<
>

Red Sox keep Wakefield, but will Mirabelli be back?

BOSTON -- Tim Wakefield is looking forward to his 13th
season with the Boston Red Sox, with or without his favorite
catcher.

The club exercised its $4 million option on the knuckleballer on
Monday, two days after Doug Mirabelli, who handled the fluttering
pitch for most of the last five seasons, filed for free agency.

"I'd love to see him back but I understand the organization's
standpoint," Wakefield said during a conference call. "I'm open
to anyone else who's going to be back there."

General manager Theo Epstein was noncommittal about Mirabelli, a
light hitter with a knack for catching the knuckler. The Red Sox
also have Jason Varitek, who usually sat out every fifth game so
Mirabelli could catch Wakefield. Another possibility is George
Kottaras, acquired late in the season from San Diego for pitcher
David Wells.

"I'm sure we'll continue to talk" with Mirabelli's
representative, Epstein said. "We want to find the catcher who's
the best fit for the Boston Red Sox to back up Jason, whether it's
Doug or somebody else."

Wakefield spent from July 22 to Sept. 13 on the disabled list
with a stress fracture in his ribcage. He finished the season at
7-11 with a 4.63 ERA in 23 starts. For his career he is 151-134 in
480 games over two seasons with Pittsburgh and 12 with Boston.

Early in the 2005 season, Wakefield agreed to a $4 million,
one-year contract extension through 2006 that gave the Red Sox the
ability to keep their longest-tenured player for the rest of his
career. The team can keep renewing his contract annually at the
same salary.

"I want to pitch as long as my body will let me," he said.

The Red Sox have three pitchers who will be 40 years old when
spring training starts -- Mike Timlin, Wakefield and Curt Schilling.

They'll work with new pitching coach John Farrell, who took over
after Dave Wallace's contract was not renewed. Wakefield doesn't
know Farrell personally but spoke with him for about 45 minutes.

"I'm going to miss Wally but I think John brings a lot to the
table," Wakefield said. "It seems like he has a lot of passion
for the staff that's going to be assembled."

Wakefield also said he was feeling "a lot better" and that
time was "the cure-all" for his rib injury. He plans to resume
throwing in early December. The Red Sox have to make sure someone
can catch him.

Boston had traded Mirabelli to San Diego for second baseman Mark
Loretta after the 2005 season. They reacquired him on May 1 in a
trade that sent Josh Bard to the Padres after Bard had 10 passed
balls in Wakefield's first four starts.

"I don't know if we would do anything different" in preparing
a new catcher to handle his knuckler, Wakefield said. Bard "tried
probably harder than anybody I've ever had back there."

Epstein also formally announced the signing of Timlin to a
one-year contract for his fifth season with Boston. Timlin had
agreed to a $2.8 million, incentive-laden deal during the World
Series.

Timlin was 6-6 with a 4.36 ERA and nine saves in 17 chances in
68 games. The right-hander spent part of May and June on the
disabled list with a strained right shoulder.

"We need to do everything we can to protect his arm now that
he's going to be 41 and try to learn from what happened this season
and take preventative measures" against another injury, Epstein
said.