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Epstein rejects upgraded offer from Sox

HOUSTON -- With just five days left before Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein's three-year contract expires, negotiations between team CEO Larry Lucchino and his protege remain strained, as Epstein yesterday met with Lucchino and rejected an offer of $1.2 million a year for at least three years, according to a major league executive with knowledge of the negotiations.

It is not known whether that is the Red Sox' final offer, but it is believed that the matter will be resolved either way in the next 24-48 hours. While money is a major factor in the negotiations, it is growing increasingly apparent that there are other issues, namely a personality clash in management styles between Lucchino and Epstein that transcends chain-of-command questions.

The latest Sox proposal is well above the three-year deal averaging $850,000 a year that the club is believed to have offered Epstein as part of its original proposal, and would more than triple the $350,000 salary Epstein is believed to have received in 2005, the last year of a three-year deal for just under $1 million.

Epstein, who turns 32 on Dec. 29, was the youngest GM in baseball at the time he was hired and in 2004 became the youngest GM to win a World Series.

The Sox proposal would place Epstein in the upper echelon of GM pay in the majors, in a group that includes Brian Sabean of the Giants, Walt Jocketty of the Cardinals, and Brian Cashman of the Yankees, although Cashman, who just finished his eighth season as GM of the Yankees, is also at the end of his deal and reportedly is mulling a three-year, $5 million offer to remain in New York.

John Schuerholz, architect of the Atlanta Braves team that has won 14 consecutive division titles, reportedly is paid $1.6 million, the highest salary paid anyone who is exclusively a GM (Dave Dombrowski, president-GM of the Detroit Tigers, reportedly is paid $2 million a year).

Red Sox ownership raised the bar for executive pay when it made a five-year offer averaging $2.5 million to Oakland GM Billy Beane before hiring Epstein.

Beane, citing family issues, elected to remain on the West Coast, and last spring he signed an extension with the Athletics that pays him more than $1 million in salary, includes an ownership stake, and is believed to include language that would enable Beane to ascend to a club presidency in a year or two.

The Sox' original offer to Epstein was just 20 percent of what they offered Beane, which is the primary reason negotiations between the sides have proceeded at a slow pace.

Red Sox players will not be happy with the club's unexpected decision to fire physical therapist Chris Correnti, who joined the organization in 1994, has been with the big-league club in his current role since 2001, and is widely credited for creating the exercise program that allowed Pedro Martinez to thrive despite shoulder trouble. Pitcher Mike Timlin called it a ''tremendous loss."

Correnti, who was informed of the decision several days ago, was blindsided, and numerous players have contacted him expressing their dismay, according to club sources.

His supporters point out that Correnti, whose primary responsibility was working with pitchers, worked this season with 26 pitchers, tying a club record, and did an outstanding job maintaining the staff's health. Curt Schilling (ankle surgery), Keith Foulke (knee surgery), Wade Miller (shoulder), and Matt Mantei (ankle surgery) were the notable exceptions, and Schilling's conditioning did become an issue during the season.

Medical director Thomas Gill, who replaced team doctor Bill Morgan at the start of the season, is believed to have asked Epstein to approve the change, though Gill would not comment and Epstein did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

No replacement has been named, though it appears the Sox have one in the wings. Jim Rowe remains the team's trainer.

''He was a great trainer," Timlin said by phone yesterday. ''Not only did he understand the medical aspect of it, he integrated that with strength training and your on-the-field performance. The resource they had in that person is a tremendous loss."

Red Sox assistant GM Josh Byrnes has emerged as a leading candidate for the GM job in Arizona, along with Kevin Towers, the Padres' GM. Byrnes, Epstein's closest assistant, interviewed for the Diamondbacks job last week and represents a cheaper alternative to Towers, who was given permission by new Padres president Sandy Alderson to interview but could elect to remain in San Diego . . . Timlin, who severed ties with longtime agent David Sloane and is representing himself, contacted Epstein last week in an effort to start talks about a new deal to keep him in Boston. Timlin is eligible to file for free agency after the World Series. The two exchanged voice-mails last week but haven't talked, Timlin said. ''I just want to be able to do this and get this done," said Timlin. ''I'm not going to say I need two years. We'll do what we can to re-sign with Boston."

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