Epstein asking a lot for Ramirez

Sox driving hard bargain for Manny

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Out of respect for privacy and protocol, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein never likes to mention players who might be on the trading block. So in the case of star slugger Manny Ramirez -- who is perpetually on the market, it seems -- Epstein developed a clever code when discussing the status of the left fielder with reporters on Monday's opening day of the Winter Meetings.

"There's definitely an active trade market for elite position players, but there's only so many to go around," said Epstein. "Our perspective in the past has been we're not going to trade elite position players without getting fair value. We've proven that in the past. We've walked away from deals for elite guys and gotten consistent performance out of those players. That's still the dynamic now."

In other words, Epstein will not trade said elite position player -- i.e., Ramirez -- without substantial compensation in return.

Epstein also set an unofficial deadline for trading his high-profile elite position player. If Ramirez is going to get traded this winter, it will likely happen here at these Winter Meetings.

"Realistically," said Epstein. "I mean, everyone is leaving Thursday and it's taken up a good deal of our time. I think once we get beyond that, we'll be confident that we've flushed through every opportunity and we can always listen. [After Wednesday], it's not going to take up much of the team's time and energy, and at that point, we'll strictly be listeners."

Epstein wants to have a clear vision as he proceeds through the remainder of the offseason. And obviously, it makes a huge difference whether or not Ramirez's dangerous bat is stationed behind perennial MVP candidate David Ortiz.

"At some point, you can't let it get in the way of other things you're trying to do," Epstein said. "There's also the free-agent market and there's also pitching. You can't spend all your time on elite position players."

With speculation rampant about what Ramirez's fate will be, the market for his services remained muddled. The Dodgers sent out signals that the Red Sox were asking too much in the way of prospects to strike a deal for Ramirez. The Padres, according to sources, indicated that they were out of the running.

What about the Giants and Mariners? Both of those teams have been mentioned in passing, and there was additional talk that the Nationals could enter the mix as a third party.

Whatever the case, nothing seemed to be imminent with regard to the future Hall of Fame slugger.

"At the Winter Meetings, there are always interesting names tossed around," said Epstein. "But there hasn't been anything on the 5-yard line today. Any time you talk about trades or free agency, there's always a process involved. It's not linear, it doesn't go right from A to B."

Even as Epstein seeks to find closure with Ramirez's situation, he continues to pursue other fronts, such as his vacancies at closer, shortstop and right field.

"After Wednesday, we want to have clear purpose. It's not limiting the other things we're doing to a large extent," said Epstein. "We're active on all fronts. Of course it's taking up a certain percentage of our time. We'll feel like we've flushed out the major trade market at some point come midnight on Wednesday and move on."

Epstein was asked if he was surprised that, at least at this point, he hasn't been able to attract full value for one of the great run producers of the last decade.

"Nothing amazes me that occurs at the Winter Meetings," said Epstein. "This is nothing new. We've had a great offense the last several years and we're happy with the players who have been a part of it, but it doesn't mean you don't look around."

The Red Sox did talk to the Brewers about Derrick Turnbow, who had a horrific second half and lost his closer's job. Free agent Eric Gagne, the former star who has been riddled with injuries of late, also could draw interest from the Sox.

"Those are certainly the most affordable," Epstein said of relievers who are coming off injuries or a poor season. "In this market, if you're going to pay for any type of proven performance or recent performance, it can get really expensive. If a guy has proven performance, but it was a couple of years ago, sometimes they're a little bit more attractive in this market."

Meanwhile, there was nothing new to report on free-agent outfielder J.D. Drew, who is, according to various media accounts, close to striking a deal with the Red Sox.

"[I] haven't talked to any agents for free agents that we've really been pursuing," said Epstein. "We haven't finalized anything yet. That will probably be more tomorrow or the next day."

Julio Lugo remains on Boston's radar at shortstop, but he might not be the only alternative.

Epstein said he was looking at "one free agent" at short, but also pursuing some trades.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.