BOSTON (AP) – The Boston Red Sox will not exercise their $7.5 million option on reliever Keith Foulke, the star closer on their 2004 World Series championship team who struggled with injuries and inconsistency the past two seasons.

Foulke has until Friday to exercise his $3.75 million option for 2007. If he doesn’t, he gets a $1.5 million buyout from the Red Sox.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said Tuesday the team has spoken with the agent for Foulke, who was guaranteed $20.25 million over three years. Foulke, signed as a free agent after going 9-1 with 43 saves and a 2.08 ERA for Oakland in 2003, was 5-3 with 32 saves and a 2.17 ERA in 2004. He finished all four games of Boston’s sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Burdened by knee problems in 2005, he was 5-5 with 15 saves and a 5.91 ERA. He began last season as Boston’s closer, a job he quickly lost to rookie Jonathan Papelbon. Limited by elbow and back injuries, Foulke was 3-1 with no saves and a 4.35 ERA.

Papelbon had 35 saves and an 0.92 ERA before a sore shoulder ended his season on Sept. 1. He’s slated to enter the rotation next season. Epstein said his shoulder is fine and he’s on his normal offseason program.

Epstein also said he would try to pick up a closer through a trade or free agency and could lay the groundwork for a deal at the general managers’ meetings in Naples, Fla., next Monday through Friday.

Julian Tavarez, who pitched very well when injuries forced him into a starter’s role late in the season, will be slotted as a setup man.

“He really opened some eyes with his performance as a starter late in the year,” Epstein said. “More than likely, we’ll acquire a starting pitcher and Julian will be back in the setup role in the bullpen (but) that newfound versatility is something that’s very valuable.”

One possibility for a new starter is Daisuke Matsuzaka, the MVP of last year’s World Baseball Classic with Japan. All major league teams have until Wednesday to submit bids for Matsuzaka, who played for the Seibu Lions of the Pacific Coast League. The Lions have until Nov. 14 to decide whether to accept the highest bid.

Epstein said the Red Sox probably have more offseason needs than in the past few years: a starter, two relievers, a right fielder, backup catcher, shortstop and bench players. They still could keep three of last year’s starting players – shortstop Alex Gonzalez, second baseman Mark Loretta and right fielder Trot Nixon – who are free agents.

The Red Sox also announced the appointment of former Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina as baseball operations consultant, and Double-A Portland manager Todd Claus as major league advance scout.

AP-ES-11-07-06 1749EST

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.