Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sox in no Hurry to Close Deal on Santana

With the Winter Meetings heading to the late innings, the Red Sox weren't necessarily feeling the squeeze of time in their ongoing dialogue with the Twins regarding ace left-hander Johan Santana.
Clearly, the Red Sox would like the look of their team with the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner. But they also like their team without Santana. If the sides can reach common ground, that's all well and good. But neither side seemed to be making it a necessity to happen in Nashville.

Boston general manager Theo Epstein still hasn't mentioned Santana's name in any of his dealings with the media. But he did discuss talks with Minnesota in a broad sense.

"I can't address the Twins directly. We certainly respect the position the Twins are in," Epstein said. "We've had amicable dialogue throughout. I don't think either side has had any issue with the process whatsoever. We're going to be open-minded to continue in dialogue. At this point, we don't have a deal to announce. We're going to keep an open mind going forward and continue to try to improve the club."

Though the Meetings essentially conclude following Thursday morning's Rule 5 Draft, Epstein didn't want to rule out making a deal before going back to Boston.

"I don't know. That's for [the media] to speculate on," Epstein said. "I can't really tell you one way or the other. There's been no change. I know it's been reported differently anywhere you look. It's just been an open-ended dialogue the whole time, trying to see if there's a mutual fit. There's really not any change at this point and time."

It is still somewhat of a mystery which -- if any -- other teams are in pursuit of Santana. The Yankees still claim to have withdrawn from the race. The Mets could still be on the periphery, a notion that was backed by Peter Greenberg, Santana's agent.

Meanwhile, the Twins continued to mull over their best course of action, which could simply be to keep their elite pitcher.

Epstein doesn't feel as if it's his job to put on a full-court press to speed up the process.

"If it's a Red Sox player, [it's] Red Sox timetable," he said. "That's how I would look at it. They're probably doing the same thing. They're a very straightforward, earnest organization and these talks have reflected that. I don't have any problems whatsoever with what they're doing or how they've handled their business so far."

Boston's pursuit of a certain ace pitcher -- the one Epstein won't refer to by name -- has not stalled the team's other matters of business.

"I don't think we have any limitations going forward," Epstein said. "I think we have a pretty stable roster and some versatility, some different options. I don't think there's anything we're interested in pursuing that would limit other discussions that are going on at this point."

If the Red Sox don't make the big Santana splash, just about all of the moves they make this winter will be designed with improving the bench and the bullpen.

Though the Red Sox picked up the 2008 option on right-hander Julian Tavarez, there's a chance they will move the swingman. Tavarez prefers starting and it's highly doubtful he'll get that chance in Boston.

"He's been asked about by a few teams," Epstein said. "I think interest will probably crystallize more once some of the comparable free agents are off the board. He's attractive to some teams. He's on a one-year deal, he's durable, versatile and threw well when we gave him a consistent role last year."

One dynamic that has changed in these Winter Meetings is that the Red Sox have had no trade discussions regarding star slugger Manny Ramirez. That seemed to be an annual rite of passage in previous years.

"Other teams realize that Manny is very happy to be a Red Sox," said Epstein.

In other news, the Red Sox are expected to re-sign right-hander Brendan Donnelly, who can continue his rehab from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery under the watch of the team he pitched for in 2007. Donnelly might be ready to pitch in games by August or September.

Francona Happy with 2008 Core Red Sox

When Red Sox manager Terry Francona did his annual Winter Meetings media session on Wednesday morning, Josh Beckett was still his unquestioned ace. In other words, no deal had been struck for two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.
Perhaps, as it turns out, Santana will wind up staying with the Twins or going somewhere else. Francona didn't seem to be on the edge of his seat waiting for a definitive answer.

"Oh, I wouldn't even touch that," said Francona. "I think the best way I can answer that is that I and we love our young players. There's so much stuff that seems to fly around that lobby. Wow, it's interesting."

The case can be made that no manager is more at peace with his situation these days than Francona. And that's not only because the Red Sox just won the World Series for the second time in the past four seasons. For Francona has a team stacked with accomplished veterans and talented young players, and the entire core from the 2007 champs are under contract for next year.

