The Boston Red Sox are not required to trade Manny Ramirez. Ramirez doesn't have to accept a trade. Other teams don't have to meet the Red Sox' demands for Ramirez. So why does seemingly everyone patrolling the lobbies and hallways of the Anatole Hotel at baseball's winter meetings believe the mercurial slugger will be dealt this week, or soon thereafter?

Because the Red Sox want to get out from under Ramirez's massive contract -- which was signed at this very hotel five years ago -- not to mention his baggage. Because Ramirez badly wants out of Boston. And because, in the weakest free agent market in recent memory, Ramirez is by far the most attractive player available at the sport's annual shopping spree.

At various points this week, Ramirez has been rumored to be heading to the New York Mets, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Angels. At this point, the likeliest scenario appears to be a three-way deal whereby Ramirez would go to the Angels, Arizona corner-infield slugger Troy Glaus would go to Boston, and a mixture of Los Angeles and Boston prospects and young big leaguers would go to the Diamondbacks.

"We are doing," Red Sox President Larry Lucchino told reporters Tuesday, "what we said we'd do -- actively exploring trade possibilities [to] get [Ramirez] on a team and in a city where he is more comfortable, and to get fair value in return."

The Red Sox have indicated they may be willing to eat somewhere around $10 million of the remaining $57 million owed to Ramirez over the next three seasons. However, the concept of "fair" value -- both in terms of dollars and prospects -- has been difficult to define for Ramirez, who has averaged nearly 41 homers a season over the last eight years.

"You're not going to get value in any way, shape or form," said Red Sox senior adviser Bill Lajoie.

The proposed three-way deal, which did not appear to be anywhere close to completion Tuesday night -- and, in fact, has been rumored to be dead several times -- nonetheless makes sense on several levels.

Ramirez, who reportedly has threatened to go AWOL if the Red Sox fail to trade him, likely would accept a move to the Angels. The Red Sox, who are reluctant to get rid of their perennial MVP candidate, would recoup at least some of Ramirez's production in Glaus. The Diamondbacks are in a cost-cutting mode, and would love to be out from under Glaus's contract. And the Angels have both the financial wherewithal and the prospects to satisfy both of the other teams.

Angels owner Arte Moreno continues to insist his team is not interested in Ramirez, but few believe him. Moreno's modus operandi when negotiating major deals, such as the Angels' signing of Vladimir Guerrero two winters ago, has been to lurk on the fringes before making a sudden stealth attack.

Complicating the matter -- or perhaps just the opposite -- is the fact the Red Sox have been without a general manager since the sudden departure of Theo Epstein last month. Lucchino, while simultaneously spearheading a GM search, is overseeing the Red Sox' contingent this week.

Notes: Former Red Sox manager Grady Little, 55, was hired Tuesday to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers. Little beat out Jim Fregosi, John McLaren, Manny Acta and Joel Skinner for the job. . . .

The Cincinnati Reds reached a preliminary agreement to trade first baseman Sean Casey to the Pittsburgh Pirates for left-hander Dave Williams. The trade, contingent on the players passing physicals, was reported late Tuesday by the Associated Press.