<
>

Foulke signs three-year deal with Red Sox

NEW ORLEANS -- With Keith Foulke in their bullpen, the Boston Red Sox won't have to spend most of this season casting about for a closer.

"We're thrilled to have added one of the elite pitchers in
baseball," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said Saturday
after signing Foulke.

Foulke has incentives that would pay him up to $26.5 million if
he is the regular Red Sox closer for the next four years. If both
sides decline the 2007 option, Foulke would get a total of about
$20.75 million and become a free agent for '07.

"We couldn't be happier to have added Keith Foulke and Curt
Schilling in the same offseason," Epstein said. "We've added two
of the best pitchers in baseball. That was one of the weaknesses of
our club last year."

The moves come a year after the Red Sox opted to go into the
season without a traditional closer. They eventually traded for
Byung-Hyun Kim but then he lost the job; Scott Williamson later
moved into the role and pitched well in the postseason before
manager Grady Little bypassed him in the seventh game of the AL
championship series against the New York Yankees.

Epstein said it wasn't that the team didn't need a closer; he
just didn't want to overpay for someone who didn't fit the role.
On Saturday, he found his man.

"Going without a proven closer last year ... was a result of
not having that guy out there," Epstein said. "We acquired Keith
Foulke because we think he's one of the best pitchers in baseball.
It's certainly better to have one of those than not to have one of
those."

Actually, now the Red Sox have two of those.

"It was a solid team before they added Curt Schilling. That
really showed their commitment to winning," Foulke said, adding
that the chance to join a well-stocked Boston roster was one reason
he chose the Red Sox over his old team, Oakland, which was his only
other suitor.

"I want to be a winner before I go out," the 31-year-old
right-hander said. "I can't imagine a better place to be than
Boston the next three or four years."

Also Saturday, Epstein said that he began negotiations with
Pedro Martinez's agent on a contract extension. Martinez is in the
final year of a deal that will pay him $17.5 million for 2004, and
he has acknowledged that the market could require him to take a pay
cut.

Epstein also said he is working on an extension for shortstop
Nomar Garciaparra, who is in the final year of his deal.
Garciaparra has been the subject of trade rumors as the Red Sox
discussed a deal that would send outfielder Manny Ramirez to Texas
for shortstop -- and AL MVP -- Alex Rodriguez.

Those talks have cooled, as Boston balked at eating a large
portion of Ramirez's salary in addition to the $179 remaining on
Rodriguez's.

"Our priority at the shortstop position is to sign Nomar to a
deal that makes sense for both sides," Epstein said. "Those talks
are ongoing."

Foulke was 9-1 with 43 saves and a 2.08 ERA for Oakland last
season, when he earned $6 million. He has 143 saves in a career
that started with San Francisco in 1997; he was traded to the
Chicago White Sox later that season and went to Oakland for the
2003 season.

"I think his importance goes beyond the numbers," said Red Sox
manager Terry Francona, who was a coach with Foulke and the A's
last season and commended his ability to pitch multiple innings and
on back-to-back days. "He does a lot of those things better than
the numbers show."

Ironically, it was Foulke who blew Oakland's lead with four outs
to go in the fourth game of the first-round playoff series against
the Red Sox. Boston won in five games and advanced to the AL
championship series against the New York Yankees.

The Red Sox lost a chance to go to the World Series when Little
opted to stay with Martinez in the eighth inning of the seventh
game rather than rely on his bullpen.

Signing Foulke means the Red Sox are unlikely to making any
other moves that mean adding a lot of salary, Epstein said. Boston
is still looking for a second baseman.

"There won't be any significant investments in our near
future," Epstein said. "We'll find some inexpensive solutions at
second base and on the bench."

Asked whether he liked the look of his team, he said: "I like
it a lot unless they hit it to second base."