Notes: Pena, Red Sox finalize contract

Notes: Pena, Red Sox finalize contract

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In extending his streak of avoiding arbitration to five years, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein needed a proverbial buzzer-beater before agreeing to terms with outfielder Wily Mo Pena on a one-year contract.

The deal was signed just hours before Friday afternoon's scheduled arbitration hearing.

"We reached a last-minute settlement with Wily Mo on the courthouse steps," quipped Epstein. "It's a one-year deal and we're certainly very happy to reach the agreement. We were very well prepared. Reaching an agreement with a player is a positive step. Both sides are satisfied and ready to start the year."

During the arbitration process, the Red Sox offered Pena $1.75 million, while the outfielder countered at $2.2 million.

Pena, though plagued by injuries, hit .301 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs in 2006. The biggest challenge the Red Sox have regarding Pena is getting the right-handed slugger enough at-bats in 2007 to keep his development on the upswing.

Manager Terry Francona would like to get Pena 400 at-bats, using him as a roving backup at all three outfield spots.

"Our responsibility will be to find him enough at-bats where he can be productive," Francona said. "I'm confident we can do that."

Epstein, who has received his share of criticism for trading Bronson Arroyo to the Reds for Pena, is confident that the deal will prove to be a positive one in time.

"We're very committed to him and his development," Epstein said of Pena. "Just like last year, there are two goals for him. We want to continue his development to become more of a complete player so he can ultimately reach his ceiling, which is tremendous. At the same time, he's got to contribute to us winning ballgames. He's a little bit farther down the line than he was last year.

"He went out, made some adjustments, hit .300, battled through some injuries. I think he showed that he can help us win games."

Lester's schedule: Left-hander Jon Lester, recovered from cancer, looks good and feels strong at the outset of camp. What kind of schedule will Lester be on this spring?

"He will be mainstreamed into the program from the start," said pitching coach John Farrell. "We will adjust according to his stamina, his durability and the guidance from the medical staff."

Francona emphasized that the Red Sox will do whatever is best for Lester's overall health.

"Our most important aspect out of this whole thing is our caring for him," said Francona. "That's what we're going to make very obvious to him when we speak to him. That's what we care about."

Lester is definitely the feel-good story of camp.

"I think he's an example for all of us," said Farrell. "We get caught up in our own individual pursuit or what we aspire to as a group, but when you see someone overcome those types of challenges, it says a lot about Jon -- not only the person, but his character as well."

Foulke's legacy safe: Keith Foulke, perhaps the most underrated hero for the Red Sox during their historic 2004 postseason run, announced his retirement on Friday. Foulke had signed a one-year deal with the Indians and was going to battle for their closer's job.

However, right elbow pain convinced Foulke to shut it down.

Though his last two years in Boston were a struggle, to say the least, Foulke's heroics in 2004 should not be forgotten.

"We don't win without him in '04," said Francona. "I know Manny [Ramirez] was the [World Series] MVP, very deserved. Foulkey pitched way more innings than was realistically expected of a guy and didn't give up any runs. His willingness to pitch in games, whether it was the seventh inning or the 17th inning, [was huge]."

During the 2004 postseason, Foulke allowed one run in 14 innings. The Red Sox snapped an 86-year World Series championship drought, with Foulke inducing the clinching out off the bat of Edgar Renteria.

Mean and lean: Though star designated hitter David Ortiz has yet to report to camp, Francona hinted that the slugger might be a little harder to spot this year.

"He's in very good shape," said Francona "He lost some weight and got firmer."

Another player who took off some pounds is second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who is expected to crack the starting lineup as a rookie.

"He ended up trying to put on weight and he didn't necessarily put on the right kind of weight last year, and then the shoulder problem right off the bat really limited him in his general conditioning," Epstein said of Pedroia. "From all the reports from our medical people, he's lost weight, he's got the right kind of lean muscle, he looks to be in great shape and he's prepared himself for a long season."

Closing thoughts: Who is your closer? That was the succinct question posed to Farrell by a New York scribe. If only the answer was that simple.

"We haven't actually anointed a closer, as we sit here today," said Farrell. "Certainly, there are candidates with Mike Timlin, Joel Pineiro, Brendan Donnelly or Julian Tavarez. I think we look at that core of four right-handed relievers as pitchers that will pitch the majority of late innings in a given game. I think as we get through camp, we've got that group targeted, and an ultimate decision in establishing a closer will come out of that."

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