents to a meager .236 batting average and logging an impressive ratio of strikeouts (2,542) to walks (603). After the Sox traded him and outfielder Brady Anderson to Baltimore in '88 for righthander Mike Boddicker, Schilling pitched for the Orioles, Astros and Phillies before he posted the two most memorable seasons of his career, going 45-13 with the Diamondbacks in 2001 and 2002.
Schilling's production dropped last season because of an appendectomy he underwent in April and a broken right hand he suffered in May. He also received the second lowest run support (3.75 runs per nine innings) among National League starters as he went 8-9. Yet he ranked among the league leaders in ERA (2.95), strikeouts (194), and opponents' batting average (.230), among other categories.
The financially-strapped Diamondbacks, who effectively mortgaged their future to win the '01 World Series, needed to shed Schilling's contract as part of a cost-slashing initiative, and the Sox staged a coup by beating out the Yankees and others in the competition for him. In an unusual twist, the Sox indirectly received a last-minute boost during the stalemate when Schilling communicated from about 2 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. with Boston fans in Internet chat rooms. He said he was "blown over" by the passion he sensed and cited the experience as part of the allure in joining the Sox.
Schilling, who has received baseball's Roberto Clemente Award for his contributions beyond baseball, said he would donate $500,000 to the Jimmy Fund to show he plans to continue such a commitment. But he indicated his main objective was the same as the Sox fandom's.
"I want to be part of bringing the first World Series in modern history to Boston," he said. "I guess I hate the Yankees now."
Globe correspondent Brian Gomez contributed to this report from Arizona.