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Wakefield on back burner

Contract extension will have to wait

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With the first regular-season game just three days away, it is clear Tim Wakefield, who has been with the Red Sox longer than any current player, will not be receiving a contract extension that will take him past this season, leaving his future with the team in question.

While the Sox made little effort to re-sign their other potential free agents this spring -- most notably, center fielder Johnny Damon, who has said he will be looking for at least a four-year deal and would prefer six years in a new contract -- discussions about a contract extension for Wakefield quietly took place this spring between general manager Theo Epstein and the pitcher's agent, Barry Meister.

Wakefield is in the final year of a three-year, $13.02 million deal that calls for him to be paid $4.67 million this season. The knuckleballer, who turns 39 in August, would not talk about his discussions with the club, but in the past, while indicating a preference to end his career in Boston, he has made it clear he would not look for a major bump in salary.

The Sox, who told all of their pending free agents they would be asked to take a considerable discount to sign now as opposed to the end of the season, only offered Wakefield a one-year deal, according to industry sources, that involved a mutual option. Wakefield would have been paid at one price if the Sox exercised their option, and at a lesser figure if they declined the club option and Wakefield accepted a player option. If both parties declined, Wakefield would have been a free agent. That was not acceptable to Wakefield, the industry sources said, and the expectation is that the sides will talk after the season.

The Sox already have five starting pitchers under their contractual control in 2006 -- Curt Schilling, Matt Clement, and David Wells all have multiyear deals, and Wade Miller and Bronson Arroyo have fewer than the six years' experience required for free agency.

Thus, Wakefield, who was 12-10 with a 4.87 ERA last season in 30 starts and ranks eighth in wins on the Sox' all-time list with 114, could be odd man out, though Sox owners have said they hope to keep Wakefield, one of the most civic-minded Sox players, in a Boston uniform for the remainder of his career.

"I don't have any comment on negotiations," Meister said yesterday. "I don't do my business in public." Other Sox players who could be free agents after the season include third baseman Bill Mueller, first baseman Kevin Millar, and relievers Alan Embree and Mike Timlin.

Clement on the mark
Clement, in his last exhibition outing before his scheduled Red Sox debut Tuesday afternoon in New York, was exceptionally sharp in yesterday's 6-4 win over Tampa Bay, allowing just two hits and a run in five innings while striking out five and walking none (he hit a batter). Clement finished the spring with a 1-2 record and a 4.50 ERA in five starts, striking out 17 and walking just 2 in 18 innings.

"I'm not happy with the word potential," said Clement, who is scheduled Tuesday to face Carl Pavano, a pitcher the Sox tried to sign before signing Clement. "It's a good word to have attached to your name, but I want to fulfill that potential."

Worldwide appeal
On his first day of vacation in Australia, just after the World Series, Mike Myers and his wife, Robyn, walked into the Gum Nut Cafe in Sydney for breakfast, and were seated two tables away from a young woman wearing a Red Sox T-shirt. "I walked up to her and said, `I don't mean to bother you, but I've got to take your picture for my scrapbook,' " said Myers, who introduced himself to the woman, who was from Boston and worked in sports marketing. "Red Sox Nation -- it's worldwide."

Myers yesterday was back in the Sox clubhouse after a brief exile to the Cardinals, who signed him as a free agent but then traded him back to the Sox after the 35-year-old Myers apparently was beaten out for a bullpen spot by the well-traveled Bill Pulsipher, who made a cameo appearance for the Sox in 2001.

Myers, a lefthanded specialist, stranded 75.4 percent of the runners he inherited last season (46 of 61), a percentage that did not crack the top 10 in the AL -- Kansas City's Nate Field was first at 85.7 percent (30 of 35). Embree had the highest percentage on the Sox, 77.3 percent; Myers's best percentage was 1999, when he was second in the National League at 84.6 percent (66 of 78). Over the last three years, he is at 79.9 percent (163 of 204).

Full house
In their final game at City of Palms Park, the Sox drew their largest crowd of the spring, 8,056. The Sox, who raised spring prices to as much as $44 for special waiter-service seats and $24 for a regular box seat, set a record for attendance since moving to Fort Myers in 1993, drawing 124,023 for 16 games. That's an average of 7,751 per game . . . Jason Varitek's home run off lefty Casey Fossum, the former Sox pitcher, was his first of the spring. Fossum, who also gave up a three-run home run to Kevin Youkilis and was charged with all six runs, took the loss . . . Timlin is scheduled to start here this afternoon against the Twins, with Bronson Arroyo pitching tonight against the Diamondbacks in Arizona . . . Matt Mantei gave up a solo home run to Josh Phelps in an inning of work, but drew a rave from manager Terry Francona. "I'm very excited," Francona said. "He looks very, very healthy. His breaking ball was outstanding, and he has unbelievable arm speed." . . . Outfielder Jay Payton saw his first game action since March 24, when he was hit in the right hand by a pitch, playing center field in relief of Damon. Payton went hitless in two at-bats . . . Schilling and Miller are scheduled to face each other in a camp game here Saturday morning. The plan is for Schilling to throw between 80 and 85 pitches, as a tuneup for his April 7 date in Indianapolis, with Miller to go a couple of innings . . . Francona is not happy with a new IRS regulation that places a tax on complimentary game tickets. The value of a ticket is added onto the total income of a player or manager and is taxed. Customarily, uniformed personnel are given six comp tickets per game. "It's a joke," Francona said. "I pay for my family to go to a game? Absurd. For me and the players, it's a matter of principle." . . . Union executive director Donald Fehr made his spring visit yesterday.

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