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Francona on deck for Sox

The last time the Red Sox searched for a manager, the A's denied them permission to interview the Oakland bench coach.

Not this time.

Twenty months after the A's wouldn't allow the Sox to interview their bench coach and future manager, Ken Macha, Oakland general manager Billy Beane granted Boston permission late Monday to speak with the current bench coach, Terry Francona. Sox general manager Theo Epstein called Francona yesterday and scheduled an interview for today.

"I'm very excited," Francona said last night as he prepared to fly from Trenton, N.J., near his home in Yardley, Pa., to Boston.

Francona, 44, managed the Philadelphia Phillies from 1997 to 2000, going 285-363 while the team's record improved every year but his last. Widely respected as personable, upbeat, and tenacious, Francona fits the profile the Sox are seeking: a manager with a human touch and a keen understanding of the value of quantitative analysis in game preparation. The A's, after all, are one of the top models for teams trying to fully integrate statistical research into every level of their decision-making.

Francona, who will become the second candidate to interview for the Sox opening, after Dodgers third base coach Glenn Hoffman, said he preferred to refrain from saying much about his interest in succeeding Grady Little until he made his case to the team's brass today. He previously interviewed for the White Sox opening, which was filled by Ozzie Guillen, and the Baltimore vacancy, which remains unfilled though Yankee first base coach Lee Mazzilli is considered the front-runner.

Francona managed Nomar Garciaparra (and basketball great Michael Jordan) in the Arizona Fall League in 1994.

He also is familiar with Manny Ramirez from managing Aguilas to the Dominican Winter League championship in the 1995-96 season.

The son of Tito Francona, who played 15 seasons in the majors from 1956-70, Francona was a career .274 hitter over 10 seasons with the Expos, Cubs, Reds, Indians, and Brewers from 1980-90. He succeeded Macha as the A's bench coach last season after serving in 2002 as Jerry Narron's bench coach for the Rangers. He was a special assistant in baseball operations for the Indians in 2001 after he was replaced by Larry Bowa as Philadelphia's manager following the 2000 season.

Francona also managed four seasons in the minors for the White Sox, posting a 296-266 record, before he skippered the Phillies.

The Sox also plan to interview Francona's friend, Anaheim pitching coach Bud Black. The Angels granted Boston permission last week to interview Black, but the Sox have yet to schedule a meeting. . . .

He may be a free agent, but Mike Timlin, one of the most dependable arms in Boston's often-erratic bullpen last season, appears likely to return next year. Though teams lose exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents Monday, Timlin is so intent on staying with the Sox that he asked his agent, David Sloane, to offer his services to the highest bidder only if Sloane is unable to strike a reasonable deal with Epstein. The sides have been making progress, according to Sloane. Timlin led the majors in walks allowed per nine innings (.97) last season and held opponents to a .239 batting average. He was all but untouchable in the postseason, surrendering only one hit over 9 2/3 scoreless innings in eight appearances. Timlin earned $1.85 million in salary last season and had performance bonuses in his deal worth a maximum of $900,000. "Mike wants to stay with the Red Sox, and they want to keep him," Sloane said. "Until I hear otherwise, I'm going to be optimistic." . . . The Sox seem less likely to reach a deal with free agent second baseman Todd Walker, who has made it clear he wants to stay in Boston as much as, if not more than, Timlin. Walker earned $3.4 million last season. "They know there's no secret I want to play for the Red Sox," Walker said recently. "They can do whatever they want to do in terms of signing players, and the team would survive without me. But I'm a big fan and big believer in Theo. Hopefully, it comes about." . . . John Burkett, also a free agent, said Epstein told him he would call him, but the righthander is not expecting encouraging news. "I don't think he'll be calling to offer me a raise," said Burkett, who went 12-9 with a 5.15 ERA in the final season of his two-year, $11 million contract. "It will probably be more like, `Goodbye, and we appreciate everything you've done.' " Burkett, who turns 39 Nov. 28, plans to test the market before deciding whether to retire. "My experience there was fantastic," he said of Boston. "I will never play in a place better, I can tell you that." . . . When the American League Gold Glove winners were announced yesterday, the Sox were shut out for the 12th straight year. The last Sox player to win a Gold Glove was catcher Tony Pena in 1991. Before that, the Sox never went more than five years without a Gold Glover . . . A Major League Baseball official said the agenda at next week's general managers meetings in Phoenix could include discussion of the rule governing confidentiality of waiver procedures. The New York Times, citing baseball sources, first reported last week that the Sox had placed Ramirez on irrevocable waivers. Ramirez went unclaimed.

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