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Olerud calls it a career

Quiet retirement for 17-year veteran

DALLAS -- It was an afterthought, an oh-by-the-way that arose in conversation yesterday in the Red Sox suite high up in the Wyndham Anatole in Dallas. Reporters were naming players who had to be tendered arbitration by today, lest the team lose its right to negotiate with them until May 1. Five or six names down the list came John Olerud's.

Jed Hoyer, the assistant to the general manager who'd just walked into the room, spoke up.

''He retired," Hoyer said.

And that's how it ended for Olerud. Seventeen seasons Olerud played, beginning in 1989, when he showed up in Toronto having never played a minor league game.

He would never have spent a day in the minors if not for the conditioning stint he required this past season before joining the Sox, his fifth team (after the Blue Jays, Mets, Mariners, and Yankees). In 87 games with the Sox, splitting time at first base with Kevin Millar, Olerud hit .289 with 7 homers and 37 RBIs, making only one error. He compiled 2,239 hits in 2,234 career games, batting .295 with a .398 on-base percentage.

A two-time All-Star (1993, 2001), Olerud won three Gold Gloves (2000, '02, '03) and a batting title, hitting .363 in 1993.

Decision time

If the Sox do not offer a player arbitration by the deadline, his tenure with the club is effectively over. If the Sox do offer arbitration, the player has until Dec. 19 to choose whether to accept it.

If he accepts it, he's considered a signed player for next season, with his salary to be worked out in arbitration or beforehand. If the player rejects arbitration, the Sox would have until Jan. 8 to sign him, after which the club wouldn't be able to negotiate with him until May 1.

As of last night, the Sox were not willing to announce their decisions, though it sounded as if they had all been made.

The Sox will offer arbitration to Johnny Damon. But the decisions become more difficult with Bill Mueller, Mike Myers, and Tony Graffanino. Decisions also must be made on Matt Mantei, Mike Stanton, Kevin Millar, and Gabe Kapler.

The upside to offering arbitration is that the Sox are guaranteed draft-pick compensation if a player signs elsewhere. The risk, though, is that a player accepts arbitration and wins a large award.

Trigger men?

Today stands to be the day the Sox finally pull the trigger on a deal. They spent Monday meeting with teams they perceived to be potential matches. Yesterday ''was a cleanup day," according to special adviser Bill Lajoie, who added, ''We'll go back [today] to the clubs we feel we can do business with." Lajoie said there are probably seven clubs the Sox view as legitimate trading partners . . . If the Sox were to deal Doug Mirabelli to San Diego for Mark Loretta, an available target as a backup catcher would be Ken Huckaby, who hit .207 in 35 games last season with Toronto. The natural in-house option would be Kelly Shoppach, but Shoppach continues to be dangled in trade talks . . . The Sox dispute the idea that Matt Clement needs a change of address after his uninspiring second half (5.72 ERA) and implosive playoff start, in which he allowed the most earned runs ever by a Sox pitcher in a postseason game. ''If he moves to another team, it will be because we got a good deal," said Craig Shipley, the special assistant to the GM . . . The Sox' search for a landing spot for David Wells appears trained on California, but the team said he asked only that he be moved to the West Coast. ''He never said California," said Hoyer. That means the destination list for Wells could be longer than initially believed.

Not a burning issue

The Sox say they haven't decided whether to attempt to sign Josh Beckett to a long-term deal. Beckett, who made $2.4 million last season, is under the club's contractual control through arbitration for the next two seasons. He stands to double his 2005 salary in 2006 through arbitration. ''It's not a front-burner issue," said president/CEO Larry Lucchino. ''There are other things that are front burner." As Hoyer deftly put it: ''We kind of want to date for a while. We just acquired him. Let's get to know each other over the next couple months. If we decide we want to do a long-term deal, we'll do that." Lucchino, laughing at the analogy, added, ''I'm glad you said that, not me." . . . Lucchino will depart the meetings today, which is one day early, leaving Lajoie, Shipley, Hoyer, Ben Cherington (director of player development), and Jeremy Kapstein to handle the team's business. Kapstein was not present when the rest of the Sox contingent convened with the media yesterday, but he did meet with officials of other clubs throughout the day.

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