ORLANDO – General managers began trickling into town Sunday to kick off the annual GM meetings on Monday.
Sox GM Theo Epstein had a relaxing dinner with his staff, which included manager Terry Francona and assistants Jed Hoyer and Brian O’Halloran and will include Allard Baird and Ben Cherington. Epstein and staff watched the Patriots-Colts game in a group that also included San Diego general manager Kevin Towers and Arizona assistant GM Peter Woodfork.
Epstein said Sunday night that talks have begun toward trying to re-sign Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling to new deals, but that nothing was close or imminent.
The Sox GM did everything possible to low-key any discussion surrounding Alex Rodriguez, who is telling close friends that he would like to play for the Red Sox. Low-key them or not, the meetings will likely see the spotlight squarely on Scott Boras, A-Rod’s agent, who arrived here in Friday.
“I haven’t talked to Scott (Boras) for a while,” said Epstein concerning A-Rod’s agent. “I’m sure we’ll touch base with him here, just general, touching base with him. Right now we’re focussed on our own guys. We’re trying to survey the landscape. We’re trying to see if you we can sign our own guys. See if anything makes sense and move on from there.”
Boras is here in Orlando trying to peddle his high-priced client. He told this reporter in the Sunday notes that he has been pleasantly surprised by the number of inquiries on A-Rod and even surprised by a couple of teams that have expressed interest, but it doesn’t appear the Red Sox would bite if the money remains at the numbers being bandied about. One report had Boras asking the Yankees for a $350 million deal over 10 years, which the Red Sox won’t go anywhere near.
“Any discussions as to the contract terms is between the teams and ourselves,” Boras told the Associated Press. “It’s clear for all of us that we’re at the point now where we’ve got to do a lot of work with the teams involved and we’re going to keep the information and dialogue with the clubs private and confidential as we go forward.”
The last thing Epstein wants is a Lowell-A-Rod, either-or scenario to play out every day. Epstein seems to have a Plan B in mind if Lowell isn’t re-signed and if Rodriguez isn’t within reach.
“Like I said, right now we’re focused on trying to sign Mike Lowell,” Epstein reiterated.
Epstein also said he would like to enter the ’08 season with similar starting pitching depth as he entered ’07 with. While he doesn’t have the comfort of a Kason Gabbard or Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz in reserve (those three went a combined 11-1), Lester and Buchholz will likely start the season in the rotation. If Schilling isn’t re-signed, the Sox might try to add some depth to the rotation via trade.
One of Epstein’s biggest chips will be Coco Crisp, who will be much sought-after, as it appears a forgone conclusion that Jacoby Ellsbury will be the team’s starting center fielder.
“Last year we knew we were in pretty good shape because we had Gabbard, Buchholz coming up… (Kyle) Snyder and those guys all wound up coming up,” Epstein said.
Concerning his depth in the outfield and whether he’ll deal that depth (Crisp), Epstein said “Not necessarily. We have a lot of talent there. It does seem like when ever you make a move from a potential surplus position something always goes wrong and then you have a scarcity in that one area, so we won’t deal away talent even if it looks like we have a potential surplus without very strong return.”
Epstein also didn’t rule out the team signing another Japanese player. Righthander Hiroki Kuroda, 32, is the hot name.
“We’ll see. Ship (Craig Shipley) and the scouts have done a great job and have a good feel for what’s available,” Epstein said.
Epstein said that while the GM meetings will include the usual meeting with teams to discuss possible deals and meetings with agents on free-agents, he said “We’ve had the gathering information at the GM’s meetings and then laying the foundation for a future deal. It’s better to understand the big picture of the off-season and then follow through at the GM meetings or in the coming weeks. If the right move was there we wouldn’t hesitate.”
Otherwise, Epstein is serving as the co-chair of the meetings along with Florida GM Larry Beinfest. Pitch ‘n’ putt, three-on-three basketball and volleyball are the social functions on the agenda.
There will also be serious issues such as instant replay that will be discussed. There’s a serious movement among some GMs and umpires to have some limited form of instant replay available.
Towers is looking for a center fielder (Crisp would have to be on his radar), though he indicated free-agent Mike Cameron, suspended 25 games for the use of a banned stimulant, might re-enter the picture give the fact his price tag, which was in the $12 million range, has likely suffered considerably as a result of his positive test.