These are good days to be the manager of the Boston Red Sox -- Santana or not.

"You know, it's not a lesser sense of urgency like, 'Oh, we won.' But I think it's different," said Francona. "We're in a different point than we were four years ago."

Though the Hot Stove still has some time to burn, it's fairly certain the Red Sox will be a strong favorite entering 2008.

"Oh, it doesn't matter," said Francona. "And we'll talk about that the first day of Spring Training, how we handle moving forward. Because that's what we need to do is to move forward. In '04, we talked about it, but obviously none of us had been through it."

Unlike the '04 team, which lost key participants such as Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Orlando Cabrera, the '07 Sox aren't likely to subtract any core veterans.

When Curt Schilling and Mike Lowell re-signed with the Red Sox, it saved general manager Theo Epstein from having to scour the market for replacements. And it saved Francona from having to break in new players to fill those spots.

"You know, Theo brought Lowell and Schill back, and the other guys, they are ours," Francona said. "Really, besides maybe fine-tuning the bench, we have our position players in place and basically our staff. So it's a good feeling."

Both players also took lesser financial packages with Boston. And when a reporter suggested that Lowell and Schilling left money on the "table," Francona couldn't resist taking a good-natured jab at the latter player.

"I'm thrilled," Francona said. "I think that's the first time Schilling ever left anything on the table. I'm sure he'll appreciate that [comment], too."

Part of Schilling's new contract includes a weight-clause incentive that the right-hander suggested himself.

"I've had some fun at his expense," Francona said. "But I'm excited that he wants to do that. We talked about this last year, and not just Schill, but guys in general. When you get some age on you, you have to work harder to keep your level."

Speaking of 40-something Red Sox starters, Francona provided an update on knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who was left off the roster in two of the three postseason rounds because of a back-shoulder injury.

"Good," Francona said of Wakefield. "He was in Boston the other day. He looks terrific. He's in great shape, and it's December. He's not even restricted now. He tested out the other day great."

The 2008 season will have a different feel to it from the start, considering that Opening Day is slated for the Tokyo Dome against the Oakland Athletics. Francona and pitching coach John Farrell continue to be thorough in their preparation to make sure the entire team is as prepared as possible.

"As far as going to Japan, I think we're all excited," Francona said. "I think there's a little trepidation because two of the games count and our routine is definitely interrupted. But our job is to not let it affect us. I'm sure Daisuke [Matsuzaka] will be excited, as he should be. But when the games count, it takes away some of the sightseeing aspect of the trips. You want to win games."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Orgeron Assistants out in Cold


OXFORD — Early last week, Ole Miss recruiting coordinator Hugh Freeze was all over Mississippi, trying to sell high school recruits on a Rebel football program that was without a head coach.

That problem has been fixed, thanks to the hiring of former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. But now Freeze has a much bigger problem.

He's likely out of a job.

Freeze, defensive coordinator John Thompson and tight ends coach Tony Hughes all interviewed with Nutt on Sunday and left with the same understanding: Barring the unforeseen, their time at Ole Miss is probably over.

"I've just been sitting in my office, kind of staring at the walls," said Freeze, who said he's under contract at Ole Miss through June 30. "It doesn't look like it's going to work out. Coach Nutt wants to go with the people he already knows and I respect that, but it's difficult because I'm from north Mississippi and wanted to stay here. I've never been in this situation before."

Freeze and Hughes were part of the backbone for local recruiting under former coach Ed Orgeron, who was fired on Nov. 24.

Both coaches grew up in Mississippi and graduated from Southern Miss. Both have been at Ole Miss for three years.

During Orgeron's three years, Ole Miss recruiting classes were ranked an average of 25th nationally by recruiting services and

"I thought (being from Mississippi) would be an advantage," Hughes said. "I think it makes a difference when you walk into a recruit's house and know the state."

Dandy Dozen selection Willie Packer, a defensive lineman from Moss Point who has given a non-binding verbal commitment to Ole Miss, said Hughes had been vital in his recruiting process.

"He was a real cool guy, somebody I really liked," Packer said.

