Theo Epstein and his 29 fellow general managers will meet in Orlando, Fla., on Monday for two full days of meetings. While the amount of moves made during that time will likely be minimal, Epstein likens the annual gathering to the drop of a starter?s flag. Essentially, the race to the 2011 World Series begins in earnest.
Epstein, who spoke with reporters Friday afternoon in advance of the trip, said the Red Sox are "not particularly close to anything" in terms of free agent signings, but confirmed that long before that starter?s flag is dropped his club has made a commitment to resigning third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher Victor Martinez.
"[Martinez] would be our first choice at catcher and Adrian would be our first choice at third base,? Epstein said. ?Whether that can be worked out remains to be seen.?
Reports that the team and Martinez are not seeing eye-to-eye are false, Epstein said before emphasizing his interest in bringing back the All-Star catcher.
"We have been pursuing him," Epstein said. "We absolutely want this guy back and he knows that. He?s known that for awhile. We'll see if something can be worked out. Things happen in free agency. It always comes down to years and dollars in the end but there's no lack of interest on the Red Sox' end in Victor coming back and I think on the other end."
As expected, Beltre opted out of a $10 million player option after the World Series ended. His agent, Scott Boras, said earlier in the week that Beltre is drawing more interest from teams than any player he has ever represented.
Martinez has been linked in several reports to the Detroit Tigers and in others to the Baltimore Orioles. He was not pleased with the offer of a two-year extension by the Sox earlier this summer.
The GM would not comment on whether he has had any meetings with Beltre or Martinez, per his usual stance on keeping such negotiations confidential.
Epstein commented on several other issues concerning the Red Sox' offseason. Here are the highlights:
? If and when Beltre moves on, Epstein said he would be "comfortable" moving Kevin Youkilis from first to third and has had discussions of late with the player regarding this. "It?s something we've had dialogue with him over the years and recently," Epstein said. "He sees himself as a third baseman even though he's played more first base in his major league career. He came up as a third baseman. I think he was underrated at the time and he still, while he has gotten older relative to when he played third base in the minors, he maintains a lot of the same skills that are required to play the position. He?s got really good instincts over there, more than anything. He plays that position more by instinct than by pure athleticism. We'd be comfortable, if we had to move Youk over to third, that he would do a fine job defensively and that his offense would be outstanding for that position."
? Epstein will not rule out any trades or signings for starting pitching but said he does feel good about the rotation and is confident that those who struggled will have bounce-back seasons. The GM: "We certainly feel like we don?t need to do anything. We feel good about the group we have coming back. It's a stable group that also presents a lot of upside just given the talent of the pitchers on staff and given the fact that a few of these guys are coming off years that weren?t their best."
? Although no names were mentioned Epstein said he would not rule out making a run for a starter, but has to take into account the amount of money already invested in the rotation. All five starters are locked up through 2012, with everyone but Daisuke Matsuzaka under team control beyond that point. Cliff Lee is the marquee name on the free agent market while Zack Greinke is dominating trade talks at the time. Epstein: "If there is an opportunity to acquire somebody who would fundamentally impact our staff and make it even better than we can't rule that out. We have a lot of resources already allocated to our starting staff so you could argue there's a limit to what percentage of your payroll you should dedicate to your starting five alone. I think we look at every potential opportunity with an open mind, understanding it is not necessarily an area we have to address, which is usually a good thing."
? As for the bullpen, there will be one or more relievers acquired via trade or free agency. It is a particularly healthy list of available arms, which in some ways makes Epstein?s job easier and in some ways makes it harder. Epstein: "It's a fairly deep class for relievers, especially non-closing type relievers. When you have a deep class it usually means you have a lot of demand as well because those clubs that are losing the players to free agency are also in the market looking. That seems to be the case this year, too. There are a lot of relievers available. There?ll be a lot of activity there."
? With two type A free agents (Beltre, Martinez) and two Type B free agents (Jason Varitek, Felipe Lopez) the Sox could be gaining some draft picks if and when they sign elsewhere. Of course, if Epstein signs similarly ranked free agents he has to cough some picks up as well. It's a delicate balancing act, especially in advance of a draft that figures to be loaded with talent. Epstein: "You never like to lose a pick even if you?re getting picks back for departed players, hypothetically. Ultimately, I think the biggest factor is the player you're signing. Is the player you're signing worth the pick that you lose as compensation? Sure it helps mitigate if you're getting back some of those picks but you want to gain as many picks as you can. It gives you a great advantage in the draft, what is shaping up to be a terrific draft, potentially. You really want to have as many picks as you can."
? There was a heavy dose of good news on the injury front. After a CT scan last week Dustin Pedroia was able to get rid of the boot on his left foot and will be examined in Boston again on or around Dec. 1, after which he is expected to resume a normal offseason routine. Epstein: "Very good news so far, the healing is exactly what we hoped to see post-surgery."
? Youkilis would essentially be able to play right now if he wanted to and will have no issues being ready for spring training. Epstein on Youkilis being able to swing again: "He would've progressed to game activity had it been in season. Felt great, felt comfortable and then could shut it down and prepare for a normal offseason."
? Jacoby Ellsbury's rib condition has been determined to be "asymptomatic," clearing him to return to Arizona to work out in full. According to Epstein, the healing process is still taking place but there are no indications that Ellsbury will be held back going forward: "A scan at this time wouldn?t show 100 percent healing because that?s the nature of these rib injuries but I think as we get deeper into the offseason not only will he be asymptomatic but there will be 100 percent healing and he can go into spring training with a completely open mind and with a full offseason at API [Athletes' Performance Institute] under his belt."
? Mike Cameron is doing fine, but will be seen by physicians in Georgia soon before he can be cleared.
? Epstein indicated that there are internal and external candidates to fill the managerial post at Triple-A Pawtucket, which became open when Torey Lovullo went to Toronto to be John Farrell's first base coach. Interviews are underway.