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Epstein still on course for an extension

Only three days remain before Theo Epstein joins Johnny Damon and other Red Sox as a free agent. Still, all indications yesterday continued to point toward the team's general manager coming to an agreement on an extension, likely of three years, to his contract. No announcement, however, is expected until Monday.

As expected, Josh Byrnes, the Sox' assistant general manager, was introduced yesterday as GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Byrnes, 35, becomes baseball's third-youngest general manager, behind Texas's newly hired GM, 28-year-old Jon Daniels, and Epstein, who turns 32 in December.

''Everyone at the Red Sox is thrilled for Josh," said Epstein. ''He deserves the chance to be a general manager. And he made a profound impact on the Red Sox in three years here. He was an instrumental part of everything that we did. And we would not have won the World Series without him.

''It's bittersweet to see him leave. We'll really miss him. But this is something he wanted and richly deserved."

Byrnes, a 1992 graduate of Haverford College, previously worked in the Cleveland (1994-99) and Colorado (2000-02) organizations. He worked predominantly in scouting with Cleveland, where he implemented the Indians' video advance scouting system and ultimately ascended to director of scouting. Just 27 at the time, he was the youngest person ever in that capacity.

In 1999, Byrnes moved on to the Rockies, to become assistant GM to Dan O'Dowd, whom he had also worked under in Cleveland. Byrnes, while in Colorado, hired Daniels as an intern.

''Josh is so intelligent and has great personal integrity," Indians GM Mark Shapiro said earlier this season. ''He is so deserving of becoming a general manager."

Byrnes, this past season, was the member of the Sox organization most responsible for negotiating the July deal that nearly sent outfielder Adam Stern, Triple A catcher Kelly Shoppach, and Triple A pitcher Abe Alvarez to Colorado for outfielder Larry Bigbie, first base prospect Ryan Shealy, and another player. However, Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino vetoed that deal late in the process.

In Arizona, Byrnes will work under Diamondbacks general partner Jeff Moorad, the former agent who takes a notedly active role in baseball operations decisions. However, Byrnes is believed to have felt comfortable with that dynamic after interviewing for the job. As an agent, Moorad's lengthy client list included Manny Ramirez. It was Moorad who negotiated Ramirez's eight-year, $160 million deal with the Red Sox.

Jed Hoyer, the Sox' 31-year-old assistant to the GM, continues to be the leading candidate to succeed Byrnes as assistant GM. Hoyer, a Plymouth, N.H., native, is one of many young Boston executives capable of succeeding Byrnes. That list includes Ben Cherington (director of player development), Peter Woodfork (director of baseball operations, assistant director of player development), and Craig Shipley (special assistant to the GM, player development and international scouting).

Yesterday also marked the second day of baseball's 15-day free agency filing period. Damon and Tony Graffanino both filed yesterday, while Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar did so the day before. That leaves only Mike Timlin, John Olerud, Mike Myers, and Matt Mantei still to file. A report in yesterday's Providence Journal indicated that Timlin had reached a preliminary agreement on a one-year, $3.5 million extension. Timlin, who has chosen to represent himself, could not be reached last night.

Damon has indicated a strong desire to remain with the Red Sox, though given that he's represented by Scott Boras, negotiations aren't expected to be expedient or cheap. Graffanino isn't likely to return. The club views Triple A prospect Dustin Pedroia as close to major league ready, which suggests that the team will go with a second base tandem of Pedroia and Alex Cora. Cora has one year remaining on a two-year, $2.7 million deal.

Also, minor league pitching coordinator Al Nipper has emerged as the leading candidate to become the Sox' next bullpen coach. Other in-house candidates include Triple A pitching coach Mike Griffin and Gulf Coast Red Sox manager Ralph Truel. Former Sox catcher Bill Haselman served as the club's bullpen coach in 2005 but will coach first base next season.

Lastly, the club has not named a replacement for assistant trainer and rehabilitation coordinator Chris Correnti, though the Sox are believed to have made a decision on a successor. Correnti was hugely popular among the team's pitching staff, which last season was his primary area of responsibility.

''Obviously," Curt Schilling said in an e-mail, ''[it] doesn't matter what the players think when it comes to decisions like this."

Gordon Edes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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