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Epstein strengthens Sox for '10, beyond

Epstein strengthens Sox for '10, beyond

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BOSTON -- For a couple of hours on Saturday, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein will put away his BlackBerry and take out his guitar at the 10th annual Hot Stove/Cool Music concert, a charitable event to be held at the House of Blues across the street from Fenway Park.

It will be a rare chance to unwind for Epstein, who has had a busy offseason, adding an ace-caliber pitcher to his rotation and bringing in three veteran free agents who should improve the team's defense.

Before settling on the blueprint that brought in John Lackey, Marco Scutaro, Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre, Epstein opted not to bring back Jason Bay or break the bank for Matt Holliday.

In an interview with 98.5 the Sports Hub in Boston on Thursday morning, the GM elaborated on how this offseason came about as it did. He also spoke of why a trade for Adrian Gonzalez isn't something Red Sox fans should hold their breath over, and how the Mike Lowell situation will resolve itself in due time.

So why did the Red Sox end up prioritizing run prevention over big bats?

"A lot of it depended on the marketplace," Epstein said on the Toucher and Rich show. "I think we accurately gauged early on that there was no way we were going to get Matt Holliday for the price that we thought was right -- maybe not at all. And if we did find out, it would probably be into January, which would hamstring the whole rest of our offseason. By the time the Winter Meetings got here, we decided that he wasn't going to be in play for us.

"The Jason Bay thing, there was just some stuff in the history of the negotiations that we determined would eventually preclude us from signing him. Taking those two guys off the board, we had to decide the best way to rebuild the club and the best way to keep competing."

Epstein knows there is skepticism about the offense for 2010, but he feels his team might hit more than people think.

"If you look at our offense, yeah, people are going to take issues with it, that's fine," Epstein said. "It's not going to be 2003, 2004 -- it's a little bit different type offense. As I said earlier, we might have to address something during the year. If these moves that we're working on this week work out, we're going to end up with nine guys of our 13 position players who have hit 25 or more bombs in the big leagues; six of the nine starters have hit 25 or more home runs.

"There are threats up and down the lineup. There are still good on-base guys throughout most of the lineup. Almost everyone in this lineup still grinds the count. I think we're still going to be a top-five offensive club in the league. Unless something goes wrong, we really should be one of the best run prevention teams. If we just went out and addressed the offense, I think we would have had a really bad run prevention year, putting a subpar defense behind a pitching staff with some holes in it."


"We had to decide the best way to rebuild the club and the best way to keep competing."
-- Theo Epstein

When Epstein made the Lackey and Cameron additions in mid-December, speculation became rampant that the Red Sox had positioned themselves to make a blockbuster trade for a hitter such as Gonzalez. However, nothing appears imminent. And the Padres don't appear to have any desire to trade Gonzalez at this juncture.

"It depends if he becomes available. Obviously we love Adrian Gonzalez. Everyone loves Adrian Gonzalez," Epstein told 98.5 The Sports Hub. "I scouted the guy when he was in high school, when he was in San Diego and I lived out there. I saw him a number of times. It's obvious. My two-year-old son can tell you he's a great player now, but Jed Hoyer [Epstein's long-time assistant] is out there now and Jed is a really bright guy and he understands what kind of an asset Adrian Gonzalez is.

"He's one of the best players in the game and he's on a great contract. He's under control for two more years. I'm sure they're going to try to sign him. They don't have any long-term commitments out there -- they hardly have any commitments at all. They're going to sit down and take a good hard look at signing him. If they don't, and they decide they want to do so, they have four opportunities to do so. This winter, the Trade Deadline, next winter or the Trade Deadline in 2011.

"In our opinion, this is just not a guy that they're going to move this winter and they may not move, ever. If they are going to move him, it's probably more likely to be next winter or the Trade Deadline after that. I don't think we took ourselves out of the potential acquisition of any great player by the moves that we made this winter. At the same time, I don't think it would have been fruitful to hold your breath and stomp your feet and hope that someone trades you a great player."

One player Epstein is likely to trade before Opening Day is Lowell, Boston's starting third baseman the past four seasons. As part of his quest to improve the defense, Epstein felt the chance to land a defensive star like Beltre at third base was too good to pass up. That doesn't leave a spot for Lowell, who was nearly traded to the Rangers for catching prospect Max Ramirez, but instead underwent right thumb surgery last week.

"I think the No. 1 priority for us and for Mike is to recover from his thumb surgery and get back on the field and show that he can play, and play at a high level," Epstein said. "I do think it's the type of scenario that works itself out. Mike's going to come to Spring Training, he's going to be a few weeks behind everybody else. Assuming that he can get on the field and play well, and play at a high level, and I think he's going to be able to -- the thumb surgery was not a complicated one, it's one that has a very high rate of recovery -- he should be fine.

"Assuming he's playing really well during Spring Training, if we have injuries and something opens up and he can play a critical role for us, then we're in great shape and he's got a real role here. If he's playing at a high level, but we don't have that much opportunity, besides a bench role, then I'm sure we'll be able to move him and put Mike in a better position where he's got a lot more at-bats and something similar to that deal we had worked out a month ago.

"If Mike can't get all the way back by the end of Spring Training, which is unexpected, to say the least, then maybe it's a more natural fit for a more complementary type role with us. We'll just see what happens and we'll see how healthy we stay and we'll see how quickly Mike gets back on the field and we'll see whether it makes more sense for him here or elsewhere."

All in all, Epstein seemed pleased with the productivity of the Hot Stove season. He feels that his comments at the Winter Meetings -- when he said the Red Sox were in a bit of a "bridge period" -- were misconstrued.


"I know how we're going to be really good in a couple of years, because I really believe in our elite players in the farm system. ... But we were really focused on this period in between and trying to figure out a way that we could continue to compete at a really high level."
-- Theo Epstein

"I know I got a lot of [criticism] for making one reference to a bridge period," Epstein said. "The bottom line is, what I meant was, I know we've been really good. We've made the playoffs six out of seven years, etc. I know how we're going to be really good in a couple of years, because I really believe in our elite players in the farm system -- it's just going to take them a couple of years to get up here. Our pre-prime players will still be in their prime then. But we were really focused on this period in between and trying to figure out a way that we could continue to compete at a really high level so that nobody noticed we were going through a bit of a transition period.

"Never did I imply that we were going to tank a season or anything like that. We were really focused on the next two years. What can we do to keep us at this high level? We ended up signing a bunch of players to shorter-term contracts, well, besides Lackey, shorter-term contracts, players that were really, really good defensively and could hold their own offensively. We think [the moves] give us enough offense to compete and give us a really elite run prevention team between our defense and our pitching staff. That's the way it ended up going and we're happy with it. That's not to say it's definitely going to work and we reserve the right to make changes midseason and add a bat if we need to and if we can, and that's always easier to find than a really good pitcher."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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