Epstein says Sox to find answers within
GM not about to trade impressive prospects for star upgrades
BOSTON -- In recent days, CC Sabathia has gone from the Indians to the Brewers, and Rich Harden has been dealt from the Athletics to the Cubs. While Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein will continue to make plenty of phone calls as the calendar inches toward the July 31 trading deadline, he didn't sound like he was forecasting any blockbuster trades.
In a first half in which the Red Sox have been hit hard by injuries, Epstein has learned a lot about the depth within the organization. And he's been impressed by what he's seen.
Rather than mortgaging prospects to find a quick fix, Epstein thinks that giving some of those prospects an advanced role in the coming months could make for a much better solution.
"I think our organizational depth has really helped keep us afloat and keep us thriving at times throughout the first half, and all the injuries can be a negative, but every team goes through it," Epstein said. "It can also be an opportunity for guys to step up and establish themselves, maybe a little bit ahead of schedule at the Major League level. A guy like [Justin] Masterson would be a good example.
"I think you asked if it can make it tougher to evaluate. In a lot of ways, I think it can make it easier to evaluate, because you get a chance to really see what the state of the whole organization is and in the long run, that might be more important than certain events that happen in the first half. Obviously, we have areas of need and things were looking to improve on. If we can address those things internally, we'll be better off."
One thing Epstein confirmed he is looking for is bullpen help. All the same, he sees Masterson as someone who can help that situation. The Red Sox announced Monday that Masterson will go to Triple-A Pawtucket and get some experience in the bullpen.
Much like when the Red Sox converted Jonathan Papelbon to a relief pitcher late in the 2005 season, this was not a knee-jerk decision with Masterson.
"Yesterday's move should in no way reflect our evaluation of [Masterson] as a starter," said Epstein. "He has no limitations on what he can do in the future, in the big leagues. Really, this was the plan all along, that we expected him to be someone who protects our starting rotation in the first half of the year as he continues his development in the Minor Leagues, but in the second half of the year, he really helps our bullpen like he's done effectively in the past, albeit at the Minor League level, and the Cape Cod League.
"Right now, he profiles as someone who can really help our 'pen with a perhaps relatively brief adjustment period in the Minor Leagues, so he's a potential weapon, and we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't find out how it looks."
Another big issue surrounding the Red Sox has been the ongoing absence of David Ortiz, who could return later this month after being sidelined since June 1 with a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist. Is there a level of anxiety for Epstein wondering how the big slugger will fare upon his return?
"We're actually kind of excited to see what he's going to be like when he comes back," Epstein said. "We've been playing without him for a while now, and the lineup's done a good job scoring a lot of runs without him in there, which is not an easy thing to do. His absence has also corresponded a little bit with a mini-slump with Manny [Ramirez] lately, and we're still finding a way to keep our head above water. It's exciting to think what we could look like when David gets back and gets as close to 100 percent as possible. Maybe Manny starts swinging the bat and all of a sudden we'll have that deep, relentless lineup back that we've come to rely on for a lot of years."
Although Epstein will have a minimal amount of time to evaluate Ortiz before the trade deadline, he didn't seem to think that was a big issue.
"We're monitoring David's situation daily, but I don't think we can force the timing or force an evaluation," Epstein said. "Again, I think we're going to be aggressive looking outside the organization, because that's our responsibility and there's only so many times a year when you have teams open to talking trades, and this is one of them. We just want to explore every possible opportunity, but I really think the most help from this club might come from inside the organization."
And if Barry Bonds resurfaces somewhere this season, don't expect it to be at Fenway Park.
"I've gotten a lot of questions about it [recently] and that's really the first I've heard of it," Epstein said. "Again, I think we're looking more internal with respect to any bats that we might need. It hasn't really come up internally."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.