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Garciaparra eyed in an infield shift

Cubs interested in landing shortstop

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Chicago Cubs, who would like a big run producer for the stretch drive, remain hopeful of trading for Nomar Garciaparra, but feel their chances of acquiring the Red Sox shortstop are "50-50," according to a major league executive with direct knowledge of the talks between the clubs.

The Cubs, the executive said yesterday, believe the Sox would move Garciaparra only if Arizona lefthander Randy Johnson comes to Boston as part of a three-way deal that has been a source of constant speculation over the last several days. Earlier in the week, Sox sources downplayed that possibility, but the major league executive insisted the talks are ongoing between Red Sox GM Theo Epstein and Cubs GM Jim Hendry, though he rated the chances of such a deal as higher earlier in the week.

A Sox source said last night that he did not see a deal as imminent. "If it happens at all, it will take a few days," he said.

The last several days the Red Sox have attempted to strike a deal with Seattle for shortstop Rich Aurilia, but it appeared yesterday Aurilia, who was designated for assignment last week, will wind up with the Padres. Aurilia's preference was to return to the National League and remain on the West Coast.

Aurilia was a disappointment after signing as a free agent with the Mariners, batting just .241 with 4 home runs and 28 RBIs in 73 games. Three years ago, playing for the Giants, Aurilia hit 37 home runs and drove in 97 runs, but hit 28 home runs in 2002 and 2003 combined.

The Sox saw him filling a utility role, but could not guarantee him significant playing time. Aurilia's agent, Barry Axelrod, said he asked Epstein about the Garciaparra rumors.

"If that happened tomorrow, Rich is there, no question about it," Axelrod said. "But it might never happen, or it will happen in a month."

Further complicating the Sox efforts to acquire Johnson is the Yankees' desire to land Johnson, which presumably took on more urgency yesterday when veteran righthander Mike Mussina went on the 15-day disabled list with a sore elbow. Mussina went on the DL the day after veteran Kevin Brown, recovering from a parasitic condition, was knocked around in a rehab assignment in Double A Trenton.

Johnson has a no-trade clause in his contract and there have been numerous reports that his preference is the Yankees. But while he insisted at the All-Star Game in Houston that he didn't know whether he had interest in pitching beyond next season, the last year of a contract paying him $16.5 million, it's conceivable another contender willing to grant him an extension or pay him a bonus for waiving the no-trade clause could be in the picture. The Red Sox are not conceding Johnson to the Yankees.

According to another major league source not directly involved, the Diamondbacks would trade Johnson to the Cubs if Chicago parts with the top two prospects in their system, pitcher Angel Guzman, a 22-year-old righthander from Venezuela, and center fielder Felix Pie, a 19-year-old lefthanded hitter from the Dominican Republic. Guzman figured to be recalled last summer when Cubs ace Mark Prior was hurt, but he suffered a slight tear in the labrum of his throwing shoulder and the Cubs have been very cautious with him. The 6-foot-3-inch Guzman is 0-2 with a 4.20 ERA in Double A.

Pie has been twice selected to the All-Star Futures Game despite his youth, and is considered a five-tools player. In 77 games in Class A, the 6-2, 175-pounder was hitting .316. "That's an awfully high price for a rental, which is what Garciaparra would be for the Cubs," the executive said, alluding to Garciaparra's pending free agent status.

But the Cubs, 3-2 losers to Milwaukee yesterday, have averaged just 3 1/2 runs a game over their last 23 games and could use Garciaparra's bat. The Cubs would want the Sox to take shortstop Alex Gonzalez as part of any deal for Garciaparra, who clubbed his fifth homer last night and is hitting .310 since his return from the disabled list.

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