Epstein not in a hurry
GM feels Red Sox have time to assess
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein figures that sometime next week teams will begin to assess their rosters and trade talks could begin to escalate.
But for now, Epstein isn't anticipating much to happen. And yesterday he shot down reports in Bay Area newspapers that the Sox were eyeing the Giants' Armando Benitez as their closer.
The Sox, along with several other teams, including the Marlins and Mariners, were in Scottsdale, Ariz., Tuesday to watch the veteran righthander pitch. According to one scout who was there, Benitez "threw very well."
The problem with Benitez, besides his extensive injury history, is a $7.6 million price tag.
"It's too early to tell, but yeah, I don't anticipate anything big," Epstein said after the Red Sox were handed a 3-2 loss by the Pittsburgh Pirates. "We'll figure something out with the guys we have here. It's too early to tell. We just want guys to get ready for the season. I think the last 10 days, if they're pitching well, we can start evaluating them."
Epstein feels he put together a "logical roster" this winter. He stressed that there might be something left undone when he made high-profile moves by acquiring Daisuke Matsuzaka, Julio Lugo, and J.D. Drew. There's no doubt Epstein believes he still might find the closer among the current cast of bullpen hopefuls, and the fact that Joel Pineiro pitched one scoreless inning yesterday, striking out two, is a good sign.
Epstein also isn't sweating Mike Timlin's oblique strain, even though team physician Thomas Gill examined the reliever yesterday and determined Timlin needed to delay returning to his throwing program for at least two more days.
"Thank goodness it's not a real severe injury," Epstein said. "We just want to avoid rushing him back because that's the type of injury that can re-occur. We know what Mike can do."
Epstein was impressed with Pineiro's work yesterday, and is not concerned that Julian Tavarez was roughed up for a couple of runs in the fifth inning.
"Julian Tavarez is just getting ready for the season," said Epstein. "I don't even think he knows how many base runners he gave up. He's going to be fine when the regular season starts. Brendan Donnelly's working on things. He's throwing the ball well. He's throwing pitches that he wouldn't normally throw in certain circumstances. That's what you're supposed to do in spring training."
One of the treats yesterday was again watching Alex Ochoa throw a ball from right field and nail a runner. Ochoa, according to Epstein, is in the mix as an extra outfielder, but it doesn't appear the Sox will carry him unless they move Wily Mo Peña or Eric Hinske in a deal. That means the Sox won't have a defensive outfielder off the bench.
"Too bad we couldn't turn back the clock 10 years ago and put him on the mound," Epstein said of Ochoa. "He'd throw in the low 90s first time off the mound. When I was an intern with the Orioles, he was a prospect and I saw him at Double A throw a guy out [from] the warning track in right field. He had like an 80 [the highest scout rating] arm coming up."
Epstein doesn't lament the fact manager Terry Francona won't have a defensive option in the outfield late in games.
"Hinske helps us with his ability to play first, third, and corner outfield," said Epstein. "Wily Mo has the ability to play all three outfield positions. [Alex] Cora is so trustworthy. And with [Doug] Mirabelli, that really allows us to go with a four-man bench and to carry 12 pitchers. We'll have [defense] at Triple A [Ochoa or David Murphy]. If we really need that, we can go down and get it."
Other fringe players appear to be gaining value. Pitchers Kyle Snyder and Kason Gabbard are being considered by other teams' scouts as viable end-of-the-rotation options. Gabbard pitched three scoreless innings yesterday and will make another start Sunday.
"Every team has one guy like that," Epstein said of Snyder. "You do everything you can to maximize his value. Right now he's competing for a job and doing well. He has a strong four-pitch mix. He's competed, hits his spots, and has a feel for all of his pitches. Gabbard showed he could compete at the major league level last year. At the same time, he may still have some development left to do to really consolidate what he has. We'll see what happens at the beginning of the year, but at some point in the year, he'll help us."
The Sox haven't been hitting of late, but Epstein has no doubts Manny Ramírez, David Ortiz, and Drew will make up a formidable middle of the order. And the Sox would like to get Jason Varitek going.
"At the end of last year, [Varitek] was scuffling, said Francona. "I agree he was searching, and he physically didn't feel very good. It's an interesting dynamic with him because he is a switch hitter, but being a catcher, even though he plays a lot, he'll go three or four days without facing a lefty, and all of a sudden in the ninth inning of a game, here comes the kid from Toronto throwing about 94 with the game on the line, and we expect him to be a good hitter because he's Jason Varitek.
"That's why [Tuesday] he hit off me for about 20 minutes and then he turned around and hit off [bench coach Brad Mills] for about another 20. It just gave him a relaxed atmosphere and on the field a lot of good batting practice. It was really good for him."
Epstein and Francona also have been impressed with the work Lugo has done with infield coach Luis Alicea on improving his footwork and throwing.
Francona also thinks Coco Crisp is starting to get around on fastballs, especially against lefthanders, which he couldn't do last year because of injuries to his shoulder and finger.
Dustin Pedroia remains an unknown. After losing weight, he has said he's trying to adjust to his new body, to which Francona responded, "I hadn't heard that one before." But the Sox plan to go with him, and hope he emerges. If he doesn't, they know they have Cora as a fallback.