Packer said he still wanted to play for Ole Miss, but because of the changes he was still considering Tennessee and Alabama.

Nutt, who signed a 4-year, $7.4-million deal to coach Ole Miss on Nov. 26, has already indicated that six of his assistants will follow him from Arkansas over to Ole Miss in early January. On Monday, The Monroe News-Star reported that Louisiana-Monroe defensive coordinator Kim Dameron and secondary coach Ron Dickerson had accepted jobs at Ole Miss. Their roles with the Rebels' coaching staff were unclear.

Nutt could not be reached for comment on Monday. An Ole Miss spokesman said Nutt would address coaching staff issues today.

On Sunday, Nutt hinted that it might be hard for any of Orgeron's former staff to remain, saying "I'm going to talk to the guys that I've been with the past 10, 11 years (at Arkansas) first."

Thompson, who is in the first year of a three-year contract at Ole Miss, was Arkansas' defensive coordinator under Nutt in 2000 and 2001 before leaving for Florida in 2002.

Red Sox in Lead for Santana

The race for Johan Santana is starting to resemble so many of those on-field battles between the Red Sox and Yankees over the last several seasons. There have been twists and turns, not to mention lead changes and jarring changes in momentum.
By early Tuesday morning, the latest was that the Red Sox just might be back in the driver's seat to land the two-time Cy Young Award winner from the Minnesota Twins. This, after Monday night talks between the Yankees and Twins hit a major snag, with New York steadfastly refusing to include pitching prospect Ian Kennedy into a proposal that already included potential stud right-hander Phil Hughes and center fielder Melky Cabrera.

The Red Sox also met with the Twins in the late night and early morning hours, and one sign of potential progress -- according to multiple media reports -- is that Boston forwarded the medical records of left-handed starter Jon Lester to the Twins.

For most of these negotiations, the Red Sox have been willing to offer either Lester or center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury -- in addition to shortstop prospect Jed Lowrie for Santana. If the Twins wound up taking Lester, the Red Sox could well put center fielder Coco Crisp in the deal. The Twins, after losing Torii Hunter via free agency, need a center fielder. reported early Tuesday morning that the Red Sox have emerged as the "favorite" to land Santana.

When the day started, it seemed that the Yankees had held that distinction. Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner imposed a deadline of the end of Monday to get a deal done, and it passed with no deal in place. But there's no telling if talks might yet resuscitate between the Yankees and Twins.

There was also the chance the Twins could simply hang on to Santana for another season.

While Steinbrenner had no problem professing his club's interest in Santana, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein won't even mention the left-hander by name.

"I don't want to talk about other teams' players," said Epstein, who is ever mindful of making sure he will never be accused of tampering.

Epstein didn't seem inclined to take a page out of Steinbrenner's book and impose a deadline on the Twins.

"I think we've only [set deadlines] when we thought it was in our best interest," Epstein said Monday night. "We don't have current discussions ongoing for which I think that would be in our best interest. We're pretty content with where we are and we don't think anything major is getting held up. There's a natural order of things this winter and we're just going to let it play out. If we think the dynamic changes or our interest changes, we certainly wouldn't hesitate to put a timetable on something or other, but this doesn't apply right now."

Before the Yankees and Red Sox held talks with the Twins Monday evening, Epstein didn't sound as if he was close to executing a trade -- blockbuster or otherwise.

"Obviously, we've made calls and talked to a couple of teams about deals and talked to a few agents, but we don't have anything to show for it," Epstein said. "That might be par for the course. It seems like everything is on a later schedule this year."

But perhaps there was a change in momentum by the end of the night.

If the Twins insist that Lester and Ellsbury both be in the deal, it's doubtful the sides will reach common ground. That could open up a chance for the Angels -- or maybe some other teams -- to swoop in. Or the Twins could always keep Santana.

In fact, agent Peter Greenberg, who represents Santana, strongly denied that the pitcher would only waive his no-trade clause to play for the Yankees or Red Sox.

"He was very adamant about that. He wanted to make sure we clarified that. That upset him," Greenberg told The Associated Press. "He's been very clear all along that he wants [Twins GM] Bill [Smith] to make the best deal possible."

