By Sean McAdam
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Don't expect the Red Sox to be among the most aggressive bidders for the thin class of free-agent starting pitchers this winter. With their rotation featuring five veterans set, the Sox don't have a lot of room.
But do expect that the Sox will be looking to improve their organizational starting depth, helping to provide some insurance should injury or poor performance deplete their major league rotation.
That could include taking a chance on a veteran coming off injury (Brandon Webb, Jeff Francis).
"We'd like to add some starting depth, in one form or another,'' said Theo Epstein. "Whether it's someone coming off an injury who might help us in the second half of the season or it's a really good minor-league free agent who we could have at Triple A. Through one form or another, we'd like to add some depth.
"That's an area we'd like to address.''
The Sox are counting on Felix Doubront to, for the time being, help out in the bullpen. Meanwhile, beyond Michael Bowden (who has struggled in the major leagues) and Junichi Tazawa (coming off Tommy John surgery), there are a lot of options internally.
Free agent Victor Martinez lives in nearby Orlando, but Epstein said he didn't feel the need to go meet with the catcher face-to-face.
"We had a lot of talks, heartfelt exchanges,'' said Epstein. "I think he knows how we feel. We know how he feels, certainly. I would do it in a second if I thought there was something to be gained from it, but he knows how we feel.''
Detroit remains the clear front-runner to sign Martinez, though the Tigers' pursuit of Adam Dunn could impact that. Others with an interest in Martinez: Baltimore, Texas and Colorado.
With the quarterly owners' meetings overlapping with the ongoing GM meetings, the two groups met for several hours yesterday to talk (again) about the upcoming collective bargaining agreement, which expires after the 2011 season.
Among the items discussed: possible changes to the current amateur draft -- including official slotting and the introduction of a worldwide draft -- allowing teams to trade draft picks, and the elimination of the current compensation system for losing free agents.
Next summer's draft is regarded by many scouting directors as one of the best in recent years.
Epstein was asked how that might impact his moves this winter -- knowing that signing free agents will cost picks that are even more valuable than usual, while losing free agents will result in picks in a deeper-than-usual draft.
"If the draft is particularly strong or particularly weak,'' said Epstein, "I think you allow it to be one determining factor out of many. If you're talking about nuances, where 'It might be strong,' or 'It might be weaker,' then that doesn't change anything. It's hard enough to tell on draft day whether it's a good draft, let alone this far out.''
The draft is said to be deeper than usual for both college and high school pitchers.
Epstein raved about recent international free agent signing Juan Carlos Linares, who defected from Cuba, signed with the Red Sox last July and is currently winding down his season in the Arizona Fall League.
"He's really opened some eyes,'' said Epstein. "He's very toolsy and it looks like he's really going to hit. He was centering everything, showing significant opposite-field power and pulling the ball with authority.''
Linares is considered an above average outfielder with the ability to play all three outfield spots. In 17 games, Linares hit .397 with 3 homers and 14 RBI, with a .423 OBP, .662 slugging percentage and OPS of 1.084.