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These meetings are hardly meaty

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Put the executives of 30 major league teams, dozens of agents, and all of their assorted support staff -- we're talking sufficient manpower for three brigades -- and what do you get?

As of the dinner hour last night, exactly one trade, between the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, involving a catcher with a lifetime batting average of .173 for a pitcher with one major league win. Names were withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who actually was liberated from his hotel room long enough for a brief stroll yesterday afternoon, assured a small gathering of inquisitors that there was little reason to conduct any vigils on his behalf last night. There was little chance of any white smoke emanating from Sox Central, regardless of how late into the evening Epstein and Co. worked.

No Pedro Martinez signing. No welcome-back party for Jason Varitek. No triumphant announcement heralding the arrival of a new shortstop, Edgar Renteria. Not even the announcement of a new bullpen catcher.

If it hadn't been for Peter Gammons receiving the J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, it would have been a New England news blackout on the Left Coast.

That surely will be cause of some frustration on the part of fans anxious to see how Epstein retools the defending champions, but Epstein insisted he wasn't frustrated.

"There are so many opportunities," he said. "There are a lot of hurdles yet to climb, but a lot of opportunities out there, too."

One Sox official monitoring Epstein's activities this weekend said there was no reason to question that Epstein will accomplish what he has set out to do, which so far has consisted of adding lefthander John Halama, and a No. 3 starter, David Wells, to take Derek Lowe's place.

"The reason news is coming out in dribs and drabs," the official said, "is that Theo has a lot of balls in the air, and nothing has been settled. These discussions seem to be very fitful, at least as far as I am observing."

One of those balls in the air -- and one not to be taken lightly -- is lefthanded slugger Carlos Delgado, whose agent, David Sloane, talked with both the Yankees and Red Sox yesterday afternoon. Remember back in July when Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi lamented that Delgado had refused to waive his no-trade clause and blocked a deal? Had he given the green light, Delgado would have wound up in a Red Sox uniform, according to a source with direct knowledge of the Jays' talks with Boston.

Epstein would have to move either Kevin Millar or Doug Mientkiewicz or both to make that work, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. Delgado had been sought vigorously by Seattle, but last night the Mariners were on the verge of signing another slugger, Richie Sexson, to play first.

It wasn't just the Sox who were stalled last night. The A's and Dodgers had not completed a deal that had appeared all but consummated the night before, one in which Tim Hudson was supposed to be dispatched from Oakland to LA for a couple of pitching prospects, Edwin Jackson and Antonio Perez. Numerous parties insisted yesterday that the bidding for Hudson had reopened again, and that the Sox were among the parties trying to persuade A's GM Billy Beane that they were a better match for Hudson. The Yankees and Braves also were said to be in the mix.

The Yankees, who appear bent on snatching every key pitcher available, had yet to complete the Carl Pavano deal, either, although that was considered a formality. The Sox are looking at the prospect of the Bombers running out a Big Three of Mike Mussina, Pavano, and Randy Johnson next spring, and the Yankees also were talking to the Florida Marlins about another pitcher, A.J. Burnett.

There were a few other deals percolating -- Scott Boras tried to interest the Tigers in Lowe, the Giants were zeroing in on catcher Mike Matheny, and the Cubs were talking to a few clubs, including, surprisingly, the Braves about Sammy Sosa, but so far, that's all it was, talk.

Martinez remains the subject of a tug of war between the Mets and Sox, despite the insistence of Big Papi, David Ortiz, that the Metropolitans held no attraction to Martinez. But it was clear that Martinez was holding out for a few more perks from the Sox beyond the guarantee of a third year that pushed the value of the Sox offer to him to $38.5 million. Varitek remained unsigned, even though no other team has surfaced as a possible landing place, and shortstop Renteria was talking again with his last employer, the Cardinals, who were trying to keep him from Boston while at the same time exploring the possibility they would need to sign Orlando Cabrera instead.

Epstein said more talks were planned last night, but he acknowledged it was a good possibility he would be returning home to Boston today after the Rule 5 draft with unfinished business. 

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