Epstein: Re-signing Martinez and Beltre is Red Sox' top priority


Epstein: Re-signing Martinez and Beltre is Red Sox' top priority

By Sean McAdam

Even before the free agent bidding process begins in earnest Tuesday at the General Managers' meetings in Orlando, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein emphasized that his first priority this winter is re-signing two of his own free agents, Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez.

"Victor would certainly be our first choice to be our 2011 catcher and beyond," said Epstein in a conference call with reporters Friday. "He did an outstanding job for us in the year-and-a-half he was here and we'd certainly be comfortable with him coming back and have been pursuing him."

The Sox are monitoring other catching options, including free agent John Buck, but that doesn't preclude focusing on Martinez.

"I know its been portrayed in the media a little bit as if we haven't been pursuing him. But that's really between us and Victor and his agents. We absolutely want this guy back and he knows that. He's known that for a while. We'll see if something can be worked out. Things happen in free agency."

On the matter of Adrian Beltre, Epstein said: "Our first choice for third base for 2001 and beyond would be to bring Adrian Beltre back."

Other topics from Epstein's conference call:

While acknowledging that re-signing Beltre is a priority, Epstein added that he wouldn't have an issue with moving Kevin Youkilis back to third if the Sox found another option for first base.

"If we were presented with a scenario where Youkilis moves back to third, we would be comfortable with that. It's something we've had a dialogue with Youk.

"He sees himself as a third baseman. He came up as a third baseman and he's maintained a lot of the skills that are required to play the position. He's got really good instincts over there. We'd be comfortable if we had to move Youkilis over to third and know that he would do a fine job defensively."

Thanks to an agreement with the Players Association, Major League Baseball moved up some deadlines and timetables this offseason, allowing players to qualify for free agency sooner and begin discussing possible deals quicker.

Epstein said that's already resulted in increased talk, though to date, little in the way of activity.

"There's certainly more discussion," said Epstein, "and I think it has also impacted he trade market as well. There has been probably more engagement than in previous years. Some years, team wait and agents wait to make initial contact around the GM meetings. But this year it seems like there's been more discussion prior to the GM meetings."

In the past, Epstein has advocated against giving out multiyear deals to set-up relievers, believing that their performance is too inconsistent to warrant long-term commitments.

But this year, Epstein acknowledges that teams looking for bullpen help may have to guarantee more than one-year deals.

"It's too difficult to tell this early, to be honest with you," he said. "The nature of initial contact, the first couple of calls between clubs and agents, is certainly different than conversations that occur later in the winter. We'll have to see how that plays out.

The annual winter meetings are almost a month away, but the GM meetings next Tuesday, offer a chance to size up options.

"Typically," said Epstein, "the GM meetings are very helpful to lay the foundation for future deals and the Winter Meetings are even more helpful because that's where you tend to finalize deals or at least get them to the doorstep of completion. There's a lot of information exchanged at the GM meetings. You have all 30 GMs under the same roof, which can only help. It's almost like a starters flag goes off for teams and agents to get serious about the winter. We look forward to it. The calls that you have before the meetings are usually less serious than the calls that you have after the meetings given the fact that you had a chance to meet face to face and can get down to business."

The Sox appear to be one of the few teams set with starting pitchers, with five veterans returning, most earning significant salaries.

"We have to look at the pitching staff separately as it relates to starters and the bullpen," he said. "With respect to starters, we certainly feel like we don't need to do anything. We feel good about the group that we have coming back. It's a stable group that also presents a lot of upside given the talent of the pitchers on the staff and the fact that a few of these guys are coming off years that weren't their best.

"That said, if there is an opportunity to acquire someone who could fundamentally impact our staff and make it even better, we can't rule that out. We have a lot of resources already allocated to our starting staff. You can argue there's a limit to what percentage of your payroll you should dedicate to the starting five alone. We look at every potential opportunity with an open mind and go from there, understanding that it's not an area that we necessarily have to address, which is usually a good thing.

"When you go into the winter needing to acquire a starter or two, it can lead to some difficult outcomes. Whereas if you're set, you can look only at opportunities to get better."

Unsurprisingly, Epstein said upgrading the bullpen is near the top of the team's offseason to-do list.

"We'll acquire at least one reliever, if not more, either through trade or free agency, before the winter's over." vowed Epstein. "We're spending a lot of our time trying to identify the right targets and pursue them in a way that makes sense -- not only for the 2011 club, but possibly beyond as well and make sure that we're set up in the pen going forward as we'd like to think we are in the rotation.

A number of free agent relievers -- including Scott Downs and Jason Frasor -- were pursued by the Sox last July at the trading deadline.

"It's a fairly deep class for relievers, especially non-closing type relievers," he said. "Usually when you have a deep free-agent class at any one position it usually means there's a lot of demand as well because those clubs that are losing the players to free agency are also in the market looking. That seems to be the case this year, too . . . It's an interesting class and there will be a lot of activity there.

Epstein also provided some updates on the physical status of a number of Red Sox veterans who underwent surgical procedures.

Dustin Pedroia (broken foot): Epstein said the second baseman underwent a CT-scan last week and is making "good progress. He's able to stop wearing the protective boot and increase his workouts." Pedroia will be re-evaluated in Boston around Dec. 1.

"The healing is exactly what we he hoped to see," concluded Epstein.

Kevin Youkilis (thumb surgery): Youkilis is "doing really well," said Epstein. "The healing is basically right on schedule."

Jacoby Ellsbury (broken ribs): Epstein described the outfielder as "aysmptomatic." Ellsbury has already begun his off-season conditoning at API in Arizona, "doing his normal routine at API without any concerns."

Mike Cameron (addominal tear): Cameron is "showing steady improvement," and will be visited by members of the medical and training staff at his Atlanta home next week.

The organization must find someone to replace Torey Lovullo as manager at Triple A Pawtucket. Lovullo was hired earlier this week as first base coach for the Toronto Blue Jays.

"We have some internal candidates," said Epstein, who added the team spent part of this week interviewing some candidates from outside the organization.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.