ORLANDO, Fla.- The World Series champion Boston Red Sox still aren’t sure whether they will start next season with a two-game series in Tokyo against the Oakland Athletics.

Baseball officials said they hope for a decision by the owners’ meetings next week, if not sooner. With Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, the Red Sox would be an attractive draw in Japan. Major League Baseball and the players’ union have worked since late July on trying to put together a trip involving the Red Sox and A’s.

“We don’t know if we’re going or not,” Boston general manager Theo Epstein said Wednesday. “Player approval will be a factor, and club approval. They’re going to be sensitive to the desires of our players, as we will be.”

Red Sox management also would have to approve the trip. “It’s my understanding that that’s pending, as well,” Epstein said.

The Chicago Cubs and New York Mets started the 2000 season with a two-game series in Tokyo, and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays opened the 2004 season with two games in Japan. A 2003 series between Seattle and Oakland at the Tokyo Dome was scrapped because of the threat of war in Iraq.

“I think we’re very close,” said Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer. “Discussions are fluid.”

DuPuy said the remaining issues were “logistics and commitment.”

Clemens set to retire?

ORLANDO, Fla. – Roger Clemens is ready to join the Houston Astros – as a consultant.

In a sign that Clemens’ pitching career could be over, his agent told the Astros on Wednesday that the seven-time Cy Young winner is set to start his personal-services contract with the team.

“He’s moving toward retirement and leaving open the possibility of playing,” agent Randy Hendricks said. “As Roger has stated several times, he’s failed at retirement repeatedly.”

Hendricks sent Astros owner Drayton McLane an e-mail informing him of the decision. This was the first time Hendricks formally told Houston that Clemens was ready to work off the field.

Astros send Lidge to Phillies in 5-player trade

ORLANDO, Fla. – Closer Brad Lidge was traded by the Houston Astros to the Philadelphia Phillies along with infielder Eric Bruntlett on Wednesday night in the first deal of the general managers’ meetings.

In exchange for Lidge and Bruntlett, the Astros got outfielder Michael Bourn, right-hander Geoff Geary and minor league third baseman Mike Costanzo.

The 30-year-old Lidge was 5-3 with 19 saves in 27 chances for the Astros last year. He struggled to close out games but held batters to a .218 average and averaged 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

Philadelphia intends to move Brett Myers, who had been their closer, back into the starting rotation. Bruntlett hit .246 with 14 RBIs last season, seeing time at shortstop, third base and the outfield.

Bourn batted .277 as a rookie this year with one homer, six RBIs and 18 steals, and Geary was 3-2 with a 4.41 ERA with the Phillies. Costano, 24, batted .270 with 27 homers and 86 RBIs at Double-A Reading.


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