By Sean McAdam
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Intent on improving a bullpen that was a season-long weakness last year, the Red Sox have made formal contract offers to "a number'' of free-agent relievers -- both left-handed and right-handed -- and some could result in deals soon, Theo Epstein said Tuesday night.
"We've had offers out on a few guys for a while now,'' said Epstein, "even before we got down here to the winter meetings. Those haven't gone anywhere, but we've made a few other offers to other pitchers here, as well.
"In some cases, we're getting close to a deal -- if we wanted it to be. Others, we're still far apart.''
Epstein wouldn't specify whether any the offers were of the multi-year variety.
"I'd rather not say,'' he said.
Thanks to the precedent-setting deal signed by Joaqin Benoit (three-years, 16.5 million by Detroit) a number of free-agent relievers have been demanding three-year contracts. It would seem highly unlikely that the Sox would go beyond two years to any set-up reliever.
Since becoming general manager, Epstein has only given one contact longer than two years to a reliever. That was to Keith Foulke, who was signed to a four-year deal after the 2003 season.
FoxSports.com reported that one of the offers has been made to Kevin Gregg, who pitched for Toronto last season and has closed for both the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins.
Gregg throws hard, averaging more than a strikeout per inning over most of his career.
According to a source familiar with the club's thinking, there's some division of thought on Scott Downs. The left-handed Downs is a Type A free agent who was offered arbitration by the Blue Jays, meaning that signing him would require the Red Sox to surrender a first-round pick.
The Sox have gained an extra-first round pick in losing catcher Victor Martinez, and could stand to pick up another if Adrian Beltre signs with a team which had a winning record last year.
Additionally, the Sox gained a sandwich round pick for Martinez and could do the same with Beltre, giving them as many as 5 picks in the first 50 or so selections next draft.
It's known the Sox have also been interested in ageless lefty Arthur Rhodes, who last year became an All-Star for the first time at the age of 40 while pitching for the Cincinnati Reds.
Despite his age and high mileage -- Rhodes has pitched 19 years in the big leagues -- he comes without the price tag of compensation since the Reds did not offer him salary arbitration.
Last year, Rhodes compiled a 1.01 WIP. Over his last three seasons, all in the National League, Rhodes had a 2.39 ERA while allowing just 86 hits over 121 23 innings with 112 strikeouts.
The Sox are also known to have an interest in Matt Guerrier and Brian Fuentes, two of four members of the 2010 Minnesota Twins bullpen currently on the free agent market.