Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein is wrapping up a rather busy two days at the general manager meetings in Florida and will be heading back in early December for the highly anticipated winter meetings.
Although Epstein indicated that the earlier deadlines for particular transactions (the window for exclusive negotiating rights with free agents was shrunk while dates were moved up for deadlines on options and contract tenders) would not have much of an impact on the offseason, a healthy amount of movement has taken place already, the latest big splash coming with Detroit’s signing of reliever Joaquin Benoit.
We survey the effect those moves have on the Red Sox, as well as eight other items in the latest installment of "The Lineup."
1. It’s hard to say whether catcher John Buck and second baseman Dan Uggla were highly coveted or not by Epstein, but they did represent options at some of the positions of need for the Red Sox, if in fact Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre sign elsewhere. The fact that Buck signed with Florida and Uggla, a potential candidate to move to third base for a team like Boston or Toronto, was traded to Atlanta simply thins that list. The Red Sox are likely not concerned — Buck was not an ideal option for the money he received from the Marlins and Uggla would be somewhat of an experiment defensively at a new position. Perhaps that is why Epstein, just days after saying he would be confident moving Kevin Youkilis to third base, indicated he feels good about Jarrod Saltalamacchia starting at catcher in 2011.
2. In addition to the first few major moves of the offseason and the groundwork for all others, the GM meetings brought us some discourse on the possible expansion of the postseason. The plan in place would allow for one more wild-card team in both leagues. Both wild-card teams would play one another while the three division winners would have a bye. Any possible changes likely would not take place until after the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2011, but it is of interest to Red Sox fans. Under the proposed plan the Sox would’ve been the fifth team to make the postseason in the American League in 2010.
3. Epstein’s aforementioned vote of confidence in Saltalamacchia should come as no surprise. For one, it may be the GM's only option if he cannot re-sign Martinez, so expressing support for the player is elementary. Two, Epstein has always liked Saltalamacchia’s game. One other factor behind such thinking may lie in the farm system, where there are prospects that could be on the major league radar in another year or two. Chief among those is Ryan Lavarnway, the system’s Offensive Co-Player of the Year in 2010. His counterpart at Double-A Portland is Luis Exposito, an impressive backstop who will look to put a somewhat ordinary 2010 campaign behind him. The organization also remains high on Cuban defector Adalberto Ibarra, a 23-year-old who is far from major league ready and recently had shoulder surgery but still has a high ceiling. If Saltalamacchia, still only 25, can produce, the organization could have a pretty impressive and youthful catching corps post-Martinez.
4. Not everyone takes agent Scott Boras at his word. It’s his job to exaggerate his clients’ potential and interest. But it’s so much more fun to believe him, isn’t it? If we do then we believe that Adrian Beltre has generated more interest than any player Boras has ever worked for, rumored to be at about 12 teams. With that many organizations vying for Beltre’s services the bidding war had to start somewhere, and it reportedly did when Oakland offered the free-agent third baseman a five-year contract valued at $45 million. While the Athletics’ offer is fair, it’s likely that in two months we have no recollection of it — there will be many more offers and they will be more generous than that one. At least that’s what Boras would have you believe.
5. Epstein spoke with reporters prior to leaving for Orlando and indicated he would bring in a reliever or two via trade or free agency. He then brought in two candidates in the next few days with the trade for Andrew Miller and the waiver claim of Taylor Buchholz. Miller, because of control problems, and Buchholz, because of Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2009 season, represent uncertain commodities. Their upside, however, is tremendous, and both are in their 20s. They could be interesting additions in the bullpen next year.
6. Speaking of Lavarnway, he had two RBIs as the Peoria Javelinas clinched their division in the Arizona Fall League with a 15-2 win over the Peoria Saguaros on Tuesday. Lavarnway entered Wednesday hitting .278 in the league loaded with many of the best minor league players. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that he is tied for third in the league with 16 walks. Fellow Sox prospect Jose Iglesias is batting .266 and intriguing outfielder Juan Carlos Linares is at .397, second in the circuit.
7. Terry Francona has won two World Series and nearly 58 percent of his games with the Red Sox but has yet to finish higher than fourth in the Manager of the Year voting. That’s where he found himself when the AL award was handed out Wednesday. Ron Gardenhire of the Twins was a worthy winner and Ron Washington and Joe Maddon certainly deserved recognition. But this was one year that it seemed possible for Francona to at least sneak into the top three, given all he had to contend with to keep his team in the mix.
8. Much of the offseason attention is placed on the AFL whenever anyone discusses the actual games, but there are several other leagues under way and several other Red Sox players in action. Among those of note is a quartet of offensive players toiling in the Dominican Winter League. Infielder Yamaico Navarro has been the most impressive, posting a team-high four home runs and 15 RBIs in 20 games for the Licey Tigers. Outfielder Josh Reddick, infielder/outfielder Eric Patterson and infielder Oscar Tejeda are with Cibao. Reddick is hitting just .182 with a homer in 21 games.
9. The Benoit signing could have a positive and negative effect on the Sox. Let’s start with the bad news. The Tigers got the setup man for three years at $16.5 million, an exceptionally high figure for a non-closer. That means that if and when Boston goes out looking to sign a guy like Scott Downs, the bar has been set pretty high. Those numbers must make guys like Epstein cringe. However, Benoit is a "buyer beware" type, a guy whose 1.34 ERA in 63 games with Tampa Bay came out of nowhere. Had the Sox inked him to a similar deal we might be wondering how a guy with an ERA near 4.00 and a high walk rate was worth nearly $6 million a year. Tigers fans might be wondering the same thing in a year or so.