BOSTON (AP) – The Red Sox aren’t waiting until they get to Florida next week to start plugging the holes in their roster.

“We might have something done before the winter meetings with one free agent,” general manager Theo Epstein said.

Although Epstein declined to identify the player, the Red Sox are known to be pursuing former Dodgers outfielder J.D. Drew. Drew’s agent, Scott Boras, has said he expects to wrap up negotiations for a deal by the end of the week.

Boston again is expected to be one of the more active teams when the meetings start in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Monday. The Red Sox are shopping outfielder Manny Ramirez, and they are also negotiating with Boras for Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka; Boston already bid $51,111,111 for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka.

“We have made an offer. I don’t want to go too much more into it,” Epstein said. “It is important to maintain a quiet and calm environment, if possible. That’s to the benefit of both parties.”

Epstein also sidestepped questions on Ramirez, but the GM did say the team’s biggest hole as he approached the meetings was the bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon, who saved 35 games last season before shutting down with shoulder problems, will move to the rotation in an effort to stay healthy.

That leaves Boston looking for a closer.

“We’ve had a lot of talks about trades for a closer,” Epstein said during a conference call. “We’ve dabbled in free agency, but haven’t gotten anything done yet. Our bullpen will look a lot different on opening day than it does now.”

The GM relayed reports from Papelbon that his recovery is going well.

“All the reports from him are that his shoulder feels terrific,” Epstein said. “He feels strong and is speaking in superlatives about his shoulder.”

Epstein missed last year’s meetings during his six-week hiatus from the Boston front office. He’s back now, and looking forward to the trip.

“Being a general manager isn’t always about sitting back and being able to find players to make up your team,” he said. “It’s almost refreshing when you get to a venue where you know you can get things done. It’s an exciting time, something we work all year in anticipation of.”

The Red Sox also announced Wednesday that David Ortiz won his third consecutive Thomas A. Yawkey Award as the team’s Most Valuable Player, as voted on by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Ortiz is to receive his award at the 68th Boston BBWAA Awards Dinner on Jan. 11.

Ortiz led the AL with a 54 home runs, breaking Jimmie Foxx’s franchise record, and 137 RBIs. Mo Vaughn (1993-96) and Roger Clemens (1990-92) were also Red Sox MVPs for three or more straight seasons.

Also Wednesday, the Red Sox announced that former second baseman Luis Alicea will be the first base coach. Alicea, 40, managed in the Class A level of Boston’s minor league system for three seasons and worked in the Arizona Fall League this fall.

Alicea played 13 seasons in the majors with St. Louis, Boston, Anaheim, Texas and Kansas City, batting .260 with 47 homers and 422 RBIs.

“He’s really developed himself as a staff member during his three years,” Epstein said. “He’s an ideal fit with what we were looking for with a first base and infield coach.”

AP-ES-11-29-06 1701EST


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