Any team that agrees with Minnesota on a trade would likely have 72 hours to negotiate a contract extension with Santana, otherwise it is doubtful the lefty would waive his no-trade clause.

Aside from the Santana rumblings, the Red Sox are looking to make moves that are more complementary in nature. The World Series champions have their entire starting nine and pitching rotation under contract for 2008.

"Just for us, everything seems to be a little slower, probably because the holes on our club right now are really for reserve roles and that part of the market usually settles later," said Epstein. "Our phone is ringing probably less, with the exception of a few players who are perceived to be somewhat available. Our phone is certainly ringing less than it has in previous years. Some teams might look at our roster and say, 'They're set, they're not going to do anything.'"

Is Epstein investigating the availability of front-line pitchers?

"Yeah, but I wouldn't distinguish between pitchers and position players," Epstein said. "We certainly have an obligation to explore any potential opportunity that might make us better. That doesn't mean we're abandoning our core or abandoning our philosophy on how we're going to sustain success year in and year out. We see it as our job to explore every possible way to get better in the future."

Though Epstein is staying quiet publicly on all things Santana, it is big news in Boston.

Sox right-hander Curt Schilling even blogged on the matter on Monday.

"A rotation featuring Beckett, Santana as the top two is pretty much as good as it can get," Schilling wrote on "The thought of pitching behind these guys has to fire [you] up. That being said I look at it like this.

"If we make the move we'll have done so with Theo knowing whatever he had to trade to acquire him he can restock those spots either from within, or via trade. How much is too much when you're talking about trading for the best left-handed pitcher in the game? How much is too much when you consider what he and Josh could do over the next 5-6 years."

In dissecting the possibility of the trade, Schilling feels as if everything is in the hands of the Twins.

"I don't see any of the other players holding this deal up from either NY or Boston," Schilling wrote. "Neither team will let him slip through their hands because they want to hold onto a AA or AAA potential star. I think it's going to come down to the value Minnesota places in Philip Hughes/Melky Cabrera vs. the top 2-3 players in this deal from our side."

Among the visitors to the Winter Meetings on Monday was Twins closer Joe Nathan, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn.

"We'll see what happens," Nathan said. "It's obviously a situation where if Johan goes to Boston, that starting rotation is going to be pretty tough to beat."

Monday, December 3, 2007

Pelini Accepts Nebraska Head Coaching Job

LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini accepted the head coaching position at Nebraska on Sunday, ending his three-year tenure with LSU.

LSU coach Les Miles said late Sunday evening that Pelini will likely join the Tigers in the BCS National Championship game Jan 7.

"I think he will coach the game," Miles said. "We talked about it on the plane ride [from Atlanta]. The thing about a new job is that there is a lot to do, but there is also a lot of downtime in there during a dead-period when you can not recruit."

Miles said NCAA rules say coaches can not contact recruits from the middle of December until early January, so Pelini will be able to prepare with LSU during that time.

Tom Osborne, Nebraska interim Athletic Director, announced the hiring Sunday afternoon in Lincoln, Neb., ending a week-long search that began when the Cornhuskers announced Nov. 24 that former coach Bill Callahan would not be returning next season.

"We need a head coach with strong defensive credentials and great leadership," Osborne said in a statement. "We were also looking for someone who can inspire confidence and get players to play with great effort."

Pelini served as the Cornhuskers defensive coordinator during the 2003 season and was the team's interim coach for the team's bowl game that season following former coach Frank Solich's departure.

During his time at LSU, Pelini helped the Tigers' defense become one of the nation's more feared units, holding opponents to less than 14 points in 18 of Pelini's 39 games on the sidelines for the Tigers.

Pelini met the Nebraska players early Sunday to announce he will be their coach next season.

"It was a short meeting and hopefully one that was very productive to let them know that I am not here to be just a head coach and a dictator," Pelini said. "I am here to serve a number of roles, and one of those roles is to make sure the players have a very positive experience as a student-athlete at Nebraska.

Pelini also has NFL coaching experience. He was an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers from 1994 to 2002.

