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Playing hardball

Red Sox sign Wells, then throw offer to shortstop Renteria

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- In a stunning array of gambits, the Red Sox yesterday reached an early-morning agreement on a two-year deal with David Wells, angled for All-Star shortstop Edgar Renteria, and appeared tantalizingly close to finalizing a contract with Pedro Martinez.

The Sox also remained actively engaged in talks with the A's about trading for Tim Hudson, though the competition was fierce and Boston likely would need to involve a third team to complete the deal. The Sox were vying with the Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Orioles. As if opening the Wells era in Boston were not surprise enough, the Sox attempted to stage a significant coup at the annual winter baseball meetings by wresting Renteria, a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover, from the Cardinals, who have tried mightily to re-sign their star shortstop. But the Cardinals remained in the hunt late last night, as did a surprising contender, the Tigers.

In case the Renteria talks collapsed, the Sox were exploring other options, including talking to the Mets about acquiring shortstop Kaz Matsui, possibly for first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz.

Sox general manager Theo Epstein also met with Martinez's agent, Fernando Cuza, after improving the team's offer to the three-time Cy Young Award winner by formally guaranteeing a three-year deal worth $38.5 million plus $2 million in performance bonuses. With a deal seemingly within reach, the sides planned to meet again late last night, Cuza said, "to explore some other things."

But Cuza also continued to negotiate with the Mets, who initially offered to guarantee Martinez $37.5 million over three years with a $12.5 million option for 2008 and appeared open to adjusting the terms. Cuza met with Mets general manager Omar Minaya Friday night and also was scheduled to speak with him again late last night.

While Cuza stayed in close contact with Martinez's suitors, Jason Varitek's agent, Scott Boras, continued talking with the Sox as the parties made progress, though no deal was imminent. Boras met with Epstein each of the first two nights of the meetings.

The Sox also were exploring a trade that would send outfielder Dave Roberts and righthander Byung Hyun Kim to the Padres for utility infielder Ramon Vazquez and outfielder Jay Payton.

What's more, Epstein, who has gone to great lengths to keep abreast of every development in the business, met with Carlos Delgado's agent, David Sloane, though it appeared unlikely the Sox would make a major investment in the former All-Star first baseman.

Epstein also seemed close to reaching an agreement on a one-year, $1 million deal with lefthander John Halama, who could provide depth for the rotation and a long arm in the bullpen.

"There have been a lot of things contemplated," Epstein said, declining to discuss any specifics. "Even if nothing has happened, it's been a bit of whirlwind. It's been very productive."

He cautioned fans against believing the Sox will land every player they inquire about or close every trade they propose or consider.

"You're going to hear a lot of names, but all those names aren't coming," he said. "And we aren't going to be a perfect team. We had a number of circumstances go our way last year where by the end of the season the roster we put together was darn good and complete. Are we going to start the season with a roster that complete? I hope so, but that's a difficult task. There are no quick fixes."

Wells, who will be 42 in May, agreed to join the Sox, pending a physical, for a base salary of $5 million over two years plus a $3 million signing bonus and $10 million in possible incentives. The deal calls for Wells to earn an additional $200,000 for each of his 11th to 20th starts and $300,000 for each of his 21st to 30th starts. He has made 30 or more starts eight of the last nine years, including 31 last year.

Wells, who went 12-8 with a 3.73 ERA last season for the Padres and has gained a reputation as an off-field carouser, is projected as the team's third starter behind Curt Schilling and Martinez.

"I think he's going to be another idiot who will do great," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "He'll fit in great there. The fans loved him, especially when he pitches every fifth day."

The Sox effectively opted for Wells over Carl Pavano, who received offers spanning at least four years for $40 million from five teams, including Boston. Epstein declined to discuss the decision, which prompted Pavano to try to complete a deal with the Yankees. But Epstein spoke generally in evaluating the available free agent pitchers, and suggested Wells might provide the most reward for the financial risk.

"The pitching market evolved to the point where in a number of circumstances we didn't think the cost of acquiring a pitcher was worthwhile to the organization," he said, "even given the benefit we would get from signing the pitcher."

Amid indications that the Sox tried to trump the latest offer by St. Louis to Renteria -- a reported $32 million over four years -- a source in Orlando Cabrera's camp said a number of teams began rushing after Cabrera, the second-best available shortstop remaining on the free agent market. Cabrera, who played a crucial role in helping the Sox win their first World Series in 86 years, had indicated to team officials he wanted to see how Renteria fared before he negotiated a deal.

Renteria, 29, drove in the winning run for the Marlins in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, the first of his five postseason appearances. The Marlins traded him to the Cardinals in 1998 for Braden Looper, Armando Almanza, and Pablo Ozuna. A career .289 hitter with a .346 on-base percentage, Renteria is a gifted fielder who has established himself as a clubhouse leader.

But Epstein said the Sox had more work to do before they could add Renteria. "That deal is not done," he said. "Edgar's one of a number of shortstops that remain on our list."

He indicated the Sox were wrestling a bit with how much to spend for a shortstop.

"It's one of the major issues here in trying to fit all the prices in the puzzle," he said. "Going with an expensive shortstop would cause us to miss out on other opportunities, but we'd get a great player. If we go with a less costly solution, it would allow us to pursue other opportunities, but we might be hurting ourselves on the field."

Should the Sox complete the deal for Renteria, they may need to decide how to proceed with Hanley Ramirez, their top prospect. A shortstop who is considered at least a year away from contributing consistently in the majors, Ramirez could move to another position or serve as significant trade material.

As for Roberts and Mientkiewicz, the Sox recognize their desire to play every day and have appeared open to accommodating them by sending them elsewhere.

"I appreciated how they handled it very professionally, but I do think it would be difficult for them to do that for an entire year," manager Terry Francona said.

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