Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein offered some candid insights, particularly concerning the club's ill-fated pursuit of Mark Teixeira and his admiration for John Smoltz, during an interview this afternoon on sports radio WEEI's "Dale and Holley" show. Click on the "full entry" link at the bottom of the post to read the entire entry:
On losing out on the bidding for Teixeira, who signed with the Yankees for eight years and $180 million:
Epstein: "We had legitimate interest. He's an elite player, a really well-rounded player, he's in his prime. He does a lot things we like well -- he gets on base, he hits for power, he plays great defense, he takes great care of himself, so he was a good fit for the long term, and that was really our interest. Anytime you go after a player who is going to require a contract of that length, you have to be a good fit for the long term . . . He would have complemented the core that we've developed here really well, there's no doubt about that. We haven't yet developed a legitimate power hitter internally -- I think we will -- so it would have been nice, and that was our rationale for our interest. He would have fit into our club for the long haul, and we certainly made a run at him. But I'm fine with how it turned out. I mean, we didn't offer him the most money. [Laughs.] As it turned out, there was another club that offered more money than we did and they got to player. Not that that was the only factor in this decision, because there were a lot factors in it, but you can't have any complaints when you don't offer the most money. I thought it was a good signing by the Yankees, Mark did really well for himself, and we'll have to figure out how to get him out over the next eight years now. We've actually done a pretty good job of getting him out throughout his career, so hopefully we can continue that."
On whether he thought the Yankees would trump the Red Sox' offer no matter what:
Epstein: "Nah, not necessarily. I think in general that's how I look at free agent negotiations -- true open-market negotiations -- with players the Yankees will be interested in, I think they're going to get that player, because they just have a bigger margin for error than we do. I'm not complaining -- we have tremendous resources and so many teams look up at us and wish they could be in our financial position -- but in respect to the Yankees, history has borne out that they're going to get the player if they want him on the true open market, and that's fine. We're not building this organization through free agency. I don't think that's an intelligent way to build an organization. We're building it through drafting players, signing players internationally, developing a homegrown core from within, and complementing it with trades and free agents. So I always assume if the Yankees want a player, they're going to get him, so that's why it can't necessarily be a part of our business model to assume we're going to land the big-ticket free agent. With respect to this particular negotiation, I don't think we were swimming upstream because he could always go back to the Yankees again [in the end]. I don't necessarily feel that way, I know it can be interpreted that way. But geography played a factor here, he and his family are from the Maryland area, and I think that brought the Nationals and the Orioles into play a little bit, but specifically with regards to the Yankees, they were just closer that we are to that area. It's a quicker train ride or car ride for his family and his wife has some family in New York, so we sensed that geography and personal reasons played a factor. We had a check against us in that important column. But I have no problem with how it turned out. We offered him a lot of money, but we didn't offer the most money, and so we moved on."
On whether he was surprised that catcher Jason Varitek turned down salary arbitration, particularly given the economic climate:
Epstein: "You know, that's a personal decision, and I never would publicly speak about my feelings about that. That was a decision for Jason to make with those he relies upon. It was early in the offseason, in the first week of December, and at that time the market hadn't truly defined itself. And it wasn't just Jason -- there were a lot of players around baseball who were offered arbitration, [and those] who were looking for multi-year deals tended to turn down arbitration, and then as the market defined itself, [and discovered that] those multi-year deals were harder to find. With Jason, it worked out in the end. He and the Red Sox [in this contract] accomplished a lot of the goals on both sides. For him, it makes it much more likely that he'll be a Red Sock not only in 2009, but 2010 as well. And for the Red Sox, we got a player, as I said at the beginning of the offseason, is an important part of what we do, and we got him at an affordable price. So I think both sides are happy."
On whether he went into the offseason believing he'd get Jonathan Papelbon, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia signed to long-term deals:
Epstein: "Well, with Papelbon, he was an arbitration-eligible player, so we knew we'd get him signed sooner or later, one way or another, and we were glad we were able to get [his one-year contract] done before we had to exchange numbers and get into the arbitration process. So that was a positive. With Pedroia and Youkilis, we knew that they were among the players that we wanted to sit down and have multi-year conversations with. And, you know, they were really reasonable. And so we were able to work something out. I hope we will look back and say that was an important part of our offseason, being able to lock Pedroia up for the length of time that we did, six years and an option, and then Youkilis for four years and an option. We get these guys through their prime years, get the club option . . . they get a lifetime's worth of security, we get cost-control, affordability, and the knowledge that we'll keep a good part of our offensive and defensive core intact. So it's a win-win there for all sides."
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.