BOSTON -- The Red Sox, according to a baseball source, remain in a holding pattern on Josh Hamilton, the free-agent outfielder who reportedly has designs on a long-term contract of at least six years.

He won’t get a deal of that length from the Red Sox, but Boston officials will remain in the mix for Hamilton as long as the possibility, however slim, exists that he could be had for a shorter deal.

Hamilton’s former team, the Texas Rangers, would still appear the most likely landing spot for Hamilton, whose chances of returning to Texas probably increased when the Rangers failed in their attempt to sign free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke, who became the highest-paid right-handed pitcher ever with a six-year, $147 million deal from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Rangers, however, have been connected to trade speculation involving Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, and appear committed to adding another starting pitcher. Hamilton reportedly has told the Rangers that he will give them a chance to match any offer he receives from another team before he signs, but so far, at least, Texas has not felt obligated to offer Hamilton the six years (or more) he is seeking.

The Red Sox went into the winter meetings with a strategy of offering Hamilton no more than a three-year deal, but perhaps with an average annual value commensurate with the highest-paid players in the game. Think $25 million per and up, and you get the idea.

But a baseball source said Monday night that he thought it “doubtful” that the Sox could sign Hamilton for fewer than four years.

The Seattle Mariners have been identified as a Hamilton suitor, but other teams could jump in if it becomes apparent he won’t get the long-term deal he wants. The Yankees and Phillies have both been suggested as teams that could get involved with the 2010 American League MVP.

Boston’s fallback plan if Hamilton can not be procured is unclear. GM Ben Cherington has said he would like to add another left-handed hitter at either first base or in the outfield, which suggests that switch-hitting Nick Swisher could be a potential option, since he plays both positions. Swisher also is seeking a long-term deal, which would be problematic for the Sox, who could explore the trade market for a cheaper alternative.

The longest of long shots is that the Red Sox take another run at Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, even though he has six years left on his deal, meaning the Sox would have to make an exception to their stated philosophy. Twins GM Terry Ryan said he would be open to listening to offers for three-time batting champion Mauer, who like the newly acquired Mike Napoli could split time between catcher and first base.
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