Hot corner could be hot topic
ORLANDO, Fla. — The assumption is that Kevin Youkilis would slide over to third base if free agent Adrian Beltre doesn’t re-sign with the Red Sox. But do not discount the idea of Jed Lowrie taking over the position.
Lowrie hit .287 with a .381 on-base percentage and a .526 slugging percentage over 197 plate appearances last season. After overcoming a troublesome wrist injury, then a bout of mononucleosis, the 26-year-old Lowrie could be ready for full-time status.
“He really proved last year with the way he swung the bat and the power that he showed that he’s past the wrist issue,’’ Sox general manager Theo Epstein said yesterday, the second day of the GM meetings. “Clearly, you prove durability by doing it. I think we have reason to think he can be out there quite a bit.’’
Lowrie has not played much third base since 2008 and saw only three innings there last season. But the Sox feel it could be his best position.
“I think he’s better at third than at second,’’ Epstein said. “He has tremendous range. His arm plays over there. He makes all the plays at the extremes of his range at third. Diving plays to his left and right.’’
A switch hitter with gap power, Lowrie had 23 extra-base hits last season.
“Lowrie falls into the category as one of the not-fully-proven younger players that we really like,’’ Epstein said.
Close, yet miles apart Victor Martinez lives only a short drive from the Waldorf Astoria, the site of the meetings. But Epstein did not drop by to try to facilitate the catcher’s return to the Sox. “We had a lot of talks, heartfelt exchanges,’’ Epstein said. “He knows how we feel. We know how he feels, certainly. I would do it in a second if I felt there was something to be gained from it. But he knows how we feel.’’ Martinez’s agent, Alan Nero, is not here this week, but one of his associates, Scott Pucino, is.
Blowing up the bridge Sox chairman Tom Werner, speaking on WEEI, said they would be aggressive in pursuing name players. “I think that we are going to sign, I won’t promise, but we’re going to sign a significant free agent,’’ he said. “We are going to make a trade to improve ourselves. I want to assure everybody that there is no bridge year here this year. 2011, we’re committed to win.’’ Epstein, to his everlasting regret, termed 2010 a “bridge year’’ to prospects who would be ready down the road. “He made a very rare mistake saying that,’’ Werner said. “After that, we did sign Adrian Beltre. We did sign John Lackey. Theo would be the first to say it wasn’t his finest Winston Churchill moment.’’ Werner said the payroll would at least be the same as the $168 million it reached last season, if not higher. “We certainly were not happy with the way last season unfolded,’’ he said. “It wasn’t a horrible season, but we didn’t accomplish our goals of getting to postseason and eventually winning the World Series.’’
Caught in the draft The coming collective bargaining negotiations are almost certain to change the look of the amateur draft in 2012. Teams such as the Sox, who used their financial might to manipulate the process, could lose that advantage. That could affect how teams build rosters this winter, as early picks for the 2011 draft are considered more valuable than ever. “If a draft looks particularly strong or particularly weak, you allow it to be one factor out of many,’’ Epstein said. The coming draft is expected to be a strong one, particularly in terms of pitching.
Depth needed One back-burner issue is rotation depth. Outside of Tim Wakefield, there isn’t much. Felix Doubront is targeted for the bullpen and Junichi Tazawa is coming off Tommy John surgery. “We’d like to add some starter depth in one form or another,’’ Epstein said. “Whether it’s someone coming off an injury who might help us in the second half of the season or a really good minor league free agent we can have in Triple A or a swingman type we can have in the bullpen.’’ Signing such players could be difficult, given they have a set rotation and opportunities could be limited.
Busy place The GM meetings coincided with baseball’s owners meetings. The two groups will assemble this morning to hear a presentation from commissioner Bud Selig . . . Epstein said he would “be shocked’’ to make a significant deal before he leaves this afternoon . . . Epstein sang the praises of Cuban outfielder Juan Carlos Linares, who is hitting .397 with 11 extra-base hits over 68 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. “He has really opened some eyes,’’ Epstein said. “Great tools and it looks like he’s really going to hit. He was centering everything, showing significant opposite-field power, pulling the ball with authority as well and playing all three outfield positions and getting really good jumps. He was impressive and definitely an interesting guy.’’ Linares, 26, was signed last season. Epstein also praised the work of Jose Iglesias, Casey Kelly, and catcher Ryan Lavarnway in the fall league, which ends Saturday. “I know I sound like a carnival barker,’’ Epstein said. “But it was a really good fall league for us.’’ . . . The Red Sox won the Commissioner’s Award for Philanthropic Excellence as chosen by Selig and teams’ executives.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com.