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Ramirez deal still up in the air

DALLAS -- Manny Ramírez's agent, Greg Genske, continued to claim yesterday there are ''five to six potential fits" out there for the slugging left fielder, but a source with direct knowledge of the Red Sox' efforts to unload Ramírez said it's ''looking likelier" he'll return to Boston.

However, with news of Miguel Tejada's unhappiness in Baltimore breaking last night, a possible solution could have fallen into the Red Sox' laps.

Special adviser Bill Lajoie, the Sox' de facto general manager at the winter meetings, which ended yesterday, acknowledged yesterday the Sox arrived here Sunday thinking they were closer to a deal for Ramírez than they proved to be.

''Manny, we were close [to a deal] in our minds before we came here, but not in actuality," Lajoie said. ''We felt we'd be able to do it here, but we weren't."

The Sox need offensive continuity with a new No. 2 hitter (Mark Loretta), with no starting shortstop, with Mike Lowell replacing Bill Mueller, and with the first base situation unresolved.

''Discussions continue," Genske said. ''We've worked hard at pursuing different directions. I'm optimistic that a trade will happen. I don't think anybody put a deadline of the end of the winter meetings."

Lajoie, following a press conference yesterday to announce the Edgar Renteria deal, said he holds out hope that David Wells and Ramírez, both of whom have asked to be moved, change their minds.

Those two issues, and two other lingering issues -- re-signing Johnny Damon and acquiring a first baseman -- remain unresolved, though Lajoie believes all four situations could be addressed ''in the area of two to three weeks."

Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who has taken the lead role in the Damon negotiations, said he spoke again yesterday with Damon's agent, Scott Boras.

''We have reached out to Scott Boras," Lucchino said. ''We talked again today to Scott Boras and we will try to maintain regular contact with him."

Boras has said he is seeking a seven-year contract for Damon; the Sox are believed to have offered a four-year deal for more than $40 million, but the three-year, $39 million deal the Dodgers gave to another top leadoff man, shortstop Rafael Furcal, may have established a minimum benchmark for Damon.

Rule me in

The Sox added Toronto pitching prospect James Vermilyea with the 10th pick in the Rule 5 draft, which over the last two seasons has brought Boston Lenny DiNardo and Adam Stern. The 23-year-old Vermilyea, who split 2005 between Double A New Hampshire and Triple A Syracuse, has made 99 minor league appearances, 22 starts, going 19-9 with a 3.05 ERA.

Vermilyea posted a 2.60 ERA in 27 games, 21 in relief, in Double A last year, before his ERA more than doubled to 5.60 in 16 Triple A games, all but four in relief.

''He was a little better in '04 [than '05], stuff and performance-wise," said Ben Cherington, the Sox' director of player development, who tracked Vermilyea before the 2003 draft, when Toronto selected him in the ninth round.

''We're banking on him getting back close to '04. If he does that, we think he has the chance to make our team. We felt it was a reasonable risk."

Vermilyea, who cost the Sox $50,000 to select, has to spend the entire 2006 season in the majors. If the team wishes to send him down, he must first be offered back to Toronto.

In the minor league component of the Rule 5 draft, the Sox selected Double A righthanders Victor Ramos (formerly Cubs property) and Jason Richardson (Braves), and Double A second baseman David Bacani (Mets).

Erstad out

The Sox' search for a lefthanded-hitting first baseman apparently won't end with the Angels' Darin Erstad. Los Angeles wants to unload Erstad (.273, 7 homers, 66 RBIs in 2005) and the $8.5 million due him in 2006, the last year of his contract. And the Angels have interest in Ramírez, making sensible trading partners. Problem is, Erstad has a limited no-trade clause, allowing him to block a deal to four teams each year, and the Sox presently are on his list . . . The Sox may be losing another key member of their baseball operations staff, as there were indications that Craig Shipley, who has overseen the Sox' international operations and was a key talent evaluator of minor leaguers, may be joining Josh Byrnes in Arizona . . . Single-game tickets to 20 Sox games in April and May go on sale tomorrow at or by phone at (617) 482-4SOX. Tickets will be available for the following series: April 12-13 vs. Toronto, April 14-16 vs. Seattle, April 18-20 vs. Tampa Bay, May 3-4 vs. Toronto, May 5-7 vs. Baltimore, May 12-14 vs. Texas, and May 25-28 vs. Tampa Bay.

Gordon Edes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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