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Epstein interview

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  February 4, 2009 02:42 PM

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On whether he's comfortable with Kevin Youkilis as a cleanup hitter:

Epstein: "Oh, yeah. And it's not my responsibility. I think Tito [manager Terry Francona] is open to hitting him all over the lineup. When people say that Youkilis isn't a traditional cleanup or middle-of-the-order hitter, I think they haven't quite noticed how he's evolved as a player. When he first came up, his clear strength as a player was plate discipline, he had a way above-average walk rate . . . and only had power sporadically, only on certain pitches he could drive. He's really changed, you've probably noticed, over the last couple of years, last year in particular. He's still got an above-average walk rate, he's still got above-average plate discipline. But he's sacrificed a little bit of that patience to drive the ball earlier in the count. He's adjusted his approach where there are a number of different places in the strike zone he can drive the ball. . . . So if you take the Kevin Youkilis of 2008, that guy can probably hit cleanup for any team in baseball any day of the week."

On the prospects of signing Jason Bay to a long-term deal:

Epstein: "Yeah, we said at the beginning of the offseason that we weren't going to talk about who we wanted to lock up, we were just going to let you know when they got done. I probably don't want to get into specifics, but the offseason is not over. I think with prospective free agents a year from now or with other players a few years down the line, it makes sense to make this year's free agent market [sort itself out] so that you have a reliable recent set of datapoints before you embark in those negotiations. There's still a lot of position players out there who haven't signed yet, so that might push some negotiations later in the offseason."

On whether he was surprised that John Smoltz was available to the Red Sox at reasonable dollars:

Epstein: "I think our assumption a year ago and in the middle [of last season] when a name goes on a free agent list and you take a look at who might be available, we assumed that he would be back in Atlanta, and even early this offseason. But when we found out that the potential was there for him to be available, we saw that his rehab was way ahead of schedule on the video, we thought it was certainly worth a look. He's a guy that any club would love to have, and the only checkmarks against him were age, the shoulder surgery, and the fact that we didn't think he'd leave Atlanta. Once it was clear that he'd be available to talk to other clubs and that the rehab was going extraordinarily well, we went down and saw him throw, and he threw a bullpen [session] for us in early December that would have made us really happy had he thrown it in early March. And that was really all we needed to see. He is a bit of a physical freak and can defy age to a certain extent, and he's recovered from surgeries really well throughout his career. The guy has never been anything but dominant whenever he's thrown a baseball over the course of a season in the major leagues, so those are types of guys you can bet on, even to have success late in their careers."

On whether he is concerned that Jon Lester's innings jump from 2007 to '08 could affect him this season:

Epstein: "Yeah, I think anytime a pitcher has that kind of jump in innings you want to be concerned, but there were a lot of factors that went into that. The total last year was a little bit artificially high because the season began so early. So his first outing in Japan, for instance, would have been an outing anyway, but we would have called it spring training. And he was so efficient with his pitching that he got deep in games while maintaining his delivery without having stressful innings, those things factor into the equation. With our young pitchers, we want to have a more natural progression, but with Jon, he was so strong last year and so reliable that we had to push a little bit past where we wanted to go. . . . He's young, strong, we're not going to do anything irresponsible with him, and he's a guy you can feel pretty good about betting on for the long haul."

On Mike Lowell's health and whether there are hard feelings after his name was mentioned in trade rumors:

Epstein: As you know he had surgery on the labrum in his hip and we projected him to be ready by the start of the season, and that’s still the case. He’s had some really good weeks and some that were frustrating. But he’s started swinging the bat and doing some agility work so he’s on schedule to be available by the end of spring training. And that’s really what we’re focused on, what he’s going to look like at the end of spring training rather than the beginning. As far as the feelings he might have, Mike’s a veteran and he understands there’s things organizations have to do when elite players become available, players that might fit for the long haul. Teams that want to win every year go after those players and that’s the nature of it. I think Mike understands that. It doesn’t mean your feeling don’t get affected a little bit, it doesn’t mean that you like it, but Mike’s a veteran and he’s been through it before."

On whether the Red Sox will make any more moves this offseason:

Epstein: "I think we’re probably done. There is always something else that might fit as we round out our spring training roster and there’s always trade discussions as well, so I wouldn’t rule anything out. But nothing is that hot or active right now. I think most teams are packing up and heading down to spring training seeing what they have the first few weeks of camp then trade discussions will pick up from there. But we’re pretty much set at most positions and I feel good about our depth that we have in camp. And we’ll need it because it’s a long season, and every season we’ve built up depth we’ve needed it to survive the attrition of the season. So we’ll see how we look on the field in a week or so."

Click here to listen to the Epstein interview.

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