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Sox are seeking relief

Closer is their focus in any Ramírez deal

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If there was a pattern to be detected in the Manny Ramírez trade talks here, it was this: The Red Sox are focusing on getting a closer in return.

In talks with the Dodgers, they asked for mountain man (6 feet 3 inches, 290 pounds) Jonathan Broxton, LA’s 22-year-old setup man. In talks with the Angels, they gave GM Bill Stoneman a choice: closer Francisco Rodriguez or setup man Scot Shields. In talks with the Mariners, the names of closer J.J. Putz and setup man Rafael Soriano surfaced. In speculation sweeping the lobby of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel that the Giants were trying to involve the Nationals in a potential three-way deal, the name of Nationals closer Chad Cordero was tossed about.

Committed to switching rookie closer Jonathan Papelbon to the starting rotation, the Sox do not want a repeat of 2003, when they did not have an identifiable closer until GM Theo Epstein traded for Byung-Hyun Kim two months into the season. But yesterday, it appeared they were making little progress toward achieving their goal.

According to someone who was at the meeting, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti told his people yesterday morning that a deal with the Red Sox for Ramírez was ‘‘the longest of long shots.’’ One Dodgers official rated the chances of a deal ‘‘at 5 percent ... at best.’’

The Angels consider Rodriguez all but untouchable, and Shields isn’t too far behind.

Mariners GM Bill Bavasi acknowledged talking to the Sox about Ramírez, but with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm that a deal might be struck.

‘‘We met with them and we’ll probably meet again and that’ll be that,’’ said Bavasi, who is believed to be more willing to unload slugger Richie Sexson than either of his relievers. ‘‘I’d be surprised if he winds up here. This is not just trying to make a trade. They want a lot back in return.’’

The names the Sox are seeking in return for Ramírez only begin with closers. With the Dodgers, they have asked about prized outfield prospect Matt Kemp, third base prospect Andy LaRoche, and first base prospect James Loney.

With the Angels, shortstop Orlando Cabrera, a catalyst to the Sox’ run to the 2004 World Series, has been mentioned, along with young pitchers Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver.

With the Padres, who all but dropped out of the Manny mix when it became clear that more than setup man Scott Linebrink would be required to do a deal, ace Jake Peavy was the desired target.

With the Mariners, Sexson and outfield prospect Adam Jones were the names being mentioned.

The proposed three-way with the Giants? Details were scant, but Nationals shortstop Felipe Lopez was a speculated piece of the action.

‘‘We’ll definitely have a closer by Opening Day,’’ said Epstein, who did not discuss the specifics of any talks the Sox had regarding Ramírez. ‘‘We’ll likely have one before this month is over.

‘‘Sometimes things resolve themselves in spring training. We changed closers in the first week of the season last year [Papelbon replaced Keith Foulke] and that worked out pretty well.’’

Epstein reiterated the team’s position that it would not trade an elite position player — read Ramírez — without getting fair value in return.

‘‘I can’t say we’re close to any deals,’’ he said. ‘‘But we’re pushing things forward.’’

Oddly, one team that said it had not been contacted by the Sox regarding Ramírez was the New York Mets, whose general manager, Omar Minaya, has known Ramírez since he was a high school sophomore and long has coveted the left fielder. The Mets have been the team that has appeared closest to dealing for Ramírez in recent years, which for some people raised this question: If the Sox aren’t calling the Mets, how serious can they really be about moving Manny?

Epstein said the Sox will essentially stop pushing to make a deal by midnight tomorrow, although he stressed that was a very soft deadline and he did not, in fact, use that word.

‘‘I think at some point, if we realistically get past Wednesday, we’re not going to take up more of the team’s time and energy,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘We’ll certainly be listeners. At some point, you can’t let it get in the way of other things you’re trying to do. There’s also the free agent market and pitching to deal with. You can’t spend all your time on position players.’’

While the Sox were not yet finding an obvious match, these things tend to be very fluid, and in the lobby chatter among baseball executives, there was some expectation the Sox would indeed consummate a trade for Ramírez. ‘‘There’s just too much smoke for there not to be a deal,’’ one major league executive said.

Still, there has been smoke in the three previous winters that the Sox entertained offers for Ramírez, and each spring, there was Manny, back in front of the Green Monster. One difference? Epstein said prospective suitors do not appear to be daunted by the $38 million remaining over the last two years of Ramírez’s contract.

‘‘In this market, teams aren’t backing off from taking salaries,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘Trading for large salaries hasn’t seemed to be an issue.’’

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