Commentary

Epstein's work isn't done

After triumphant Gonzalez signing, Sox GM could have more up his sleeve

Updated: December 8, 2010, 11:23 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It was hard to find anyone at baseball's winter meetings who forecast anything but huge things for Adrian Gonzalez, who will be a "monster" at Fenway Park, according to the general manager who traded him to the Red Sox, Jed Hoyer.

Well, there was one exception: the winking National League executive who predicted, with exaggerated pantomime, that Gonzalez will expand to monstrous physical dimensions over the course of what is expected to be a seven-year contract.

Not to worry, advised Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers, who was the Padres' general manager who traded for Gonzalez in 2006 and watched him blossom into an All-Star.

"He takes care of himself,'' Towers said. "Defensively, he's the best I've seen, and I had [Wally] Joyner. You can't bunt on him. He's so quick, he'll turn bunts into double plays.''

[+] EnlargeJosh Willingham
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireOne option for the Red Sox is Washington Nationals left fielder Josh Willingham, who thrived against lefties until his season was cut short by knee surgery.

So, Red Sox fans can rest easy. Gonzalez will do his damage to the Wall, not the postgame spread. The reality is, Gonzalez's weight was never an issue in San Diego.

For all the heft Gonzalez brings to Boston's lineup, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein arrived here Monday afternoon with more on his plate. With Jayson Werth having signed with the Washington Nationals on Sunday, the number of elite free agent outfielders left on the market is down to one, Carl Crawford. And with Crawford likely to ask for more dollars and years than Werth got (7 years, $126 million), he might exceed the price the Sox are comfortable paying.

But the Sox still have a line in on Crawford, and by holding off on Gonzalez's contract extension for tax purposes, the Sox remain in a position to make a big play for the free-agent left fielder, should they choose to. Still, if the Sox wouldn't go to eight years with Gonzalez, it defies logic to think they would do so with Crawford.

And with Victor Martinez gone to Detroit and Adrian Beltre left with no position to play in Boston, the Sox could use another right-handed bat, preferably one who plays the outfield.

An intriguing option is Washington Nationals left fielder Josh Willingham, who thrived against lefties (.264/.384/.446/.830) until his season was cut short in August by surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee. The Sox have asked about him in the past, according to one club source, "but their asking price has always been high.''

But the Nationals are fielding offers here, and talked to the Red Sox, according to multiple sources. If Washington can add another bat to play first base, according to the Washington Post, the Nationals may be more greatly disposed to move him.

Other options? Towers created a stir during the GM meetings a couple of weeks ago when he said he was willing to listen to offers for 23-year-old rising star Justin Upton. But on Monday, Towers said "we'll probably keep him.''

[+] EnlargeRyan Kalish
Jerry Lai/US PresswireThe Sox could open the season with Ryan Kalish in left field but there are indications they'd prefer to get him more seasoning by playing every day in Pawtucket.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have heard from a couple of clubs about their star 24-year-old, Andrew McCutchen, but not from the Red Sox. The Pirates would have to be "overwhelmed" to move him, a club source said.

Other potential trade targets could include Juan Rivera of the Angels, especially if the Angels sign Crawford, and Cody Ross of the Giants. No talks have taken place. Matt Diaz, nontendered by Atlanta after five seasons with the Braves, also has been productive against lefties (.907 career OPS).

The Sox could do nothing with their outfield and open the season with Jacoby Ellsbury flanked by Ryan Kalish and J.D. Drew, with Mike Cameron coming off the bench. But that's not likely. There are indications that the Sox would prefer to open next season with Kalish getting more seasoning by playing every day in Pawtucket.

"There's been a lot of talk about our outfield and we've talked about it internally," Epstein said. "I feel like if we brought back the same group, we'd be OK. There's some benefit to bringing the right player into the mix for a couple of different reasons. It might allow us some time for some of our outfielders' development paths to take hold, provide more depth for guys who are coming off injury, and might provide a better mix against right- or left-handed pitching.

"I think there is the possibility of us doing something in the outfield. It might be a more complementary type move. And if we don't find something that makes sense, then we are comfortable going with the group that we have. We actually have some nice depth as it is. I think the right piece might work as 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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