The 39-year-old Youngstown, Ohio native said he is ready to finally have a chance to be a head coach, following more than 15 seasons as an assistant coach.

"This is something I have worked a long time for," Pelini said. "You never know if [you'll be hired or not]. I've never really been consumed with the chance of becoming a head coach. I always figured that, God willing, it would happen someday if I kept just doing my job."

Rebels Revieving NCAA Votes

After moving to 6-0 with wins over Troy and previously unbeaten New Mexico, Ole Miss received four votes in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll and Rebel point guard Chris Warren was named the Southeastern Conference Men’s Basketball Freshman of the Week, both were announced Monday.

Ole Miss is one of five SEC schools receiving votes in the media poll this week, including No. 10 Tennessee, No. 23 Vanderbilt, Arkansas (61 votes) and Florida (13 votes). The last time the Rebels received votes was Jan. 16, 2006, when Ole Miss was the third of six SEC vote getters with seven.

The Rebels, who rank second in the nation in scoring with 94.5 points per game, were last ranked in the top 25 in the final polls of 2000-01, when they appeared as high as No. 9 in the USA Today/ESPN rankings.

Warren, who has started all six games at the point this year, averaged team highs of 19.5 points and 7.5 assists in the two contests. The speedy rookie set career highs with 23 points and 10 assists for his first career double-double in the 102-76 win over Troy. He hit 5-of-9 from behind the arc and directed a 25-0 run at the beginning of the second half to put the game out of reach. He also contributed 16 points, five assists and three steals, with just two turnovers, in a game-high 35 minutes of action in the 85-77 victory over UNM.

The Orlando, Fla., native tops the SEC and ranks in the top 10 nationally with 7.0 assists per game and leads Ole Miss with 14.8 points per contest.

He is the first Rebel to earn a weekly honor from the conference this season and the first since Bam Doyne was SEC Player of the Week on Nov. 27 last year.

After six straight home games to open the season, Ole Miss is preparing for its first road contest of the year. The Rebels will face UCF in Orlando on Saturday with a 6 p.m. CT tip-off.

Rebels remain Unbeaten in Men's Hoops

Dwayne Curtis scored 20 points and added 10 rebounds Saturday as Ole Miss defeated New Mexico 85-77 in a battle of unbeaten teams.

Freshman point guard Chris Warren added 16 points and five assists for the Rebels (6-0), who are off to their best start since 2000-01, when they advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Trevor Gaskins and Eniel Polynice added 14 and 12 points for the Rebels, respectively. Ole Miss never trailed, but converted 9-of-11 free throws in the final three minutes to halt a late rally by the Lobos.

New Mexico (7-1) was led by Roman Martinez, who finished 7-of-7 from the field, with 17 points. Dairese Gary added 10 points and five assists, but the Lobos fell behind 11-2 in the opening two minutes and never recovered.

Ole Miss led 47-30 at halftime on the strength of a 17-1 run midway through the first half. New Mexico had only one basket in the final eight minutes of the half, while Curtis had eight points in the decisive surge.

New Mexico made a charge in the final three minutes, pulling within 81-76 on a jumper by J.R. Giddens with 15 seconds left. The Lobos misfired on two final possessions while Polynice hit four straight free throws to seal it.

Ole Miss was 28-of-55, 51 percent, from the field and won the battle of boards, 36-32. New Mexico was 27-of-58 from the field and forced 13 turnovers in the final 14 minutes to help spark the belated rally.

Sox up the ante in the Santana Deal

With the Minnesota Twins insisting on center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in any trade for pitcher Johan Santana, the Red Sox have altered their offer and have told the Twins they are willing to include the outfielder.


But sources say the Red Sox have also told the Twins they will not trade left-handed pitcher Jon Lester and Ellsbury together in the package they are offering.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have informed the Twins that they are going to pull their offer off the table soon -- perhaps by Tuesday at the latest -- unless they get an answer. The Yankees changed their offer on Friday, adding pitcher Phil Hughes after much internal debate, to go along with Melky Cabrera and a third prospect.

