Sunday, December 6, 2009
Updated: December 7, 7:30 AM ET
Epstein is no impulse shopper
By Gordon Edes
INDIANAPOLIS -- Here's a handy guide to the Red Sox's shopping list at the baseball winter meetings, which officially open Monday in Indianapolis. Consumer warning: There's a danger that it could be obsolete by week's end. One day you're taking home Mark Teixeira. The next you're signing Brad Penny and John Smoltz. Theo Epstein wasn't lying when he said he's coming here with Plans A, B, C, D, etc., etc.
Indeed, these affairs tend to be fluid. To cite an example from an earlier generation: One day you're trying to sign Mike Mussina; the next, you come home with Manny Ramirez.
An aside to those who consider it incumbent upon the Sox to make a big splash here: In six of the last seven seasons, the Sox have won 95 or more games and qualified for the postseason. Epstein, as he has tried to make clear time and again to an often impatient audience, always has as much of an eye on four to five seasons down the road as he does next year.
His method appears to be working. And if that means passing on Roy Halladay, who would give the Sox their best chance to compete with the Yankees in 2010 but might extract a price, both in terms of prospects and the cost of a long-term contract extension, that doesn't square with Epstein's long-term philosophy, the Sox will explore other avenues.
Anyway, here are five things on Boston's to do list this holiday (or Holliday) shopping season:
1. Re-sign Jason Bay
This is the primary item on the Sox' wish list, now that they've resolved the shortstop issue by signing Marco Scutaro, a/k/a the guy keeping the seat warm for Cuban phenom Jose Iglesias. There is competition, primarily from the Mariners and Angels, the Giants to a lesser extent, the Mets and undoubtedly a team or two that has yet to surface.
Bay, who with Matt Holliday ranks as one of the two most desirable bats on the open market, has leverage. He also is dealing with the siren call from hometown Seattle. Bay may not be quite the player that Holliday is, but the Sox know exactly what he is, a hard-working guy who fit seamlessly into their clubhouse. But as much as they like him, it might not be enough to squeeze a guaranteed fifth year out of Epstein. Bay could sign this week, but just before Christmas seems a more likely timetable.
Holliday is the alternative, but the Red Sox' apparent thinking (which could be a bluff) is that they believe his price will end up being too high. There's also the Scott Boras factor, in the aftermath of the Teixeira disappointment (or larceny, in the eyes of some still-smoldering Sox executives, although Epstein isn't one of them).
The fallback plan in left would be to find a right-handed platoon partner for the recently acquired Jeremy Hermida, but that is by far the least desirable alternative. Expect Epstein to do better than that.
2. Try to coerce Jed Hoyer into trading first baseman Adrian Gonzalez
It's not possible to overstate how close Epstein is to Hoyer, his former assistant and new general manager of the San Diego Padres. In 2003, when Epstein and Hoyer journeyed together to convince Curt Schilling to accept a Thanksgiving trade with the Red Sox, it was Epstein who threw $20 bills all over the hotel room in which Hoyer had lost his lunch, in an apologetic (and expensive) attempt to clean up after him. (That's not an indictment of Shonda Schilling's cooking, by the way.)
The Red Sox would love to add the power-hitting Adrian Gonzalez to the middle of their lineup, but think about it: If you're Hoyer, what are the chances that as your first move in your new position, you trade your best and most popular player to your former employer. And there's no chance the Sox could get away with dumping lesser prospects on Hoyer, the way they did on Arizona in the Schilling deal.
3. Monitor the Halladay proceedings
Using the Johan Santana trade talks as precedent, the Sox elected to hold onto such prospects as Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury rather than dealing them to the Twins and then signing Santana to a six-year extension averaging nearly $23 million a year, which is what the Mets gave him.
Halladay, the best pitcher in the American League this decade, will command a comparable contract. The Sox will be tempted, especially given Halladay's record as a Yankee-killer, but the in-house consensus appears to argue in favor of fiscal prudence. Stay tuned, however.
4. Pass on John Lackey
John Lackey, the Angels' right-hander, is the best available starter on the free-agent market, but unless they're executing a colossal bluff, the Sox don't see enough there to justify the A.J. Burnett-type money it may take to sign him.
5. Shop for bullpen bargains and back-of-the-rotation starters
The Sox like left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez a lot and requested his medical records, but the Yankees figure to be big players for his services as well, so they may have to consider looking at lesser-priced alternatives. They also seem willing to take a chance on a pitcher out of the dented-can bin, a Ben Sheets or Rich Harden or even a real long shot like Kelvim Escobar, if he can demonstrate that his shoulder isn't about to fall off.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.