Sunday Baseball notes

What are brass tacks with Epstein, Cashman?

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / August 28, 2011

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Red Sox chairman Tom Werner reacted strongly to an ESPN report that had Theo Epstein on the Cubs’ wish list for a president of baseball operations.

“It’s a complete non-story,’’ Werner said. “Theo is under contract and he’s very happy in Boston. He’s looking forward to leading the Red Sox into the postseason and to another world championship.’’

Werner would not entertain questions on what the team’s response would be if the Cubs did ask permission to speak to Epstein, nor would he say whether internal discussions have taken place toward tying Epstein up long-term.

Would Epstein really want to go?

Epstein, who has a year remaining on his current deal, would not respond to the report, which came from Buster Olney.

At the very least, this should earn Epstein a small fortune if he elects to stay in Boston.

When all is said and done, Epstein should either be the highest-paid GM in baseball or a dollar or two behind the Yankees’ Brian Cashman, who is a free agent after this season. The bet here is that both Epstein and Cashman stay where they are.

Either would be an excellent choice for the Cubs, who need strong leadership. The Cubs have money, and both know how to spend it. Of course, the Cubs don’t have as much as the Sox and Yankees, so their player personnel choices would have to be somewhat less ambitious.

Either would likely love the change that is the Cubs. But how could their respective ownerships allow either to walk?

One industry insider thinks that both could earn in the vicinity of $5 million per year. At present, Epstein earns $1.5 million while his manager earns $4.5 million. Quite a disparity, though it has been explained to me that the baseball operations budget - of which the manager is a part - is far greater than the front office budget.

The Cubs rumors are a great negotiating tool for Epstein. They also bring up the question of what Epstein’s goal is.

Does he want to be GM of the Red Sox for life? As long as Larry Lucchino is in power, Epstein may never supplant him as team president - unless Lucchino left to be commissioner of baseball when Bud Selig calls it a career (at least he says will) after the 2012 season. Lucchino also could be part of a group that buys the Dodgers.

But the prevailing thought is that Lucchino loves being in Boston and there’s no reason for him to go anywhere.

Epstein may want complete control of an operation; a major league source familiar with Epstein’s thinking indicated that this school of thought should not be discounted. While the rift between him and Lucchino seems to be a thing of the past, Lucchino’s presence still keeps Epstein from running the entire organization.

Would the Sox grant the Cubs permission to speak to Epstein?

“I don’t see why they would,’’ said an AL Central team president. “They have one of the best GMs in the game. I know if I were the team president of the Red Sox or in ownership, I wouldn’t let that happen.’’

If Epstein should leave, who would replace him?

Obviously, if Cashman were available, he could be a possibility. Assistant GM Ben Cherington also seems ready to take the big job in Boston after years of mentoring by Epstein and Mike Port. Former Kansas City GM Allard Baird, Boston’s top talent evaluator, would also be an excellent choice.

Would Lucchino be the one seeking the new man, or would John Henry and Tom Werner have their own ideas? Henry is very analytical and stats-based, and may want one of the new-wave guys to take over. Lucchino would likely opt for someone more old school. J.P. Ricciardi could be a compromise choice.

Cashman, meanwhile, has tremendous power with the baseball decisions of the most recognizable franchise in sports. That seems hard to give up.

But if he should leave, the Yankees would seek an established GM. They have a streamlined baseball ops department - not nearly as large as one would think for an organization with a $200 million-plus player payroll. Cashman runs the show, with lieutenants such as Billy Eppler and Tim Naehring that he relies heavily on for talent evaluation.

There are all sorts of machinations with GMs out there. Andy MacPhail, the Orioles president of baseball operations, does not have his contract situation settled. Billy Beane is signed with the A’s through 2014, but owner Lew Wolff told the San Francisco Chronicle he would not stand in Beane’s way if he wanted to move on. The Cubs, Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, and Dodgers (if Ned Colletti left) might all be of interest to Beane.

“It’s a very interesting situation, with the top two teams in baseball with GM situations fluid at the moment,’’ said our insider. “My best guess is both stay where they are and get the paycheck they’re looking for.

“They’re not going to make more money elsewhere. The Cubs may offer a lot, but both Boston and New York can offer more, and I think they will.’’

Molding Clay into a reliever It will be interesting to see whether Clay Buchholz (left) can help the Red Sox again this season. There’s far more optimism now that he could be used in the bullpen down the stretch because he has responded so well to his back program. Just a week or two ago, the sentiment was far different.

