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WINTER MEETINGS NOTEBOOK

Epstein not done dealing

Bullpen now a top priority

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / December 10, 2010

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The new-look Red Sox have only two apparent weaknesses: catching and relief pitching.

For the moment, they have expressed a willingness to use untested Jarrod Saltalamacchia in tandem with veteran Jason Varitek behind the plate. The bullpen, meanwhile, has at least three vacancies behind Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard.

The arrival of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford has not robbed general manager Theo Epstein of the ability to make even more moves. Based on last season’s payroll and the expenditures so far, the Sox have approximately $8 million-$10 million in payroll flexibility, if not more, given the team’s aggressive offseason.

As the winter meetings ended yesterday, Epstein was ready to continue making deals.

The Sox are in close contact with Russell Martin, a catcher who was not tendered by the Dodgers last week. An All-Star in 2007 and ’08, Martin has not played well since then, and he started only 89 games last season because of a hip injury.

The Yankees and Blue Jays also have interest in Martin. Agent Matt Colleran confirmed that the Sox had made an offer to Martin, and a decision could come soon.

At the same time, “The bullpen remains a priority,’’ said Epstein, who has offers out to a number of relievers. “That market has seemed like it was on the verge of really moving for the past two or three days. I think we all thought it would break at the meetings, but it hasn’t quite yet.

“So we’re still involved with a number of relievers through free agency and a couple through trade.’’

Signing Crawford cost the Sox their first-round draft pick. Signing a second Type A free agent would result in losing their second-round choice. That might make it easier to sign lefthander Scott Downs, the best available setup man.

“You can make the argument that the second-rounder is not as valuable as the first-rounder,’’ Epstein said. “It allows the club to be more aggressive.’’

The addition of Gonzalez and Crawford also increases the flexibility to explore trades. First baseman Lars Anderson no longer has much of a future in the organization. The same is true of several outfield prospects, including Josh Reddick.

“Yeah, I think we could be,’’ said Epstein, when asked about being active on the trade market. “More talent on the roster, more depth, maybe a little bit of redundancy, more certainty, certainly, about what our club is going to look like.’’

No deal yet
It has been widely reported that the Sox have a tentative understanding in place with Gonzalez on a seven-year, $154 million contract extension. Epstein and agent John Boggs have indicated that talks to keep Gonzalez in Boston were advanced.

But Gonzalez, in an interview with a Mexican blog, said that is not the case.

“Nothing about that is true,’’ Gonzalez told Fernando Ballesteros. “It’s false. I haven’t signed any contract . . . What I can tell you is that over the course of the season we’re going to negotiate to reach an agreement.’’

So long for now
The Sox lost two pitchers in the Rule 5 draft of veteran free agents. Lefthander Cesar Cabral was selected by Tampa Bay with the 14th pick. The Yankees then took righthander Daniel Turpen with the 19th pick.

The players would have to remain with their new teams on the 25-man roster all season or be offered back.

“We wish them well with their new organizations, but we hope soon to get them back,’’ Epstein said.

Cabral, 21, was 4-0 with a 3.63 earned run average in Single A last season. Turpen was acquired from the Giants July 31 for Ramon Ramirez. He then went 2-1 with a 4.91 ERA for Double A Portland.

Rangers make offer
Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg traveled to Arkansas and presented Cliff Lee with an offer in an attempt to persuade the prized pitcher to remain with the team he helped reach the World Series. “We made an offer with substantial additional commitments in years and dollars,’’ Greenberg said. “It was a very constructive conversation.’’ Before yesterday, the Rangers had asked Lee to tell them what it would take for him to stay with Texas, which acquired him from Seattle in July. The Yankees added a year to their offer earlier in the day, proposing a seven-year contract for the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner. On Wednesday, the Yankees had offered a six-year deal worth $137.5 million-$140 million . . . The Reds agreed on a six-year, $51 million contract with outfielder Jay Bruce, according to ESPN.com. The deal includes a club option for a seventh year that could bring the value of the contract to $63 million. Bruce, 23, hit .281 with 25 homers and 70 RBIs last season to help lead the Reds win the NL Central . . . The Orioles acquired shortstop J.J. Hardy, infielder Brendan Harris, and $500,000 from the Twins for relievers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. Baltimore also signed closer Koji Uehara to a one-year deal with a vesting option for 2012 . . . The Mariners added catcher Miguel Olivo for two years at $7 million . . . The Astros reached agreement on a one-year deal with lefthander Ryan Rowland-Smith . . . Kansas City has a deal in place to sign outfielder Melky Cabrera for one year at $1.25 million . . . The Pirates obtained righthander Cesar Valdez from the Diamondbacks to complete the Zach Duke deal.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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