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Sox cover their bases with offers

The Red Sox bought more time to negotiate with their free agents by offering salary arbitration to nine players before last night's midnight deadline, including all four of their high-profile free agents: pitchers Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, catcher Jason Varitek, and shortstop Orlando Cabrera.

The other five players offered arbitration were infielder Pokey Reese, lefthanded reliever Mike Myers, backup first baseman/outfielder David McCarty, outfielder Gabe Kapler, and pitcher Pedro Astacio, who made a cameo appearance for the club last year after recovering from elbow surgery.

The offer to Kapler was strictly a procedural exercise. The reserve outfielder already has signed a contract to play in Japan next season for the Yomiuri Giants.

Sox general manager Theo Epstein, in a conference call with reporters, said six free agents were not offered arbitration, effectively ending their Red Sox careers: relievers Terry Adams, Ramiro Mendoza, Curtis Leskanic, and Scott Williamson, outfielder Ellis Burks, and infielder Ricky Gutierrez. Burks already had announced his intention to retire, while Williamson in October underwent reconstructive elbow surgery for the second time in the last three years, a procedure that will sideline him for next season for certain and calls into question whether he ever will come back.

Mendoza represented one of the rare miscalculations by Epstein, who signed the former Yankee to a two-year, $6.5 million deal days after the Yankees had outmaneuvered the Sox for the services of Cuban defector Jose Contreras. In two injury-plagued seasons, Mendoza won just five games for the Sox and did not record a save in a total of 64 regular-season appearances. He was dropped from the World Series roster after being charged with the loss in the 19-8 Game 3 debacle against the Yankees in the ALCS.

Epstein, as has been his custom, refrained from comment on the specifics of negotiations with Varitek and Martinez, the two players the Sox have pledged their greatest interest in retaining. Martinez is scheduled to meet today in his native Dominican Republic with Sox owners John W. Henry and Larry Lucchino, who flew down for festivities surrounding the one-year anniversary of the opening of the team's academy in the island nation.

Negotiations are ongoing with Varitek, who according to industry sources is $2 million a year apart on a four-year deal that would keep the 32-year-old catcher (he turns 33 April 11) in a Sox uniform. The Sox are offering an average of $9 million a year; Varitek, according to industry sources, is seeking $11 million a year after being paid $6.8 million last season.

"We don't want to build a team without Jason Varitek," Epstein said. "We may have to, but we don't want to.

"We're willing to go the distance to bring him back. It's an easy decision to bring Jason Varitek back so he can continue to be one of the anchors of our club."

The players offered arbitration have until Dec. 19 to accept; if they do so, they are considered signed for 2005, though the sides often continue negotiations on a multiyear deal. If they reject arbitration, they can continue to negotiate with the Sox until Jan. 8. If a deal is not struck by then, the Sox would be barred from negotiating with them until May 1.

All four of the Sox' top free agents are classified as Type A, meaning they ranked in the top 30 percent of players at their position, based on a statistical average calculated over two seasons. By offering them arbitration, the Sox are assured of receiving for any one they lose a first-round "sandwich" pick (a pick between the first and second rounds) and an additional first- or second-round pick, depending on where the signing team finished in the standings. A team in the top 15 would lose a first-round pick, the bottom 15 a second-round pick.

Epstein acknowledged that the possibility of gaining extra picks would make the Sox more amenable to losing their own picks as compensation should they sign a free agent offered arbitration by his club, such as pitcher Carl Pavano, who was offered arbitration by the Florida Marlins and is on the short list of pitchers coveted by the Sox.

Baseball's winter meetings begin Friday in Anaheim -- Epstein flies out Thursday -- but the Sox GM cautioned that signings might not necessarily take place in the three days the clubs convene. Last year, the Sox already had made one of their biggest offseason moves before the winter meetings, trading for Curt Schilling from Arizona, then they successfully outbid the Oakland A's for closer Keith Foulke at the meetings in New Orleans.

The Sox, who last December acquired second baseman Mark Bellhorn from Colorado in a deal that loomed as relatively inconsequential until Bellhorn became a major contributor to the Boston offense, would appear to be in the market for outfield help, with the departure of Kapler, and would appear to have a surplus at first base with Kevin Millar and Doug Mientkiewicz. Epstein did not rule out the possibility that either player could be traded, but said, "Right now they're both a big part of the club."

While some turnover is inevitable, Epstein isn't committed to change for change's sake.

"This club could look very, very similar," he said, "and there's a chance that it could be significantly different." 

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