Epstein ready to see Red Sox in action
GM touches on number of spring subjects at Fenway event
On a bitterly cold day suited for just about any activity other than baseball -- as long as it was an indoor activity -- a select group of Red Sox fans was treated to lunch, a tour of Fenway Park and a visit to the home team's clubhouse, where they met manager Terry Francona, general manager Theo Epstein and president Larry Lucchino on Friday.
With the clock winding down to pitchers and catchers reporting on Feb. 18 in Fort Myers, Fla., the talk quickly turned to Spring Training.
"The best way to get excited about Spring Training is to have a snow storm and have it freezing outside," said Epstein, who will leave for Fort Myers next week. "Yeah, we're definitely ready to get down there."
With the acquisition of several players this offseason, including pitcher John Lackey, third baseman Adrian Beltre, center fielder Mike Cameron and shortstop Marco Scutaro, it has been a busy winter for Epstein. Those acquisitions -- combined with the loss of left fielder Jason Bay, who led the team with 36 home runs and 119 RBIs -- brings about the thought that the 2010 edition of the Sox will be much more defense- and pitching-centric than the '09 team, which was third in the American League in both home runs (212) and runs scored (872).
"We'll see," Epstein said, when asked if he was satisfied with how his team is currently constituted. "At this time of year, most clubs look down at how their roster looks on paper and feel pretty good about it. And come early October, there's only eight teams that still feel good, and then at the end of October, there's only one that feels really good. So, we'll see.
"You always feel pretty good about your depth. In our club's case, I think what we feel good about is how well-rounded we are. A lot's been made about moving in a different direction with our defense. That's not really what we did. We just made an attempt to become well-rounded and be good in all areas of the game if we can."
Most jobs appear to be set, but Epstein did not rule out Spring Training competition.
"Well, hard to say," he said. "Maybe the last spot in the bullpen. And then there's no one bench job that's open, per se. But based on the way a lot of guys play, we could align the bench a number of different ways.
"We could always add depth or create competition in [bullpen] spots, but there already is some competition. I think we have numbers in the 'pen, and we're going to have to whittle it down. [We're] always on the lookout for more additions if they make sense. We don't necessarily have great opportunity to sell at this point. There's certain aspects of our club, if someone's prepared for some competition, maybe we could be the right landing spot for one of these guys to a Minor League deal."
Epstein has been in touch with some of his players, but not specifically about the start of Spring Training. He has not been in touch with Mike Lowell, who had surgery Dec. 30 to repair a radial collateral ligament in his right thumb, but the GM talked to Lowell's agent recently.
"It's going well," Epstein said of Lowell's rehab. "He's on schedule to be swinging a bat at some point soon. And by the time March rolls around, should be getting close to the point where he can play in games."
Epstein said he is not concerned about animosity between the team and Lowell, who has lost his starting third-base job.
"No, he's a professional," Epstein said. "We're obviously trying to do what's best for the club. And we've never hid the ball from any of our players, telling the truth with what we're trying to do. Things should be fine."
The GM is also comfortable with the relationship with pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is coming off a difficult (4-6, 5.76 ERA) season. Matsuzaka, who recently revealed he injured his leg before the 2009 season, has been working out at Athletes' Performance in Tempe, Ariz., to improve his overall conditioning.
Dice-K spent a week there in December and is continuing his training there this month, although he unexpectedly took this week off, according to a source. The time off is not believed to be injury-related. The relationship between the pitcher and the team had become contentious at points last season. Epstein is confident that has improved.
"He was apologetic about not being more forthcoming, and seems to be working hard to make up for it," Epstein said.
Matsuzaka is one of six possible starting pitchers, with Lackey, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield. It's not a situation that needs to be addressed now, Epstein said. The team appeared to have an abundance of pitching in 2006, when Epstein dealt right-hander Bronson Arroyo to the Reds for outfielder Wily Mo Pena during Spring Training, only to see the staff beset by injuries during the season and the Sox failing to make the playoffs.
"You've been around teams that have deep starting pitching on paper, and by the time you get into the season, you can't find a starting pitcher to take the ball," Epstein said. "I don't see that as a problem. I see it as a potential asset. It's not worth wasting time thinking about it or talking about it, unless or until you get to a point during the regular season when you have more than five guys who are healthy and can do a good job starting ballgames. We're not at that point right now."
Epstein would not reveal if there had been any progress on contract talks with Beckett or catcher Victor Martinez, who are both in the final years of contracts. He would not rule out continuing talks with the players during the season.
The fans in attendance were selected at random, one from each New England state, and also received four tickets for Opening Night on April 4 against the Yankees. The winners are Francesco "Frank" Fazzolari of Vernon, Conn.; Dan and Dorene Caron of Gorham, Maine; Milton "Milt" Alvarez, of Tyngsborough, Mass.; Bill and Kathi Jordan of Amherst, New Hampshire; Peter Moniz of Tiverton, Rhode Island; and Elaine and Seth Barkyoumb of Fairfax, Vt.
Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.