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Notes: Foulke could still return

Notes: Foulke could still return

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Though Keith Foulke seemed to end his time in Boston when he didn't exercise the player option on his contract last month, there remains at least a chance that the 2004 World Series hero could return to the Red Sox.

Dan Horwits, who represents Foulke, said that the right-hander is currently being courted by about five teams. Foulke has expressed a desire to pitch closer to his home in Phoenix, but that is no certainty at this point.

"He's got geographic issues," said Horwits. "That narrows the focus a little bit. He might have to branch it out. I wouldn't rule a return to Boston out either, as odd as that might sound. We'll see."

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Foulke was offered arbitration by the Red Sox last week, a somewhat surprising development. However, the club did that mainly so it could get a draft pick as compensation, presuming the Type B free agent signs elsewhere.

"If we offer arbitration to a player, we're certainly comfortable with him accepting or we realize that we'll get a pick in next year's draft," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "Either way, it's something we're going to talk about. I think there needs to be further discussion before he would contemplate coming back here. There's a lot of unanswered questions that need to be answered through discussion."

Horwits confirmed that he did have a meeting planned with Epstein to discuss not just Foulke, but also reliever Octavio Dotel, another former closer who has battled injuries.

With Foulke coming off two injury-riddled and ineffective seasons, he'd likely do better on the open market than have an arbiter determine his salary for 2007.

"I would think not," said Horwits, when asked if Foulke would accept arbitration. "That's not a final answer, but I would think not. I wouldn't rule a return to Boston out either, as odd as that might sound. We'll see."

Foulke has until Thursday to tell the Red Sox whether he will accept arbitration. But even if he declines, the club could continue to negotiate with him for as long as it wants.

Timlin, Tito meet up: Red Sox manager Terry Francona is using the Winter Meetings as a chance to meet with some of his players who live in the Orlando area. Tim Wakefield was seen milling the lobby of the Winter Meetings headquarters. Francona and new pitching coach John Farrell also met with Mike Timlin.

Epstein indicated that the Red Sox put Timlin on a regimented program this winter with the goal of getting a healthier and more effective pitcher than the guy who struggled mightily in the second half of last year.

"Mike is really getting after it with his offseason conditioning program, with his shoulder program," said Epstein. "He seems to be in great shape. He seems to understand the importance of coming into Spring Training in great shape and with a very strong shoulder."

Though Timlin turns 41 in March, Epstein is confident that the sinkerball specialist still has plenty left in the tank.

"He's been here for 8 half-seasons and seven of them have been outstanding," said Epstein. "When you come to learn that he was really struggling with some short-term health issues during the half-season he wasn't effective, he deserves the benefit of the doubt -- especially when you have solid arms behind him."

Talks with Trot: Though it remains likely that Trot Nixon's time with the Red Sox is over, Epstein is keeping the lines of communication open with the veteran right fielder and agent Ron Shapiro.

"We have made every attempt to stay in good contact, regular contact, with his agent," said Epstein. "We think that Trot, for all that he's done here, definitely deserves to know where he stands. I hope Ron would say that we've done a good job of keeping him informed. One of the things we've told him is that never rule anything out. Offseasons take twists and turns, and we pledged to continue to stay in good touch."

Pedroia's job? Though Dustin Pedroia is certainly the favorite to be Boston's starting second baseman in 2007, Epstein indicated that the diminutive prospect will have to earn it.

"I think he's ready to earn an opportunity," said Epstein. "He still needs to show up in Spring Training in great shape, having worked hard this winter, and play well. But certainly I think, if he earns it and he's given the opportunity, that he has a chance to do some good things. He can contribute to a winning team."

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

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