Theo Epstein Stresses Bolstering Bullpen Will Be Priority for Rest of Winter Meetings


Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein was a late arrival to the winter meetings, showing up long after the news conference in Boston to welcome Adrian Gonzalez to the team.

Even though there are still moves to be made to complete the roster going forward, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It was definitely worthwhile to stick around,” Epstein said Monday night in Florida.

With his crew flying down ahead of him Sunday night and the magic of 2010 technology keeping him connected with fellow GMs and agents every second of the day, he hit the ground running. Here is some of what surrounds Epstein as he ends the first day in Florida, as well as comments from the GM.

  • Epstein said that the early hours were spent prioritizing what moves might be realistic for the club to pull off, and pushing aside those which are not. While he admits to having conversations on players that he would classify as “significant,” he is “not significantly close to anything.”
  • When asked what the priorities are, Epstein said “Bullpen, bullpen,” echoing a theme he has carried since the end of the season. He is also interested in finding a right-handed bat, likely a complementary piece or bench player that could balance out the largely left-handed lineup. That may involve an outfielder, leaving one to think that the Sox have shied away from Carl Crawford for now.
  • As for that left-handed lineup, which should feature at least four regulars hitting from that side, Epstein is not concerned about the supposed lack of balance. “There have been some good teams that were really left-handed,” he said. “You face right-handed pitching two-thirds of the time. I don’t see anything wrong with building your team to be predominately left-handed and then building a bench that features guys that really hit left-handed pitching well. But I think we actually have pretty good balance right now.”
  • The bullpen will have someone brought in, possibly in the next two days. When asked about that front, Epstein said, “There probably will be a lot of activity down here.” The club remains in contact with Hideki Okajima‘s agent and still will consider Taylor Buchholz and Andrew Miller going forward. All three were non-tendered last week. “We’ll add to our depth,” Epstein said. “Whether we bring those guys back or not certainly affects that. Guys will fall into a class of having a chance to win a job in the bullpen.” On Okajima: “We’d be interested in seeing him come back under the right circumstances.”
  • When asked about whether Gonzalez’s presence precludes the team from pursuing other high-priced free agents, Epstein said: “He’s a foundational piece that affects the big picture and changes what you’re looking for in some respects, narrows it down a little bit. I wouldn’t rule anything out, I wouldn’t rule anything in.” Since no extension is official, Epstein would not comment much further.
  • Epstein is “definitely comfortable” with the Jarrod SaltalamacchiaJason Varitek combination at catcher but is “still open to exploring more depth at that position if the right player was there.” The Sox have been rumored to be kicking the tires on free agent Russell Martin.
  • Given that he might be looking for complementary pieces to round out the outfield, the GM was asked about Ryan Kalish. Based on his answer it would seem that the organization is leaning toward giving Kalish one more season at the Triple-A level. “I think we feel that most position players benefit from having a full season of at-bats at Triple-A and that’s something he hasn’t had. What’s ideal for his development is a priority and the big league team is a priority so we have to balance those two things.”
  • Adrian Beltre cannot be ruled out of Boston’s plans, but realistically it is extremely unlikely that anything would happen. All Epstein would say is “Anything’s possible.”
  • Of course, Kevin Youkilis‘ ability to shift to third base is the reason why Beltre is likely on the outs. Youkilis is excited about the prospect of playing third, Epstein said, and doesn’t even consider himself to be in recovery from thumb surgery anymore. “Youk’s rehab is going really well,” Epstein said. “I asked him that the other day and he said, ‘What rehab?’ He got back to the point where he was swinging the bat really well and was comfortable and considers himself back.” For reasons less obvious than the fact that Youkilis’ versatility allowed the team to acquire Gonzalez, Epstein had high praise for Youk.
  • While a member of the San Diego Padres organization, Epstein saw plenty of Gonzalez as a high school player. Epstein said Gonzalez would just flick balls over the trees beyond the fence in left field, which impressed the GM to no end, especially given Gonzalez’s skinny frame. Epstein didn’t find out until this weekend from Gonzalez that it was only 280 feet down the line in left. Gonzalez told Epstein he “fooled” him.
  • Casey Kelly was included in the Gonzalez deal about seven to 10 days ago. “Jed [Hoyer] and I were doing a little bit of a dance,” Epstein said before he put Kelly into the mix. Things took off at that point.
  • Asked if trading away three top prospects precludes him from making any other big trades for major-league talent, Epstein said it “certainly gives you a little pause.” However, the fact that the organization will have several draft picks in a loaded draft, and a wealth of talent at the lower levels of the system that figures to rise up in the coming year, the ranks will be replenished. “We’re going to add a lot of draft picks this winter with the moves that we’ve made. I’d like to think that, combined with last year’s draft and the nature of our system, mitigates the loss of the prospects somewhat.”
  • Still, the trio of Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes represent a loss that “hurts,” according to Epstein. “That was really tough to do,” he said. “Casey Kelly is a top-of-the-rotation pitcher … I think the world of him.”

    “Anthony Rizzo. I talked to him on the phone last night. He thanked us for being at his side while he fought for his life, and we thanked him for setting an example for everyone in our whole organization on how to conduct themselves and how to handle adversities. He’s an unbelievable guy.”

    “Even though I couldn’t be happier with the guy we got … losing those three guys is nonetheless a gut-punch. It’s an emotional blow. But that’s part of doing business.”

And it’s back to business first thing Tuesday morning.

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