12/09/08 11:48 PM EST
Sox could turn to youngsters at catcher
If Varitek doesn't return, club has Brown, Kottaras waiting in wings
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
If the Red Sox are unsuccessful in retaining free agent Jason Varitek, one scenario could be a platoon of young catchers.
Dusty Brown and George Kottaras, who split time at Triple-A Pawtucket in 2008, likely aren't ready to be primary catchers at the Major League level. However, they might be able to handle the position in tag-team fashion.
Asked specifically about the possibility of going with two young catchers, Epstein said, "We have the right infrastructure in place with our coaching staff to be able to handle something like that if it came to pass. Obviously, you take a bit of a risk with young catchers' ability to handle a staff and deal with the grind, mentally and physically, of catching for a competitive club.
"At the same time, it's a great opportunity to build value with players. Take two young catchers and throw them out there, and [if] they do well, all of a sudden you have incredible value at the position going forward."
In 84 games for Pawtucket in 2008, the right-handed-hitting Brown hit .290 with 12 homers and 55 RBIs. The left-handed-hitting Kottaras belted 22 homers and drove in 65 runs to go along with a .243 average.
"If you looked at the platoon that we had at Pawtucket, those guys combined to put up a pretty darned good year," said Epstein.
Epstein was pointing to the Kottaras-Brown solution as just one unconventional scenario, rather than saying it is something the team is leaning toward.
The Sox are also exploring young catchers on the trade market. The Rangers, who have Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, still don't appear to be a fit because of their desire for Clay Buchholz, Boston's young and highly promising righty.
Miguel Montero of the Diamondbacks is another young catcher who intrigues Boston, but WEEI.com reported that Boston rejected a proposal in which the Arizona asked for Michael Bowden, a right-handed starting prospect. Epstein has a close relationship with Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes, the former assistant GM with the Red Sox, so there's a chance that talks could evolve as the offseason progresses.
"I think we look at all the different options," Epstein said. "We could end up being really young, with both catchers. It's something we've talked about internally, and we're comfortable if it comes to that. We might have a veteran and a young catcher. We might have two veterans. We're pretty open-minded."
The same goes for most of Boston's offseason agenda. Two days into the Winter Meetings, Epstein remained pessimistic that his team would strike any deals before going back to Boston on Thursday.
"It's hard to be patient, but it's important to be patient," Epstein said. "It's clear the offseason is not going to end at these Winter Meetings. We'll just continue to work at it until we find some things we like. You get caught up in the offseason and it seems like the dynamic becomes, 'You're trying to win the offseason.' The reality is you're not trying to win the offseason.
"You're trying to win during the season. Sometimes uneventful offseasons can be the right path to help you win during the season and to sustain success. We'll see. We'll try to make the club better, but we're not trying to make a splash. We're not trying to win the offseason. We're focusing on winning year in and year out during the season."
The Red Sox continue to monitor the free-agent market, and are said to be in the mix for star slugger Mark Teixeira and front-line starter A.J. Burnett.
Epstein never discloses which free agents his team is engaged in dialogue with. Have offers been made to any free agents?
"We've made offers," Epstein said. "At the same time, a lot of the negotiations are still in the preliminary stage."
Have the Red Sox met yet with agent Scott Boras, who represents Teixeira, Varitek and Derek Lowe?
"I don't want to get into specifics, but by the time we get out of here, we'll have talked to him," Epstein said.
After meeting with free-agent lefty CC Sabathia in Vegas on Monday, Epstein said the Red Sox didn't meet with any players on Day 2.
"[I] talked to teams and talked to a couple of agents," Epstein said. "We met with a team face-to-face today."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.