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Sox vow to be in hot pursuit

Epstein insists team has serious interest in re-signing Martinez, Beltre

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / November 13, 2010

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General manager Theo Epstein yesterday shot down the perception the Red Sox are not pursuing free agents Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez as avidly as other teams.

During a conference call, Epstein said the Sox want Beltre back at third base and Martinez as the catcher for 2011 and beyond.

His strongest comments regarded Martinez.

“I know it’s 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,’’ said Epstein. “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. It always comes down to years and dollars in the end. But there’s no lack of interest on the Red Sox’ end in Victor coming back, and I think certainly the same is true from the other end. I think Victor would love to be here. We’ll see what happens.’’

Martinez hit .302 with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs last season. Though he turns 32 in December, Martinez is far and away the best catcher on the market. The only in-house alternative is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who played 12 games in the majors last season and hit .167.

Martinez, who is a switch-hitter and also can play first base, is reportedly a priority of the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles, White Sox, and Rangers also will have interest. But Epstein made it clear the Red Sox want him back.

“Victor would certainly be our first choice to be our 2011 catcher and beyond,’’ Epstein said. “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.’’

Epstein would not say whether he has had any recent face-to-face meetings with Martinez or his agent, Alan Nero.

Epstein expressed similar sentiments regarding Beltre, but acknowledged the Sox have had recent talks with Kevin Youkilis regarding a move from first base to third base.

“Our first choice for our third baseman in 2011 and beyond would be to bring back Adrian Beltre,’’ Epstein said. “But . . . if we were presented with a scenario where we didn’t have Beltre and we had to consider moving Youkilis across the diamond, we would be comfortable with that.’’

Beltre’s agent, Scott Boras, claimed on Thursday that Beltre was receiving more interest than any of his clients ever has.

Epstein again spoke of the need to rebuild a bullpen that was one of the worst in the American League last season.

“We’ll acquire at least one reliever if not more, either through trade or free agency, before the winter’s over,’’ he said. “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.’’

Potential targets include lefthanders Scott Downs and Brian Fuentes and righthanders Kerry Wood and Joaquin Benoit.

The general manager meetings start Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. While the two-day event should serve to increase activity in terms of trades and free agency, Epstein does not expect the Red Sox to make any major signings before Nov. 23, the deadline for teams to offer their free agents arbitration.

The most positive aspect of the offseason so far has been the return to health by Youkilis, Mike Cameron, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia.

Youkilis, who had season-ending surgery on his thumb in August, was swinging a bat near the end of the season and will have a normal winter.

Red Sox staffers will visit Cameron in Georgia next week to assess his recovery from surgery to repair lower abdominal tears. The outfielder is showing “steady improvement,’’ according to Epstein. Ellsbury finally is pain-free from the fractured ribs he suffered during the season that limited him to 18 games. He is working out with private trainers in Arizona.

Pedroia, who broke his left foot in June, is out of a walking boot and is scheduled to be in Boston around Dec. 1 for a final clearance. A recent CT scan showed the expected healing.

Epstein also has started interviewing candidates to replace Triple A Pawtucket manager Torey Lovullo, who became Toronto’s first base coach.

The Red Sox and Marlins swapped struggling lefthanders, with Dustin Richardson going to Florida in exchange for former first-round pick Andrew Miller.

Miller, 25, was the sixth overall pick in 2006 out of North Carolina, where he was a teammate of Daniel Bard. Miller was 15-26 with a 5.84 ERA in 79 appearances (54 starts) with the Tigers and Marlins.

The 6-foot-7-inch Miller was 1-5 with an 8.54 ERA in 32 2/3 innings last season. He has never performed particularly well on the professional level, but does have 212 strikeouts over 232 innings in the minors, a sign that there is something with which to work.

Richardson showed promise in 2009, but was ineffective in 26 appearances last season, with a 4.15 ERA and 14 walks in 13 innings. Lefthanded batters were 9 for 25 against him with two home runs and eight walks.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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