Epstein: Red Sox still 'pretty close' to a championship


Epstein: Red Sox still 'pretty close' to a championship

By Art Martone

You know what they say about best-laid plans?

Well, Theo Epstein lived it in 2010.

"I wish we could rewind right to the end of spring training . . . I wish we could go back and replay it," the Red Sox' general manager said a bit wistfully in an extensive interview Thursday afternoon on WEEI's Dale and Holley Show. "Stay a little bit healthier, pitch a little bit better, play a little better defensively, and I think there'd be a different result."

But none of that happened . . . and it certainly wasn't what Epstein and the Red Sox anticipated.

"We felt like we had a really good team, one of the best two or three in all of baseball," he said. "Some things went right, some things went wrong and we had a lot of injuries."

The things that went right?

"The offense performed pretty much as we anticipated," said Epstein. "We're probably going to finish second in runs scored, and lead the league in OPS."

And the things that went wrong?

The plague of injuries, certainly. But, he added, "the pitching and defense underperformed pretty dramatically."

Epstein said injuries to key defenders -- outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron, first baseman Kevin Youkilis, second baseman Dustin Pedroia -- was "largely" the reason the team didn't field as well as antipated. "We had a lot of key defenders go down, and that's an important part of your pitching."

But he said "the greatest weakness" was the bullpen.

"We didn't have a third guy emerge" behind Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, he said. "Coming into the year we thought we had internal candidates (such as Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez) . . . Perhaps we waited too long to find the third arm, but all the while were actively looking outside the organization."

Epstein was particularly frustrated by the lack of available relievers on the open market.

"Trust me, we looked all year," he said. "There just weren't that many guys moved and not many guys at all who helped their teams. Of the guys were were moved by the July 31 trade deadline, there were four major-league relievers traded who ended up helping their clubs, five if you count players who were traded in August.

"Matt Capps traded by the Nationals to the Twins on July 29 would have cost us Daniel Bard.

"Brian Fuentes was claimed by a team, the Twins, that at the time was behind us on the waiver list.

"Then there was Kerry Wood traded by the Indians to the Yankees on July 31. He became available at the last minute. We made what we thought was a pretty aggressive financial bid for him, and we were outbid by the Yankees.

"I feel bad. I feel like we didn't get it done. But there weren't that many relievers available, and not that many guys who did get traded helped their teams."

Epstein also defended embattled closer Jonathan Papelbon, saying Papelbon's past success may have made 2010 seem worse than it was.

"It's an impossible standard," Epstein said. "You're talking about someone who, for a couple of years there, was near-perfect . . .

"He's still good. He still helps us win. It was a tough year for him at times . . . Do we still consider him a very good closer and someone who can help us win a lot of games? Absolutely."

He's similarly optimistic about Josh Beckett and John Lackey returning to form in 2011.

"To be top-of-the-rotation type guys and pitch up to previous levels," he said when asked what his expectations were for Beckett and Lackey going into the season. "And those are still my expectations for those guys going forward."

"Josh, the injury to his back really cost him. He clearly wasn't himself all year . . . We trust the person, we trust the pitcher, to be able to bounce back, and we think he will.

"With Lackey, it was a mixed bag. He did some good things -- leading our club in innings pitched, tying for the club lead in quality starts. That said, there was definitely an adjustment period moving into the A.L. East.

"The biggest issue with him was against left-handed hitters. He was pretty much the same as he's always been against righties. That could have been a result of moving into this division, where there are a lot of good left-handed hitters."

Epstein was predictably vague about the team's specific offseason plans, but he was careful to stress that the organization wouldn't let 2010's disappointments cloud their vision and take them off their long-range plans.

"I think pretty close," he said when asked if the team was close to a championship. "I think this offseason presents us with a lot of challenges, but at the same time I think it presents us with a lot of opportunities."

There are some areas he knows have to be addressed.

"We have to completely fix the bullpen," he said. "We have a lot of important position players eligible for free agency Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, perhaps David Ortiz if the Sox don't pick up his contract option and we have to keep them or replace them, or some combination of the two . . .

"But we have some foundational pieces in place. Some young players who we think can help us next year -- Jed Lowrie, Felix Doubront, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, maybe Ryan Kalish -- and others who may be ready by 2012 . . . Those pieces, combined with the strong nucleus we have and what we do this winter, I think adds up to an organization is in a really good position."

And a championship?

"We could very well win one next year," he said, "and that's the goal."

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com

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First up, President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski talks about "winning the winter", and filling the leadership void left by David Ortiz.

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