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Schilling seems headed for exit

Sox, pitcher see a deal as unlikely

Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling filed for free agency yesterday, after telling a radio audience that "there's a very realistic chance I won't ever play" for the team again.

Schilling is probably correct, a club source said yesterday, unless he is willing to accept a low base salary loaded with incentive bonuses. In a free agent market short on starting pitching, the source said, Schilling can expect to receive a better offer elsewhere. He was paid $13 million by the Red Sox this season.

Asked if Schilling would be back, the team source said, "I don't think so. We have such a strong nucleus of pitching with Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz. We'll talk about it. We'll be reasonable. We'll see what happens."

The source said he expects the team to pick up the $4 million rolling option it holds on 41-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who said yesterday he expects to undergo an arthrogram (a diagnostic test using X-rays and dye) on his right shoulder next week. A 17-game winner this season, Wakefield represents a bargain in a market in which starting pitchers commanded eight-figure salaries last winter.

Schilling, who turns 41 Nov. 14, was one of four Red Sox who filed for free agency yesterday. The others were pitcher Matt Clement, who missed the entire season after undergoing shoulder surgery; outfielder Bobby Kielty, whose pinch-hit home run accounted for the deciding run in Game 4 of the World Series; and utilityman Eric Hinske, whose $5.8 million salary this season was split between the Sox and Toronto Blue Jays.

During his weekly radio appearance on WEEI, Schilling said he had written letters of goodbye to some teammates, another indication the righthander is braced for the end of a four-year run that resulted in two World Series titles.

"A one-year deal is all I'm looking for," said Schilling, who was 9-8 with a 3.87 ERA this season and won three starts in the postseason, in his radio appearance. "If truly, physically, I was at the end of my rope, this would be the ultimate way to walk away. I don't think I'm there."

Posting on his blog last night, Schilling listed 12 teams "after Boston that have some of the off the field things that are big to us [his family], plus the potential to go into October next year."

The dozen that make the cut: Cleveland, Detroit, Anaheim, New York Mets, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis, Milwaukee. Interestingly, Tampa Bay - which Schilling earlier this year had stated he was open to pitching for - was not listed.

Schilling's status is just one of a number of issues facing the club in the immediate aftermath of its world championship, which was celebrated with a parade through the streets of Boston yesterday. The most compelling is whether the team intends to re-sign third baseman Mike Lowell, the World Series MVP, a decision that may affect whether it pursues Alex Rodriguez, who has opted out of the last three years of his contract with the Yankees.

During the parade, catcher Jason Varitek weighed in on the issue by waving a "Re-sign Lowell" sign from the duck boat in which he was riding.

Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino said the club has not yet made an offer to Lowell, who was paid $9 million this season in the last year of a three-year deal he signed while with the Florida Marlins.

"We haven't started the process yet," Lucchino said. "We would like to keep him here."

Red Sox executives, including ownership and general manager Theo Epstein, are expected to gather today to discuss their offseason strategy.

"The biggest decision right now is how to balance celebration with preparation," Lucchino said at Fenway Park yesterday morning. "We decided to lean toward celebration, at least for the short term. We know how obsessed we are with preparation. It takes more effort sometimes to celebrate than prepare, but we're going to do both."

Lucchino said he did not know whether Lowell would test the free agent market.

"It will be a tough decision for him, it will be a tough decision for us," said principal owner John W. Henry, noting that his association with Lowell goes back to 1999, his first year as Marlins owner and Lowell's first year with the club. "He will be highly sought after in the free agency market. Hopefully, we'll be able to re-sign him."

With Rodriguez opting out of his contract, the Yankees are expected to be one of the suitors for Lowell, which could drive his price up. The Yankees outbid the Sox for Johnny Damon, another hugely popular Boston player who became a free agent after winning a World Series title. The Sox' history with other top free agents - Pedro Martínez, Derek Lowe, Orlando Cabrera - has reflected a consistency of approach. They're willing to part ways if a player asks for more than the value they've determined for him.

Lowell was more inclined to celebrate than negotiate yesterday.

"I'm looking forward to everything working out," Lowell said. "Like I said before, I enjoy playing here. This is a good situation for me. I think it would be a good situation for a lot of people. But I really don't want to dwell on that right now. I want to enjoy a parade, and this is eight months of hard work as a group that we've been going through. We should celebrate; we deserve to celebrate today."

After losing the 2003 American League Championship Series, the Sox targeted Rodriguez as their No. 1 offseason priority and spent weeks attempting to execute a trade with the Rangers. They were unable to close the deal - a major stumbling block was the Players Association's refusal to accept a restructuring of Rodriguez's contract - and two months later, the Rangers traded Rodriguez to the Yankees. In New York, he has put up some of the game's best numbers during the regular season but has been a flop in the postseason.

A Boston club source said that record of October failure is a major consideration in whether the Sox make a renewed effort to acquire Rodriguez. Another significant concern, the source said, is whether Rodriguez would hurt clubhouse chemistry.

Lucchino said that to his knowledge Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, had not contacted the Sox. "Believe me, I won't call him," Lucchino said. "I have no plans to call him."

Boras created controversy when he announced Rodriguez's decision to opt out on Sunday night, while the Sox were winning the World Series. He apologized for the timing the next day. "I thought his apology was timely and appropriate," Lucchino said, "and I was pleased that he did so."

Asked if he expected the Sox to hear from Boras regarding Rodriguez, Lucchino said, "It's impossible to try to guess what his strategy and schedule are. I stopped doing that a long time ago. At some point, he is officially free to talk to other teams, so I wouldn't be surprised. But we have our own free agents to focus on, first and foremost."

Lucchino and Boras have clashed on numerous occasions, so the agent's point of entry more likely would be Epstein or one of the other owners, Henry or chairman Tom Werner.

"We built a great ball club without Alex Rodriguez," Werner said, "and yes, we obviously recognize he is one of the great players in the game.

"But our priority is first to have conversations with Mike Lowell's agent."

Lucchino said the Pittsburgh Pirates have not yet asked to talk to Sox pitching coach John Farrell about their managerial vacancy.

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