There is still contract language to be worked out, and some question about whether the fifth year of the deal is guaranteed. But the Red Sox are nearing the completion of a deal with J.D. Drew that would pay the free agent outfielder $14 million a year for a total package of around $70 million if he stays with Boston for a full five seasons.
The deal, which also would depend on Drew passing a physical, is not likely to be finished before teams begin to gather in Orlando, Fla. Sunday for the winter meetings, according to sources close to the negotiations.
The Sox also remained deep in Manny Ramírez trade talks with the Padres, with San Diego sweetening its original offer, according to a source with direct knowledge of the talks. The Padres are offering major league players for Ramírez, a package that presumably would have to include one of two pitchers: prime setup man Scott Linebrink or ace Jake Peavy. The Sox also have coveted Adrian Gonzalez, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman who put up outstanding numbers in his first full season in 2006: .304, 24 home runs, 38 doubles, and 82 RBIs.
Signing Drew would be a prerequisite to any trade the Sox make involving Ramírez, who last season put up his usual stellar numbers -- 35 home runs, 102 RBIs, and an OPS (on-base average plus slugging percentage) of 1.058 -- but played little in the last six weeks, asked to be traded, and provoked the ire of club officials and teammates who felt he could have played despite a sore left knee.
The Padres are hardly alone in their interest in Ramírez, who as a 10-5 man (10 years in the majors, five with the same club), has the right to veto any trade. There is probably a 50-50 chance the Sox will trade their slugging left fielder. They are not deviating from their position of asking for fair value in return, and teams have been offering better talent than in previous years.
The Dodgers, because of their wealth of appealing young talent -- outfielder Matt Kemp, first baseman James Loney, third baseman Andy LaRoche, reliever Jonathan Broxton -- and their paucity of power are becoming a popular choice among industry speculators as a Ramírez landing spot. But their position is still somewhere on the periphery, as they weigh whether they want to part with their kids. There were strong indications yesterday, however, that the Sox would pay at least a portion of Ramírez's salary.
In addition to the other teams that have been identified as potential trading partners (Rangers, Phillies, Giants, Orioles, Mets), there may yet be a team or two that has not surfaced publicly. A team mentioned as a possibility should the Red Sox insist on a slugging bat in return: the Mariners, who are not shopping third baseman Adrian Beltre or first baseman Richie Sexson but might be persuaded to part with one or the other in a Ramírez deal.
Drew, who exercised an out clause in his contract with the Dodgers, would be expected to play right field for the Red Sox, taking the place of Trot Nixon.
In a market ripe with cash this winter, Drew's deal would easily dwarf the four-year, $40 million proposal that Johnny Damon rejected from the Red Sox last winter, when he signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Yankees.
Drew long has been attractive to the Red Sox, even though he has been the target of intense criticism for being injury-prone (seven trips to the disabled list in eight years) and exhibiting a lack of passion. In the last three seasons, Drew has an OPS of .946, which ranks 11th among players with at least 1,200 plate appearances.
His on-base average of .415 over the last three seasons ranks sixth overall and third among outfielders.
Last season, Drew led the Dodgers with 100 RBIs, 89 walks, 34 doubles, and a .393 OBP, and tied Nomar Garciaparra for the team lead in home runs with 20, despite a 43-game span between June 2 and July 26 in which he did not homer. His best season in the majors came in 2004, with the Atlanta Braves, when he hit .305 (.436 OBP) with 31 homers and 93 RBIs, finishing sixth in National League MVP voting.
Meanwhile, Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, along with chief operating officer Mike Dee, are in Japan on what ostensibly began as a stealth mission but morphed into a full-blown press conference, with Lucchino using the occasion to sell the Japanese public on the Sox' affection for pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
"We came to send a message to Matsuzaka's legion of fans," Lucchino was quoted as saying in yesterday's editions of the Daily Yomiuri. "We know you must have mixed feelings about a national living treasure going to the major leagues. Your pride and your excitement must be mixed with some concern, even some sadness.
"We promise we will recognize who he is in the baseball world."
Lucchino was not there to negotiate for Matsuzaka, the pitcher in whom the Sox already have invested $51.1 million in the form of a posting bid. Those negotiations are being handled by general manager Theo Epstein, whose hand was hardly tipped by Lucchino's confirmation that the Sox had made a formal offer to Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras, who also is Drew's agent. While Lucchino was quoted as saying the offer was a "fair and comprehensive proposal," it was no more than an opening bid, one that predictably leaves the sides far apart.
Boras wants Matsuzaka to be paid as one of the game's elite pitchers, while the Sox' position is that he should be paid more in keeping with other posted players, like Ichiro
The Sox have until midnight on Dec. 14 to close a deal with Matsuzaka, though it would probably have to be consummated at least a day earlier because he'd need to pass a physical. Worth noting: Matsuzaka would not become an unrestricted free agent for two full seasons should he elect to go that route.
Lucchino also met with Seibu Lions officials, saying the teams discussed a possible "working relationship" in the future. But Major League Baseball moved quickly to quash speculation that Lucchino was exploring ways the Sox might recoup some of their $51.1 million posting fee from Seibu.
"There are no side deals in the situation," Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office, told the Associated Press. "Everybody's been assured that's not allowed, and everybody's been made aware of the rules."
Buster Olney of ESPN.com reported that the Sox were trying to sign another Japanese free agent pitcher, lefthanded reliever Hideki Okajima.