LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — We are more than halfway through the baseball winter meetings and the Red Sox remain one of the big winners with the pre-meetings acquisition of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
General manager Theo Epstein said Tuesday evening that the trade has made things easier in Florida by giving him the ability to focus on areas of need and remain thorough. There is no need to jump at a three-team trade for some kind of splash, essentially.
The primary focus now, as it’s been for almost two months, is how to fix the bullpen. That focus has intensified with what Epstein called "a lot" of offers made to available relievers.
As the sun set over the Dolphin Hotel, Epstein prepared for meetings with agents of several of those relievers, but did not anticipate having any results by the time bedtime rolled around, which can be at odd hours during the course of the week.
Before those meetings began he touched on a number of topics, the highlights of which are:
Epstein was asked about his assumed need for a right-handed hitter for the second straight day. He reiterated his satisfaction with the balance in the lineup and said he has interest in batters from both sides, as well as some switch hitters (Carlos Beltran?).
As for those relievers, all have been "formal offers." Some were made before the crew came to Florida and some of those offers have dried up. New ones have been made since Epstein arrived at the meetings. Scott Downs, a Type A free agent, and others (Pedro Feliciano, Matt Guerrier, Arthur Rhodes) have been linked to the Red Sox.
Hours after Sox manager Terry Francona said that Jacoby Ellsbury is still feeling something in his back, Epstein was asked whether there was any concern about not having him ready once spring training rolls around. In a word, no. Epstein knew there was a chance for some pain in the area, even after it healed. That’s all that is happening and there is no worry on the part of the organization. "He shows up ready," Epstein said.
After the Ellsbury topic was brought up, so, too, was that of Mike Cameron. It was a natural progression. Epstein gave indication that the two may swap positions after last year’s shuffle, putting Ellsbury back in center and Cameron in a role in left. "Last winter when we discussed the switch we said at some point in the two years they were going to intersect again," Epstein said, insisting they still view Ellsbury as a center-fielder. So much of this scenario depends on if/when the club acquires another outfielder, which very well could happen, and the health of both guys when they get to spring training. Both Epstein and Francona have insisted they need to see what Cameron can do in action before laying out a lineup.
Felix Doubront, reported to be one of the chips requested from Washington for outfielder Josh Willingham (the Nationals’ demands in some Willingham rumors were described as "absurd"), will come to spring training and be put through the starter’s program. If he fits in with the 2011 club it will be as a reliever, but he remains on track to be a starter down the road. The neck/shoulder issues that ended his 2010 campaign are no longer a problem.
Epstein was asked whether the load of draft picks he will likely end up with helps him consider signing someone like Downs, who would cost the Red Sox their top pick. Would it be easier by softening the blow? "It doesn’t make it any easier," he said. "It depends on the player, the need, the contract, how many extra picks you’re getting, where they are. Just because you have those extra picks you don’t just go out and give away that first-rounder, but you can’t just sit here and ignore that fact. It’s one variable out of many that you take into account in making that difficult decision. It’s a tough balance."
As for whether he is OK spending more money and offering more years for a reliever, per the current market: "For the right player, I’ve come to grips with it."
Epstein ended the session addressing mild rumblings that he is still involved in the Carl Crawford sweepstakes, presumed to be far-fetched after the team brought in Gonzalez and set the parameters for a pricey extension. "Obviously we’re in a new situation now that we’ve made a major acquisition, but like I said, anything’s possible," he said.
Anything will remain possible on day three of the meetings Wednesday. Stay tuned.