The Yankees have told the Twins they will not give them one of their top prospects as the third player in their offer -- not pitchers Ian Kennedy or Alan Horne, or outfielder Austin Jackson, for example.

It's possible that the Twins may find that the offers from Boston and the Yankees are not acceptable, and decide, ultimately, to keep Santana. But executives involved in the trade talks fully expect that the Twins will trade Santana, and that they will make a decision within the next 72 hours on what offer they prefer. If either the Yankees or the Red Sox were to pull out of negotiations, the Twins' leverage would be greatly diminished.

What the choice for Minnesota may come down to, in the end, is this: Do they prefer Phil Hughes as the centerpiece player in a deal, or Ellsbury?

If the Twins do agree to a tentative deal, Santana must still agree to waive his no-trade clause, and in order to do that, Santana likely will ask for a six-year extension worth something in the range of a $150 million; he would become the first pitcher ever to sign for a multiyear deal for at least $20 million a year.

The Red Sox included Ellsbury in one of their proposals a week ago, but the Twins asked the Red Sox for two players among the group of three prospects -- Ellsbury, Lester and pitcher Clay Buchholz. Boston then offered Lester, center fielder Coco Crisp, minor league shortstop Jed Lowrie and a minor league pitcher.

The Twins have continued to ask for Ellsbury, so the Red Sox have flipped Ellsbury back into their offer, sources say, while removing Lester, and upgraded slightly the rest of their proposed package slightly -- perhaps to include right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson. Presumably, any offer with Ellsbury would not include Crisp.

Ellsbury, 24, played in 33 games for the Red Sox this year, hitting .353 with three homers and 18 RBI, with a .509 slugging percentage and nine stolen bases.

The Mets, Mariners, Dodgers and Angels are among the other teams with which the Twins have talked about Santana.

Katie's Take on Saturday's Events

Twenty four days before Christmas, in a state in the south,
Les Miles was pissed as he opened his mouth.
"Miles to Michigan," was reported as fact.
To which Miles responded, "Herbie you don't know jack!"

The Tigers had suffered a gut wrenching loss,
At the hands of McFadden and the rest of the hogs.
And Bo in his sweatshirt, and Miles in his Hat.
Were determined to prove they were better than that!

When the Tennessee Vols ran out on the field,
There were ruckus applause from the mentally ill.
Still in the locker room, Les told his team,
"This season ain't over. We still have a dream."

The hurt throwing arm of QB Matt Flynn
Meant Ryan was the man they put their faith in.
Then the fans all heard, what Les said in the Dome.
"I ain't goin' anywhere. I'm happy. I'm Home!"

The fans were still thinking "This might be a trick."
'til someone pointed out "Hey, this guy ain't Nick!"
The Hat took the field for this championship game,
And he brought all his Tigers, and called them by name;

"Now, Hester! Now, Early! Now, Highsmith and Putt!
Let's let 'er rip and shut these guys up!
Take to the field! And give it your all!
Then later we'll watch numbers 1 & 2 fall."

The fans still weren't sure as to what team would show,
The Virginia Tech game seemed like so long ago.
But there in the stands, the fans they did cheer,
As Perrilloux played his game of the year.

While out in Ar-Kansas, the hogs claimed the boot,
The tigers were focused on far better loot.
With the game knotted up, Ainge threw a quick out
But Zenon was ready and took six to the house.

He wore a LSU jacket, and a white turtle neck,
The same as he wore when his team beat La Tech.
With the hat on his head, and a childish grin,
Miles put his team in the title picture again.

His smile-how it widened! as Pitt won its game!
He cheered Oklahoma, when it did the same.
The stars were aligning, it couldn't be true.
Turns out Miles WAS destined, to play O-S-U.

With a month to prepare and a month to heal up,
We're all pretty sure which team will show up.
He ain't going to Michigan, and we're sure of that.
But Tressel and the Buckeyes should still Fear the Hat.

On December first, he called L-S-U home.
Then set up the Tigers, to play again in the Dome.
It soon will be legend, how Les started that day,
"Can't talk now. . . . I'm busy. . . . [Y'all] have a GREAT day!"