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Red Sox answer fans' questions in 'Town Hall'

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff  January 31, 2011 07:00 PM

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BRIGHTON -- We're here at WGBH-TV (Ch. 2) where Red Sox brass are getting together with fans in a 'town hall' style event which will be televised tonight at 9 p.m. on NESN.

Prior to the event, Red Sox owner Tom Werner, team president and CEO Larry Lucchino, manager Terry Francona, and GM Theo Epstein met briefly with the media.

According to Epstein, Red Sox righthander Daisuke Matsuzaka is ahead of where he was last season, preparation wise, and righty Josh Beckett has been working out hard with a personal trainer this offseason.

Werner said that despite recent comments by Yankees GM Brian Cashman that Boston has the better team right now, he never takes the Yankees lightly, and won't start now.

"It might take more than 95 games to win the division," Theo Epstein said when asked how many wins it might take to win the AL East this season.

"We have lofty goals," Francona said regarding the season.

"The health right now is good," Epstein said when asked about the current state of the team from an injury perspective. "Right now, all the injured players are ahead of schedule."

Epstein said reports of some pain in Dustin Pedroia's foot is not from the part of the foot that was operated on and is nothing to be concerned about. Francona indicated they would back off Pedroia a bit at the start of spring training regarding certain drills.

Epstein said that despite losing Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre to free agency, picking up Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford makes them "younger and maybe more dynamic" as an organization.

"It came together fairly quickly and we're still feeling the jolt and enthusiasm that came from it," Lucchino said about the Red Sox offseason signings.

"Hopefully you'll never hear the word 'rebuild' here," Epstein said, avoiding the "bridge" term when asked about the offseason moves and the team that's been built for 2011.

A fan asked about Daniel Bard and when he might be ready to close. "Daniel Bard is one of the better relievers in all of baseball," Francona said. "...Sometimes games are won or lost before you get to the ninth inning."

"He's got something to prove a little bit," Epstein said regarding current Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. "Based on what people were saying about him at the end of last season." Epstein said he thought Papelbon had a good offseason and was ready for the challenge.

The panel was asked about infusing some of the younger players into the lineup. Werner mentioned the potential of young stars like shortstop Jose Iglesias.

"The success of any organization is the strength of its farm system," Werner said when stressing how important it is to have a mix of youth and veteran talent.

Lucchino talked about how important it was the organization to get a third championship under this ownership. "We feel a great sense of pride and obligation to keep that going," Lucchino said.

Host Tom Caron is playing some clips from Theo Epstein in 2002, and Terry Francona in 2003, when both came into their current jobs.

"There's some gray hair now," Epstein said of the past nine years. "It's been a great experience... The one game losing streaks we have in Boston get a little tough sometimes.... I wouldn't' trade it for anything. We have to a certain extent built that player development machine (he promised in 2002)."

"I've never been anywhere where they care about their team so much," Francona said when talking about the "lunatics" that so passionately follow this team. The Red Sox manager said he had no idea what he was getting into when he first came to town and took over the reins of this team. "And maybe that was a good thing," Francona said.

Lucchino was asked about the bullpen expansion plans that have been tabled this season. "We're going to look at it again and take a shot at it in the next year or two," Lucchino said. The fan who asked the question said they took an informal poll at the studio tonight and the majority was in favor of moving in the fences in right field.

Werner was asked about the importance of listening to the fans. "We have the best fans in sports," Werner said. "They're loyal, they're passionate, they're smart."

"It's pretty different," Epstein said regarding the transition from being a local fan and now acting as GM. "These jobs require a lot of discipline about the right thing to do and not always being reactive to the night before... We make our fans happy when we're playing in October and pouring champagne."

"When we weren't playing very well, I thought my name was 'you suck,' that's all I heard," Francona said about his early days at Fenway.

"I didn't think you heard that," Epstein joked.

Lucchino spoke about the $285 million investment at Fenway Park in the past 10 years and touted the three new HD video boards that will be the big attractions at the ballpark this season. "I think people will be pleased about some of the construction work that was done this year," Lucchino added.

"It's the best place to be part of baseball anywhere in this country," Francona said of Fenway.

The panel was asked about baseball moving to having instant replay in the future. Lucchino said he thought the move would happen but fans want the reviews to be quick so not to slow down the game. "It's called instant replay," Lucchino said.

"Especially in the postseason, you want the calls right," Epstein added. Terry Francona said he thought the game was pretty good now but he liked the idea of having a "fifth umpire up there."

With top pitching prospect Casey Kelly having been traded to San Diego, Epstein was asked who was now the Red Sox top prospect. "It depends on whether you consider Ryan Kalish a prospect," Epstein said about the young Sox outfield that he remains excited about. The GM also mentioned Iglesias, the popular shortstop who could see some time at Fenway this season.

The panel talked about the non-baseball events that have been so successful at Fenway over the past several years. Epstein was asked specifically about his favorite band playing at Fenway.

"As soon as they start playing ballparks, we'll be first on the list," Epstein said when asked about the possibility of seeing Pearl Jam at Fenway.

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