Buchholz could be a valuable piece in the sixth or seventh inning, especially with Matt Albers struggling and the uncertainty about Bobby Jenks.

There is hope that Buchholz, who began long-tossing last week, can keep making progress, and that he might get some time in a rehab game with Pawtucket. If not, the Sox will likely run him through simulated games. Certainly not ideal, but it might be the best option.

The feeling is that there is not enough time to get Buchholz stretched out enough to be inserted in the rotation. If they were to start him, he would go three or four innings and then turn it over to the bullpen, and that is usually not done in the playoffs.

In the best-of-five Division Series, it will be interesting to see whether the Sox go with 12 or 11 pitchers, and it might be that Buchholz is left off the roster until the ALCS or World Series if the Sox get that far.

In a five-game series, the Sox likely go with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Erik Bedard as starters. In the bullpen for sure would be Alfredo Aceves, Matt Albers, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon. Then you have Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales, Dan Wheeler, Tim Wakefield, and Jenks - five pitchers for three spots.

Wakefield has been left off the roster before and likely would be again. The Sox might have to decide whether Miller (who struck out Josh Hamilton three times Thursday) would be a better lefty specialist than Morales.

Wheeler has also pitched well lately and has a veteran presence, while Jenks is closer material when healthy.

Tough choices, and it will be interesting just where Buchholz fits into all of this.

Flanagan case hard to fathom Nobody saw it coming, including his friends.

Mike Flanagan’s suicide has them searching for answers.

“I had just spoken to him the day before,’’ said Jim Duquette, who worked with Flanagan in the Orioles front office for three years, “and we had made plans to get together during the Yankee series this weekend and also with some mutual friends. He seemed fine to me.

“Baseball has lost one of the true gems of the game. I’m not even talking about my personal loss and the great friend he was, but I was trying to think of another person who wore so many hats in this game.

“He was a player, a pitching coach, a general manager, a broadcaster. He did so many things and he did them well.

“He was so passionate about the game. I just remember being in the office talking to him for hours and hours.

“This was not your average Joe. This was an exceptional individual in every facet of his life.’’

When Mike Boddicker was growing up in the Orioles system, Flanagan was near and dear to him.

“The most maddening part is that there were a number of people who would have jumped, dropped everything they were doing to help Mike,’’ said Boddicker. “If it was financial, any number of us would have helped him in a heartbeat. He meant so much to so many of us.

“But I guess when someone is doing that, you just can’t fathom what they’re thinking. I just wished he had reached out to us.

“I was just talking to Tom Henke, who was a friend of Flanny in Toronto, and we said the same thing: We would have fixed whatever he was going through.’’

There was mention of financial problems, but the Baltimore Sun found no bankruptcies or foreclosures. After Flanagan was fired as GM, he did go about a year and a half without income before the Orioles rehired him for the broadcast booth.

“He was a true friend,’’ said Boddicker. “We were so tight-knit. Baseball-wise, he and Scott McGregor and Jim Palmer taught me how to be a big leaguer, how to pitch.’’

But when Boddicker saw Flanagan last year while doing some broadcasting work for MASN, he saw a difference.

“He wasn’t the same Mike Flanagan I’d played with,’’ said Boddicker. “I think he’d worn so many suits and done so many different things that it had changed him.’’

Apropos of nothing 1. One of my favorite baseball sites:; 2. Does Don Orsillo do a heck of a job or what?; 3. Never grow tired of watching Justin Verlander pitch; 4. Arizona assistant GM Jerry DiPoto is getting solid backing for the Cubs GM job; 5. Tim Wakefield has very nice parents.

Updates on nine 1. Javier Vazquez, RHP, Marlins - The veteran is seriously considering retiring after the season. Vazquez, 35, told reporters in Miami, “My family and the people close to me know what I’m going to do in the offseason. I don’t want to be definitive because the season hasn’t ended. I’ll make the final decision after the season. I don’t want to say something now and then change my mind, but yeah, the time is close.’’ After a June 11 start against the Diamondbacks, Vazquez was 3-6 with a 7.09 ERA, 31 walks, and 47 strikeouts in 66 innings. But over his last 81 2/3 innings, he has a 2.64 ERA.

2. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Indians - Friday night’s start (10 strikeouts) was precisely what the Indians thought they were getting when they obtained him from Colorado. In his first three starts for them, he had an 11.77 ERA. The Indians are going to work with Jimenez on his core conditioning in the offseason and hope that brings back the mid-to-high-90s velocity. There should be no reason to think that, at 27, he can’t get it back if he can strengthen his lower body.

3. Tyler Greene, SS, Cardinals - He was a 2005 first-round pick in St. Louis, but he has never performed to that level. He’ll get another shot when he is a September call-up. The 28-year-old must convince Tony La Russa he can play at the major league level. Greene is hitting .338 at Triple A Memphis, with 14 homers in 216 at-bats. He has hit .196 in 102 major league at-bats this year. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said, “I would like to see him get more of an opportunity to play, just so we can have a better idea for planning for 2012.’’ The Cardinals recently traded for Rafael Furcal.

4. Alex Avila, C, Tigers - There is an award for Most Valuable Player, but how about a Most Impressive Player? Avila would win it, in my book. He has been sensational as Detroit’s No. 1 catcher despite an extraordinary workload. Avila played in 18 straight games until Thursday, and with that kind of workload at a demanding position, he is leading AL batters in August with a .418 average, an OBP of .530, and a slugging percentage of .806. Manager Jim Leyland’s reaction: “That is mind-boggling to me.’’ Avila has also had streaks of 16 and 12 straight games. To put that in perspective, the other long streaks for catchers this year are: St. Louis’s Yadier Molina, 15 and 13 straight; the Yankees’ Russell Martin, 12 straight to start the season; and Seattle’s Miguel Olivo, Baltimore’s Matt Wieters, and San Francisco’s Buster Posey with 11 straight. The Red Sox? Jarrod Saltalamacchia played in four straight to start the season, his longest stretch.

5. Joakim Soria, RP, Royals - The Royals resisted dealing him at the trade deadline when he was in a slump. Soria came out of it, but lately he’s gotten back into one. Over 10 appearances heading into last night (9 1/3 innings), he had allowed 14 hits and blown two of six save chances. His earlier problems stemmed from throwing too many cut fastballs. The latest one is a little bit less detectable. The Royals aren’t ready to promote set-up man Greg Holland (1.85 ERA in 35 appearances), but one wonders what the offseason may bring for Soria.

6. LaTroy Hawkins, RP, Brewers - Strange, but the Brewers may get into the playoffs with no lefty reliever. Hawkins is a righty but could act as the lefty specialist; he has held lefties to a .206 average. Manager Ron Roenicke has been using Frankie Rodriguez in the eighth inning and closer John Axford in the ninth; both are effective vs. lefties. The Brewers thought they’d have Manny Parra and Zach Braddock in their pen at this point, but Parra was lost for the season with injuries and Braddock was placed on the inactive list because of personal issues.

7. Wandy Rodriguez, LHP, Astros - As expected, there was at least one waiver claim on Rodriguez, by the Rockies. But Colorado couldn’t work out a deal; the Astros wanted major prospects in return. The Rockies were willing to eat the remainder of the contact ($36 million if the 2014 option is picked up). Interesting that the Astros wouldn’t bite.

8. Matt Marquis, OF, Lowell Spinners - We wrote about this Sox draft pick’s great story of taking care of his parents when they were stricken with cancer, how he sacrificed a college career at Vanderbilt to be with them. The Sox stuck with him even after they knew that he had a mild form of hemophilia, which is controlled by very expensive medication. Marquis has started his pro career hitting .417 with 3 homers and 11 RBIs in 48 at-bats.

9. Jason Kubel, OF, Twins - The Red Sox were one of the teams that made a claim on Kubel. The Indians were awarded the claim and tried to make a deal with the Twins. But Minnesota, which traded Jim Thome to the Indians and Delmon Young to the Tigers, elected not to deal Kubel or Michael Cuddyer, both of whom can become free agents.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “Since 2001, only three players have struck out at least 100 times each season: Alfonso Soriano, Pat Burrell, and Bobby Abreu. Through Wednesday, Soriano and Abreu were each just five strikeouts away from making it 11 straight seasons.’’ And, “Tuesday is Ted Williams’s birthday. In 9,791 plate appearances, Williams struck out only 709 times. You think that’s impressive? In 10,033 plate appearances, Bill Buckner struck out only 453 times.’’ . . . Happy birthday to Shane Andrews (40), Darren Lewis (44), Mike Torrez (65), and Tom Satriano (71). And happy 60th birthday, Bill Chuck.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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