Red Sox

Epstein: Re-signing Martinez and Beltre is Red Sox' top priority

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Epstein: Re-signing Martinez and Beltre is Red Sox' top priority

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

Even before the free agent bidding process begins in earnest Tuesday at the General Managers' meetings in Orlando, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein emphasized that his first priority this winter is re-signing two of his own free agents, Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez.

"Victor would certainly be our first choice to be our 2011 catcher and beyond," said Epstein in a conference call with reporters Friday. "He did an outstanding job for us in the year-and-a-half he was here and we'd certainly be comfortable with him coming back and have been pursuing him."

The Sox are monitoring other catching options, including free agent John Buck, but that doesn't preclude focusing on Martinez.

"I know its been portrayed in the media a little bit as if we haven't been pursuing him. But that's really between us and Victor and his agents. We absolutely want this guy back and he knows that. He's known that for a while. We'll see if something can be worked out. Things happen in free agency."

On the matter of Adrian Beltre, Epstein said: "Our first choice for third base for 2001 and beyond would be to bring Adrian Beltre back."

Other topics from Epstein's conference call:

While acknowledging that re-signing Beltre is a priority, Epstein added that he wouldn't have an issue with moving Kevin Youkilis back to third if the Sox found another option for first base.

"If we were presented with a scenario where Youkilis moves back to third, we would be comfortable with that. It's something we've had a dialogue with Youk.

"He sees himself as a third baseman. He came up as a third baseman and he's maintained a lot of the skills that are required to play the position. He's got really good instincts over there. We'd be comfortable if we had to move Youkilis over to third and know that he would do a fine job defensively."

Thanks to an agreement with the Players Association, Major League Baseball moved up some deadlines and timetables this offseason, allowing players to qualify for free agency sooner and begin discussing possible deals quicker.

Epstein said that's already resulted in increased talk, though to date, little in the way of activity.

"There's certainly more discussion," said Epstein, "and I think it has also impacted he trade market as well. There has been probably more engagement than in previous years. Some years, team wait and agents wait to make initial contact around the GM meetings. But this year it seems like there's been more discussion prior to the GM meetings."

In the past, Epstein has advocated against giving out multiyear deals to set-up relievers, believing that their performance is too inconsistent to warrant long-term commitments.

But this year, Epstein acknowledges that teams looking for bullpen help may have to guarantee more than one-year deals.

"It's too difficult to tell this early, to be honest with you," he said. "The nature of initial contact, the first couple of calls between clubs and agents, is certainly different than conversations that occur later in the winter. We'll have to see how that plays out.

The annual winter meetings are almost a month away, but the GM meetings next Tuesday, offer a chance to size up options.

"Typically," said Epstein, "the GM meetings are very helpful to lay the foundation for future deals and the Winter Meetings are even more helpful because that's where you tend to finalize deals or at least get them to the doorstep of completion. There's a lot of information exchanged at the GM meetings. You have all 30 GMs under the same roof, which can only help. It's almost like a starters flag goes off for teams and agents to get serious about the winter. We look forward to it. The calls that you have before the meetings are usually less serious than the calls that you have after the meetings given the fact that you had a chance to meet face to face and can get down to business."

The Sox appear to be one of the few teams set with starting pitchers, with five veterans returning, most earning significant salaries.

"We have to look at the pitching staff separately as it relates to starters and the bullpen," he said. "With respect to starters, we certainly feel like we don't need to do anything. We feel good about the group that we have coming back. It's a stable group that also presents a lot of upside given the talent of the pitchers on the staff and the fact that a few of these guys are coming off years that weren't their best.

"That said, if there is an opportunity to acquire someone who could fundamentally impact our staff and make it even better, we can't rule that out. We have a lot of resources already allocated to our starting staff. You can argue there's a limit to what percentage of your payroll you should dedicate to the starting five alone. We look at every potential opportunity with an open mind and go from there, understanding that it's not an area that we necessarily have to address, which is usually a good thing.

"When you go into the winter needing to acquire a starter or two, it can lead to some difficult outcomes. Whereas if you're set, you can look only at opportunities to get better."

Unsurprisingly, Epstein said upgrading the bullpen is near the top of the team's offseason to-do list.

"We'll acquire at least one reliever, if not more, either through trade or free agency, before the winter's over." vowed Epstein. "We're spending a lot of our time trying to identify the right targets and pursue them in a way that makes sense -- not only for the 2011 club, but possibly beyond as well and make sure that we're set up in the pen going forward as we'd like to think we are in the rotation.

A number of free agent relievers -- including Scott Downs and Jason Frasor -- were pursued by the Sox last July at the trading deadline.

"It's a fairly deep class for relievers, especially non-closing type relievers," he said. "Usually when you have a deep free-agent class at any one position it usually means there's 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 . . . It's an interesting class and there will be a lot of activity there.

Epstein also provided some updates on the physical status of a number of Red Sox veterans who underwent surgical procedures.

Dustin Pedroia (broken foot): Epstein said the second baseman underwent a CT-scan last week and is making "good progress. He's able to stop wearing the protective boot and increase his workouts." Pedroia will be re-evaluated in Boston around Dec. 1.

"The healing is exactly what we he hoped to see," concluded Epstein.

Kevin Youkilis (thumb surgery): Youkilis is "doing really well," said Epstein. "The healing is basically right on schedule."

Jacoby Ellsbury (broken ribs): Epstein described the outfielder as "aysmptomatic." Ellsbury has already begun his off-season conditoning at API in Arizona, "doing his normal routine at API without any concerns."

Mike Cameron (addominal tear): Cameron is "showing steady improvement," and will be visited by members of the medical and training staff at his Atlanta home next week.

The organization must find someone to replace Torey Lovullo as manager at Triple A Pawtucket. Lovullo was hired earlier this week as first base coach for the Toronto Blue Jays.

"We have some internal candidates," said Epstein, who added the team spent part of this week interviewing some candidates from outside the organization.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

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Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel. 

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

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HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep “known steroid users” out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball’s steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall’s board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

Read the full text of Morgan's letter here. 

“Steroid users don’t belong here,” Morgan wrote. “What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.”

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions.

About 430 ballots are being sent to voters, who must have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, and a player needs at least 75 percent for election. Ballots are due by Dec. 31 and results will be announced Jan. 24.

Writers who had not been covering the game for more than a decade were eliminated from the rolls in 2015, creating a younger electorate that has shown more willingness to vote for players tainted by accusations of steroid use. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a majority of votes for the first time in 2017 in their fifth year on the ballot.

Morgan said he isn’t speaking for every Hall of Famer, but many of them feel the same way that he does.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. They were joined by former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, who were voted in by a veterans committee.

Some baseball writers said the election of Selig, who presided over the steroids era, influenced their view of whether tainted stars should gain entry to the Hall.

Morgan praised BBWAA voters and acknowledged they are facing a “tricky issue,” but he also warned some Hall of Famers might not make the trip to Cooperstown if steroid users are elected.

“The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too,” he wrote. “The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press