EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 29, 2006

Drew seems like a lock with Sox

By Rob Bradford , Staff writer

It's starting to get a bit crazy.

As the days creep closer to next week's Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., yesterday offered a sample size as to the kind of intrigue that will be awaiting the Red Sox in the not-so-distant future.

Here is what happened and how it affects Boston going forward:

* J.D. Drew, where are you?: The certainty that J.D. Drew was soon going to become a member of the Red Sox only seemed to get stronger yesterday.

According to league sources, it appears an announcement out of Boston could come as soon as Saturday, a day after the deadline to offer players arbitration. If Drew's former team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, offers him arbitration, then the Red Sox would be forced to surrender their first-round pick in next year's draft in order to sign the 31-year-old.

Despite Drew's unquestioned ability and production with the Dodgers in '06, the buzz throughout baseball continues to suggest that Boston might not be the best fit for the right fielder.

"He's not going to react well if they start booing him," said one American League front office executive very familiar with Drew. "He's just a different kind of guy."

When contacted, various sources brought up concerns regarding Drew, ranging from an unwillingness to play through injuries, an infatuation with statistics, self-imposed isolation from teammates and a lack of fondness for the game.

Intangibles aside, Drew would appear to be a perfect fit in the Red Sox's lineup's No. 5 spot, which totaled just 14 home runs, 75 RBIs, a .231 batting average, and woeful .320 on-base percentage last season.

* The Daisuke Matsuzaka saga: Major League Baseball made it clear that no side deals involving Matsuzaka's Japanese League team, the Seibu Lions, and the Red Sox were going to be allowed. Ever since it was learned that Boston president/CEO Larry Lucchino was in Japan, it was speculated by some that he was working on brokering an arrangement that would have Seibu payback some of the $51 million posting fee paid by the Sox in order to help get the pitcher signed to a deal.

The thinking would be that Seibu's willingness to allocate some of the money sent by the Red Sox back to Boston would guarantee that the Lions get at least some of the payoff from the process. If Matsuzaka isn't signed then he returns to Seibu with the Sox not having to pay anything to the Lions.

"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."

It is believed that the Red Sox are offering Matsuzaka a contract worth around $8 million to $9 million annually, while the pitcher's agent, Scott Boras, is asking closer to $14 million per year.

One potential sticking point might be Boras' desire to have his client become a free agent at the end of the contract, instead of remaining under the control of Boston for an entire six years. It is a similar condition put in the deal of Japanese outfielder Hideki Matsui, who became a free agent after the his initial four-year deal with the Yankees expired.

* Speaking of New York, it finally won out in its bid to land a Japanese pitcher. The Yanks were awarded the rights to negotiate with left-handed pitcher Kei Igawa, who was deemed worthy of a $25 million bid by New York in the posting process.

The 27-year-old Igawa is viewed as a back-of-the-rotation starter, having gone 14-9 with a 2.97 ERA last year for the Hanshin Tigers. He did lead the Central League (the same division as Matsuzaka) in strikeouts, a title he also claimed in '02 and '04.

ESPN.com also reported that the Red Sox may be on the verge of securing yet another Japanese hurler. The report has Boston "in serious discussions" with Hideki Okajima, a 30-year-old left-handed reliever who was 2-2 with a 2.14 ERA and four saves for the Nippon Ham Fighters last season. He is a free agent.

* Moving Manny: The likelihood that Manny Ramirez was going to be traded by the Red Sox continued to gather strength, with the Chicago White Sox moving in as a strong contender for the slugger's services, according to ESPN.com.

Ramirez is signed through the next two seasons for a total of $38 million, but is expected to ask whatever team that happens to acquire him pick up the two one-year team options. That would extend his contract commitment to four years in exchange for his approval of any deal. Having played at least 10 years in the majors and five seasons with one team, he has the right to refuse any trade.

Besides the White Sox, another team mentioned as a possible suitor is the San Diego Padres. Any deal with the Padres would most likely include potential closer Scott Linebrink, who was recently pulled off the table in a deal for Atlanta second basement Marcus Giles.

* Catching a backup: One candidate to replace Doug Mirabelli as Boston's backup catcher, Gregg Zaun, is off the market. The backstop was re-signed by the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday after their initial target, Rod Barajas, backed out of an agreement at the 11th hour.

Evidently, Barajas was convinced by his former agency, Beverly Hill Sports Council, that a better deal could be found (it was two years, $5.2 million), leading the catcher to leave his current agents, Terry Bross and Gregg Clifton.

Zaun was not only being looked at by Boston but also the Yankees, who he was supposed to be visiting yesterday. New York had told the catcher he would also be playing some first base if he signed.

Toronto was also making a pitch yesterday for another free-agent, starter Gil Meche. The former Seattle Mariners hurler, who is also being courted by the Kansas City Royals, attended a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game. He would fill the spot vacated by free agent Ted Lilly in the Jays rotation.