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Fallback plan in place?

Can Garciaparra return to Sox?

Nomar to Anaheim. Nomar to Los Angeles. Nomar to Chicago.


Heck, the Red Sox even asked the Tigers if they would find a home for Nomar Garciaparra in the Motor City.

What now? Thwarted in their remarkable gambit to replace Garciaparra with Alex Rodriguez in part because they suspected their franchise shortstop would bolt next year as a free agent, the Sox last night faced the prospect of starting over with a core player whose 10-year relationship with the organization nearly ended in a fractious mess.

Garciaparra is no fool. He spent three years majoring in management at Georgia Tech, and he knows as well as anyone that baseball players are commodities, the human equivalent of bubble gum cards, who can be traded willy-nilly as long as someone believes they have value.

But he also is no cold-blooded stoic. He knows that while he was honeymooning in Hawaii with Mia Hamm, Sox principal owner John W. Henry was dining with Rodriguez and his wife, Cynthia, in Florida, laying the foundation for the Sox to potentially acquire A-Rod from the Rangers for Manny Ramirez and send Garciaparra elsewhere. He knows it because he saw it in the news. And it stung.

How badly? Manager Terry Francona recently spoke with Garciaparra, and though he declined to discuss specifics of their conversation, Francona indicated the shortstop was prepared to return to Boston at least for the final year of his seven-year, $44.25 million contract.

"It's a non-issue," Francona said. "Sometimes these things have a way of going away. The season starts and people forget. I think he knows that if he's the shortstop, I'll be thrilled."

The trouble was, Garciaparra was hardly thrilled to learn about Henry's powwow with Rodriguez.

"How would you guys feel if [your employer] was trying to replace you?" Garciaparra asked in his phone-in -- "Nomar from Hawaii" -- to WEEI radio 11 days ago. "I understand how these things work, but you'd like to hear it from your employers and not read it in the paper."

The dinner meeting was "a complete slap in the face" to Garciaparra, his agent, Arn Tellem, told the Globe on the eve of Garciaparra's phone-in.

Tellem's assessment prompted a scathing response from Henry and ultimately raised the question of whether the Sox and their two-time batting champion can fully make amends -- and agree on a multiyear contract extension -- now that Rodriguez seems to have returned to the Lone(some) Star state.

The outcome could actually benefit Garciaparra, particularly since it occurred soon after Baltimore signed the top shortstop on the free agent market, Miguel Tejada, to a six-year, $72 million contract. Garciaparra rejected a four-year, $60 million offer in spring training from the Sox, apparently hoping they would split the difference at $64 million after he asked for $68 million over four years. The Sox replaced the offer in November with a four-year, $48 million deal that Garciaparra also spurned. But through it all, Garciaparra has maintained he wants to find common ground.

"As Nomar has stated, it has always been and still remains his goal to stay with the Red Sox," Tellem said amid the fallout from his flareup with Henry.

Sox general manager Theo Epstein corroborated Tellem's account, saying Garciaparra consistently has expressed his desire to finish his career in Boston. The sides agreed to renew their negotiations on a contract extension after the episode, and Tellem met with Epstein during the winter meetings Sunday in New Orleans, though it appeared Garciaparra remained a fallback plan as the Sox entered the final phase of their month-long pursuit of Rodriguez. Epstein made clear to Tellem that he wanted to continue the talks if the Ramirez-for-A-Rod deal died, which means they could start again as early as today.

The GM said after Henry's angry response to Tellem that he expected Garciaparra to weather the controversy. Epstein attributed the shortstop's hard feelings over Henry's dinner with Rodriguez to a hitch in communications.

"In an ideal world, all our players would be happy all the time," Epstein said. "It's pretty typical during the offseason for some players unfortunately to read speculation in the papers and then actually get upset. It's somewhat unavoidable because we try to have really good channels of communication with our players, and for the most part we do, but sometimes breakdowns like that are inevitable. It think it's just a blip on the radar screen."

A major league executive who is familiar with Garciaparra suggested the shortstop would maintain his usual approach next season despite the winter of discontent.

"Is he going to be smiling in the clubhouse? Probably not, but that's not new," the executive said. "But is he going to play his hardest? Yes, and that's not new either."

As for Ramirez, his agent, Jeff Moorad, said in New Orleans that the slugger was eager for the trade talks to be resolved and hoped that he would remain with the Sox rather than wind up in Texas. If the deal had been completed, the Sox hoped to trade Garciaparra to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez, whose production would have helped offset the loss of Ramirez.

So, even though it remains to be seen how Garciaparra responds to the collapse of the deal, Ramirez apparently is relieved. And Francona has no problem at all with it.

"I've kind of approached this like Nomar was going to be the shortstop and Manny was going to be the left fielder all along," Francona said. "From my point of view as a new manager, how can I not be thrilled? I have a left fielder who is going to drive in more than 100 runs and a shortstop who is going to drive in more than a 100 runs and play like his pants are on fire. I'm thrilled with this."

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