Commentary

Checking Epstein's to-do list

Left field, third base, pitching needs still must be addressed

Updated: December 14, 2009, 7:09 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

Here's a check on the status of Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein's offseason to-do list at the conclusion of the winter meetings:

1. Get a shortstop

STATUS: Done
The Red Sox signed free agent Marco Scutaro, a high-energy on-base type who is 34 and could well have slippage from his 2009 career season with the Blue Jays, but will provide more offense and better defensive stability than the Gang of Four that manned the position last season.

2. Sign a left fielder

STATUS: Unfinished business
The Red Sox want Jason Bay. He is open to coming back, but may be waiting to see if hometown Seattle weighs in with an offer. The Angels, at least publicly, all but withdrew from the Bay market on Wednesday; on Thursday, the Mets jumped in with an offer, reportedly for four years and about $65 million. In the meantime, the Red Sox have hardly ruled out Matt Holliday as an alternative, especially if the market for Holliday doesn't develop the way agent Scott Boras envisions. Mock Boras' asking price at your own peril. He didn't get the $200 million deal he proposed for Mark Teixeira, but few people thought he'd get $180 million over eight years for Tex, either. Until the Yanks get themselves a left fielder, they remain a threat to move on Holliday and/or Bay.

3. Resolve the third-base situation

STATUS: Unfinished business, but getting there
Epstein has a deal in place with Texas for Mike Lowell, a player held in the highest esteem by manager Terry Francona but evidently deemed too great a health risk in 2010. Assuming everyone passes their physicals, the deal should be done by next week, which will eliminate a great veteran presence from the Sox clubhouse but will add a catcher, Max Ramirez, whose bat wowed talent evaluators until sore wrists caused a big dropoff last season. If Ramirez has a great spring, the Sox may be faced with deciding to cut ties with Jason Varitek, though the more likely course would be for Ramirez to begin the year in Triple-A.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Beltre
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images If Theo Epstein's plan is to upgrade defensively at third base, Adrian Beltre would be a natural fit.

So who plays third base for the Red Sox? They are fully engaged in negotiations for Adrian Beltre, the free-agent third baseman who has no peer defensively and may enjoy an offensive renaissance removed from the daunting dimensions of Seattle's Safeco Field. The Sox would like this to happen quickly, but understand that is seldom the case with a Boras client. They also are banking on a fair price, always a point of dispute with the Boras Corporation. But for all the rancor that has developed over the years between Sox ownership and Boras, Epstein and the agent have mutual respect and a good working relationship. Seems there's a good chance of this happening.

Can the Sox add both Beltre and re-sign Bay (or add Holliday)? "It probably will take some creativity on Theo's part,'' one baseball executive said Thursday. Bottom line: The Red Sox have the dough, but will only commit to terms, in dollars and years, that make sense to them.

4. Add pitching depth, in rotation and bullpen

STATUS: Work in progress
So far, the moves have been small ones. Signing guys with minor league options, like Ramon Ramirez (Deuce), Fabio Castro and back-from-Japan Scott Atchison. Acquiring a reclamation project in Boof Bonser, whose shoulder woes derailed him with the Twins but could help either out of the pen or at the back end of the rotation. Rich Harden signed with the Rangers, but the Red Sox should have some options, especially after nontendered players enter the free-agent pool following the Dec. 12 deadline for tendering contracts.

5. Make a blockbuster deal

STATUS: Is this on the list?
Good question. The Red Sox would love to make a deal for Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but new San Diego GM and former Epstein protégé Jed Hoyer is in no rush to make a deal. This could be revisited in the spring.

Then there is Roy Halladay, the Toronto ace who will be traded, the only questions being when and where. The Angels look like favorites, but the Yankees could make a strong play. The Phillies seem disinclined to reengage, but have the prospects.

The Red Sox? Perhaps it is Halladay who most crystallizes Epstein's musings about measuring the team's short-term needs against its long-term future. The GM will not easily sell off 10 years of contract control of Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard, especially after Buchholz got his act together in the season's second half. Casey Kelly? He could be in the big leagues by 2011, with a potentially unlimited ceiling. Halladay is great, on the track to Cooperstown, but is he worth the $22 million-plus it will cost to re-sign? There are competing voices on that topic in the Sox offices, but Epstein is unlikely to be overruled on this one. Halladay's price in talent would have to come down significantly.

Does that mean the Red Sox aren't trying to win in 2010? A foolish notion. It means they intend to win on their terms, which so far during Epstein's tenure seems to be working out pretty well.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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