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Originally published Tuesday, December 5, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Manny talk raises Mariners profile

Nothing like a little Manny Ramirez action to get the Mariners on the radar screen at the baseball winter meetings. Mariners general manager Bill...

Seattle Times staff reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. — Nothing like a little Manny Ramirez action to get the Mariners on the radar screen at the baseball winter meetings.

Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi got the rumor mill buzzing Monday when he met with the Boston Red Sox to inquire about the cost of securing the left fielder in a deal. Boston is already said to have turned off a number of teams, most notably the Los Angeles Dodgers, with its preliminary requests for top prospects in exchange for Ramirez and his eight-figure salary.

And to hear Bavasi tell it, he came away from his hour-long meeting none too impressed.

"We asked them what they want to do, they told us what they want to do," Bavasi said.

He quickly added: "They're not just trying to [dump] this guy. I would not be surprised if he didn't get moved."

Red Sox GM Theo Epstein wasn't apologizing for his hefty demands when he met with select members of the Boston media Monday.

"We're not going to trade elite position players without getting fair value," Epstein said. "We've proven that in the past when we've walked away from deals for elite guys and gotten consistent performance out of those players."

And so the first official day of the meetings, taking place at Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resort, turned out to be more hype than substance. There were some minor deals reported, as well as the Texas Rangers helping drive up the cost of free-agent pitching even further with a reported three-year, $33.75 million preliminary agreement to re-sign Vicente Padilla.

But other than that, it was mostly all talk.

The Mariners do have the types of young prospects and major-leaguers who could potentially get a Ramirez deal done. But the Red Sox are believed to be seeking something along the lines of outfielder Adam Jones, relievers J.J. Putz or Rafael Soriano, and a top minor-leaguer like catcher Jeff Clement.

Acquiring Ramirez also does little to solve Seattle's desperate need for pitching unless the Red Sox are prepared to send a starter like Matt Clement back Seattle's way. But adding Ramirez could allow the Mariners to ship out first baseman Richie Sexson — either to Boston or another team to acquire needed pitching and shed salary — without causing undo damage to an offense that appears stronger with the signing of right fielder Jose Guillen.

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There was plenty of talk in the hotel lobby here about a possible Sexson deal. The Mariners met with the Baltimore Orioles to discuss pitching — the Orioles have Adam Loewen and Hayden Penn they could offload — and Sexson's name has come up in talks between the teams before.

But Bavasi added that he has yet to seriously entertain any of the inquiries he has had about Sexson or third baseman Adrian Beltre.

"We get a lot of hits on both of them," he said. "A lot of them. But we'd like to make ourselves better, not worse."

As the Mariners explore possible trade deals, they have their eye on some of the free-agent pitchers expected to sign shortly. Padilla's new deal, which has yet to be officially announced, could prompt lefty Ted Lilly to ink a pact with someone once his agent arrives here today.

Lilly was said to be on the verge of signing a four-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. But a Cubs source denied that an offer had been made.

The Mariners have expressed interest in Lilly, but the Cubs landing him would also take Chicago out of the running for Kelso native Jason Schmidt and leave only Seattle and the Dodgers as prime suitors for the services of the former San Francisco Giants starter.

The Mariners are also reviewing the medical files of Atlanta Braves free agent John Thomson and told his agent he'll be a fallback option if they don't land their primary targets here. Thomson's agent, Chris Arnold, did not make the trip out.

The addition of Guillen also appears to have taken the Mariners out of the running for free agent Luis Gonzalez, a longtime Arizona Diamondback. Gonzalez's agent said Monday he has no meetings planned here with the Mariners.

Guillen met briefly with the media in the team's hotel suite here, just after his one-year, $5.5 million deal was officially announced. He said he's looking forward to returning to the American League West but added that it isn't about taking revenge on a Los Angeles Angels squad that suspended him for the final eight games and playoffs in 2004.

Guillen had clashed with manager Mike Scioscia after he was lifted for a pinch-runner late in a game that season. The next season, while playing for the Washington Nationals, he and Scioscia got into it verbally on the field after Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly was accused by the Washington bench of having pine tar on his glove.

After the game, Guillen quipped: "I don't really care much about Mike Scioscia. I don't have any respect for him anymore. He is a piece of garbage."

Guillen also has some fence-mending to do with Mariners pitcher Jarrod Washburn. While playing for the Angels in 2004, Washburn was outspoken in his support of the team's decision to suspend Guillen.

Mariners manager Mike Hargrove apparently telephoned Washburn before the Guillen signing to give him a heads-up. Washburn told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that he doesn't feel there will be a clubhouse issue with him and his new teammate.

"Probably not," he said. "I'm sure it's something we'll both have to address right away. We'll have to clear the air, move on and go about our business."

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com

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