LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) – George W. Bush is the POTUS. Bill Belichick was, briefly, the H.C. of the N.Y.J.

And now Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez is an E.P.P. – an “elite position player” whose name is never mentioned by Boston general manager Theo Epstein when he meets with reporters, even though it has dominated his trade talks with other teams.

“We’re not going to trade elite position players without getting fair value,” Epstein insisted, adopting a code that later morphed into the suitable-for-text-messaging E.P.P. “We’ve proven that in the past when we’ve walked away from deals for elite guys and gotten consistent performance out of those players.”

Like the elephant in the room that no one dared to mention, Ramirez’s name never passed through Epstein’s lips as he tried, gamely, to help reporters out without tipping his hand too much. Instead, he made the potential Hall of Famer a player to be unnamed – a man who needs no introduction, like the President of the United States, or the Head Coach of the New York Jets.

Good Old What’s His Name.

“There’s a certain trade market for elite position players,” Epstein said, adding that he would actively explore that market until Wednesday before moving on to other things.

“It’s not going to take up much of the team’s time (after that). We’ll only be listeners. You can’t spend all your time on elite position players.”

One thing that’s changed in this round of Ramirez talks is that other teams aren’t asking the Red Sox to eat part of the $38 million left on the last two years of the eight-year, $160 million contract he signed in the winter of 2000.

With deals such as the ones Carlos Lee (six years, $100 million) and Gary Matthews Jr. (five years, $50 million) got, Ramirez’s deal is more appropriately priced.

“In this market, teams are not batting an eye about taking on salary,” Epstein said.

“Teams trading for salaries, even large salaries, haven’t been an issue in this market. That’s different than previous years.”

Epstein stressed that he is not setting an absolute deadline for cutting off trade talks. Instead, he is recognizing that after three days of trying to trade Ramirez – actually, it’s been more like three years – he will have likely “fleshed out every opportunity.”

“I didn’t say a ‘drop-dead date,”‘ he repeated. “I just said at some point we shift our attention to other things. … After Wednesday, we want to have a clear purpose.”

And it’s not like the Red Sox don’t have other things to worry about.

They have to sign Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka, for whom they bid $51.11 million just to be able to talk to him. They don’t have a shortstop or a second baseman or a right fielder or a backup catcher.

Epstein gave Matsuzaka the Manny treatment, declining to say whether talks were on hold during the winter meetings. He said he hasn’t ruled out a return for right fielder Trot Nixon and second baseman Mark Loretta, free agents not offered arbitration by the team.

Shortstop could be manned by Alex Cora or prospect Dustin Pedroia, a natural shortstop who has been playing second base in the minors; or someone new could be brought in.

Epstein expressed confidence that Mike Timlin would bounce back from shoulder problems and be a valuable setup man, but the team still needs a closer because Keith Foulke is gone and Jonathan Papelbon is moving into the rotation.

Manager Terry Francona “definitely believes in defined roles once you start the season,” Epstein said about the need for a closer. “But he’s not opposed to some competitive aspects to spring training. We changed closers the first series of the year last year, and it worked out OK.”

As for the rumors that usually circulate in the hotel lobby at these functions, Epstein started off by telling reporters, “Everything you’ve heard is false.”

AP-ES-12-04-06 2120EST

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.