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Red Sox cut their ties with Merloni

First, the Red Sox signed Mark Bellhorn. Next came word that Pokey Reese would be signed. Then, just as Lou Merloni anticipated, his phone rang.


Merloni got the call last night from Sox general manager Theo Epstein that once again severed the pride of Framingham's ties with the team of his childhood dreams. Epstein informed Merloni the Sox would not tender him a contract by tonight's midnight deadline, which means the local favorite will become an unrestricted free agent, free to sign anywhere.

"It was kind of obvious when they decided to go with Bellhorn and Pokey," he said. "It's not going to work out for me, but I'll find something else."

Maybe it's just as well, he said. After spending 10 years in the Sox organization, Merloni was claimed off waivers by San Diego last March and played for the Padres until the Sox traded righthanded prospect Rene Miniel for him in August to provide extra depth during the pennant drive. Merloni enjoyed playing for the Padres, maybe more than for the Sox.

"It's very difficult to play in your hometown," he said. "It's so personal. Everyone wants to know why you're not playing or why this happened or that happened. You're under more of a microscope."

He realized the difference in San Diego.

"I wasn't getting it from every angle constantly because I wasn't the local kid," he said. "I was just another baseball player."

The bottom line? "I think it's best for me to move on."

Merloni, 32, a former Providence College star, has played parts of six seasons in the majors, batting .270 and playing every position but pitcher, catcher, and center field. The Sox were not the only team interested in him when he left the Padres in August, so he plans to explore the possibilities after he officially becomes a free agent tomorrow. He credited Epstein with handling the matter professionally.

Merloni's departure once again separates him from his close friend, Nomar Garciaparra, who has been the focus of trade talks since the Sox and Rangers began discussing trading Manny Ramirez for Alex Rodriguez more than a month ago.

"The way I feel about it, somebody should get it over with soon one way or the other," Merloni said. "The longer it goes on, the more things will be said and the more people will get hurt."

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