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It’s Free Agent Crunch Time

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox might be able to wait, but for many other teams, it's decision time.

Spring training is often the final opportunity for teams to engage in contract talks with their upcoming free agents. If no deal is consummated by opening day, agents say, players are more likely to test the market in November.

And that market in nine months could be deep if teams don't take swift action.

The Yankees have all-time greats Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as potential free agents. The Red Sox could lose All-Stars Josh Beckett and Victor Martinez. And other notable players include Seattle Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee, Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Carl Crawford and Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer.

"We've got talented guys that we'd like to keep around," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. "We're not going to (publicly) talk about it. The more you talk about your free agents-to-be, the less likely you are to get a deal done."

The Red Sox are likely to open negotiations this spring with Beckett and Martinez, while the Yankees will stick to their policy and won't discuss contracts until after the season. But both teams have the money to pursue their free agents in the offseason.

Many other teams could have to trade pending free agents during the season if they are not in contention.

"You're weighing the potential of draft picks vs. the potential of what you get back in a trade," said Cleveland Indians GM Mark Shapiro, who traded CC Sabathia and Lee the last two years before each reached free agency. "If you're in contention, even taking the gamble of signing them later."

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