Epstein, Francona meet the press

Epstein, Francona meet the press

BOSTON -- The Red Sox officially began their offseason on Sunday night by announcing that rookie right-hander Jonathan Papelbon will be leaving the bullpen for the rotation next season.

General manager Theo Epstein, meeting with the media along with manager Terry Francona after Boston's season-ending, 9-0, five-inning win over Baltimore, confirmed what the injured Papelbon has been saying -- that he will go back to being what he was before this season, a starter.

Papelbon has been out for the final month of the season with a shoulder injury diagnosed as transient subluxation. Epstein said that consultation with doctors confirmed that the pitcher would be better suited to starting once every five days and working on conditioning the shoulder between starts.

Obviously, the loss of a closer means the Red Sox will be looking to fill that position in the offseason. And while Epstein said there's a chance that the job will be filled from within, he added, "We certainly will be looking aggressively outside the organization."

Epstein covered a wide area of topics during the session, noting that the Red Sox, who finished out of the playoffs for the first time in four years, will be seeking to add a starter, serious bullpen help, power to the lineup and defense to the outfield. He promised that the Sox would be aggressive in trying to fill their needs.

"We have a lot to address," he said. "We plan on being active in order to address these weaknesses. ... We need to do a very good job of changing with the market."

He noted how tough it is to compete in the American League, where teams are getting better and better. He didn't mention the Yankees by name, but he didn't have to -- everything the Sox do is measured against the Yanks, who have an infinite payroll.

"We need to do better -- I need to do a better job," he said. "This American League is going to feature some very tough competition next year, and there's a very high standard if we want to achieve our goal -- win a World Series -- and the first step is making the playoffs."

"I think we have more than enough resources to accomplish our goals, to compete here," he said. "I don't think we've ever been tied to one payroll number or one range of payroll possibilities. I think we have enough resources, and we need to do a very good job of changing with the market, trying to see where the market goes before it's too late and anticipate the economics of the game and try to chart a path that puts us in an advantageous position."

Epstein, who will conduct meetings on Monday morning, said that the club could announce any changes to the coaching staff as early as the same day. Hitting coach Ron Jackson has been rumored to be in the most serious danger of not returning.

"If we do make changes, we're not finger-pointing," Epstein said. "It's merely an assessment of every aspect of the organization."

Epstein was able to separate the club's problems into two areas -- not fixing an "imperfect team" with the right moves, and the injuries that followed. He responded to criticism that he didn't make a deal at the trade deadline by saying there wasn't anyone that would have filled the voids created by the losses of Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek to injuries.

"The team had some weaknesses. It was an imperfect team, to be sure," he said. "Those weaknesses were not revealed in the first half, when we were fresh and playing well, and they weren't revealed in Interleague Play [where the Sox were 16-2], to be sure. But they were exposed in the second half, and that's out fault. You try to build as solid of a team as you possibly can.

"This was a year, this was a team where a lot of things needed to go right for us -- and the first half they did go right, the second half they didn't go right. They didn't go our way."

He said that the injuries were "not a crutch. It's real, it happened, it's something that we have to overcome, and we didn't. You can't let the second factor, the fact there were a lot of injuries, mask or disguise or make you blind to the first factor, because the first factor, the fact that this team had weaknesses, clear weaknesses, that's something that we can work on. That's something that we can deal with, that we can address over time and over this winter."

Epstein regrets acting as quickly as he did when he shipped catcher Josh Bard, who couldn't handle Tim Wakefield's knuckleball, and young righty Cla Meredith to San Diego to bring back Doug Mirabelli -- that he was "impatient," which flies in the face of what the organization is trying to do.

"I don't think we dealt with it the right way, and that's not going to happen again," he said. "It was out of whack with our organizational philosophy going forward, and I don't think you'll see something like that again."

Saluting Nixon, who might have played his final game with the Sox on Sunday, Epstein said that he didn't want to talk about the right fielder in the past tense because the door isn't closed for a return. But the general feeling is that Nixon will move on.

"It is definitely not the end," the GM said.

Epstein also wouldn't address reports that Manny Ramirez again asked to be traded, and more than hinted at Ramirez batting behind David Ortiz next season. He didn't say anything that criticized Ramirez for not playing most of the final month because of a knee injury, and even lauded the enigmatic left fielder's work ethic on the field before he got hurt.

Francona, who discussed his feelings on the end of the season with the media before the game, said that he thought this year saw him develop a better relationship with his young GM.

"In a place where it can get kind of difficult, I think our relationship grew and bonded a little bit," Francona said. "It's a good feeling to know that somebody's kind of got your back when you're going through a tough time. That helped a lot.

"Losing's not a lot of fun, but when you are losing, we still have a responsibility to be leaders and to make sure that our ballclub goes in the right direction. So we spend our energy doing what we could and the best we could. That's really what you think about."

Mike Shalin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.