Calm before the Winter Meetings storm
Red Sox could be major players or silent observers in Nashville
BOSTON -- One thing the Red Sox have never had during Theo Epstein's regime as general manager is a quiet offseason. In Epstein's first five Hot Stove seasons with the Sox, he made headline moves.
So as the Winter Meetings get set to convene in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, might the Red Sox -- even as well-positioned as they are coming off their World Series championship -- make another blockbuster move?
The one big fish who appears to be out there for the taking is Johan Santana, the ace left-hander who has won two American League Cy Young Awards during his time with the Twins. The Red Sox are one club that the Twins have been talking to. Fittingly, the Yankees are also heavily involved, as are a number of other teams.
Epstein was fairly coy when asked if a major move might be in his near future.
"Whether or not anything gets done, I wouldn't feel comfortable hazarding a guess," said Epstein. "I think, as I've told you guys before, we're pretty pleased with the position that we're in. We think we have a really nice mix of veterans and young players at the big league level, and another wave or two of talented young players coming through our farm system that should make an impact. Baseball can humble you in a hurry and things can turn around in a hurry, and we don't take for granted the position that we're in, but there's reasons to be optimistic about our future."
As always, Epstein will explore every opportunity that's out there.
"Just because we think we're in a sound place right now doesn't mean we ignore opportunities that make us better, both in the short term and in the long term," Epstein said. "I think it's our job to explore those opportunities. Whether or not anything major happens, I can't tell you. I can tell you we'll be thorough in at least exploring opportunities that might make us better."
The World Series champions already completed two major orders of offseason business by re-signing third baseman Mike Lowell and right-hander Curt Schilling. As it stands now, the Sox have their entire starting nine -- perhaps with Jacoby Ellsbury replacing Coco Crisp in center field -- in place for 2008.
The starting rotation has everybody back from the team that won it all, and prospect Clay Buchholz -- the author of a Sept. 1 no-hitter against the Orioles -- perhaps knocking on the door for a spot in Spring Training.
If nothing happens on the Santana front, it actually could wind up being a rather tame offseason for the Red Sox.
"It seems like we might have one of our calmer offseasons in recent memory, which is not necessarily a bad thing," said Epstein recently. "I think it's happening for the right reasons."
The Red Sox are dealing from a position of strength this offseason.
"We're not in a desperate situation where we feel like we have to completely overhaul our present or our future," Epstein said. "At the same time, we do want to be aggressive in looking for any opportunity to make the club better. We know our 29 competitors are doing the same."
When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, they opted not to bring back Pedro Martinez, Orlando Cabrera or Derek Lowe, while at the same time adding David Wells, Edgar Renteria and Matt Clement.
This group of World Series champions figures to undergo far less tinkering.
"We're never afraid of change," said Epstein. "I think change in baseball is often necessary and oftentimes a good thing. But we're also not going to go out and seek change just for the sake of change. I think in this case, bringing back Mike and bringing back Curt on deals that made sense for the club for the short term and the long term was the right move and will allow us to continue to grow as an organization with some of our young players -- even as we compete hopefully for another World Series."
One obvious matter on Epstein's plate will be Crisp. As Boston's starting center fielder in the past two seasons, Crisp has been a disappointment with the bat, though he was a stalwart on defense -- particularly in 2007.
Ellsbury supplanted him in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series, and he flourished for the rest of the postseason, much like he did in September while filling in for the injured Manny Ramirez.
It seems that Ellsbury's time has arrived, and that leaves Crisp in a state of limbo. Then again, that could be a good problem to have.
"I think we're very lucky to have two very good center fielders on the roster, and they're not mutually exclusive," Epstein said. "I think there can be a role for both guys on the club or even a competition in Spring Training to win the everyday job, if we get to that point. Coco made an incredible breakthrough last year on defense, and I thought he was one of the two or three best defensive outfielders in all of baseball last year. I know he wasn't rewarded with a Gold Glove, but he probably should have been.
"I think there's room for improvement. To be honest, he hasn't performed offensively the last couple of years the way he did earlier in his career. None of us would be surprised to see him get back to that level of play offensively again, which, combined with his defense, would make him pretty special."
The Red Sox will likely see what the market is for Crisp, and perhaps they'll be able to fill some of their other holes if the right deal comes along.
What are Boston's needs?
"I think we're feeling pretty comfortable with our starting position players and with our starting pitching, and we'll turn our attention to the bullpen, our bench and see what other opportunities might be out there for us this winter," said Epstein. "But again, now that our starting nine is set and we have plenty of depth -- knock on wood -- with our starting pitching, we're going to turn our attention to the bench and to the bullpen and try to complete the 25-man roster as best we can."
The Red Sox are in the advantageous position of not only being champions, but having the core of their roster set before the Winter Meetings even start. If there is a blockbuster deal, it could be the ultimate bonus move for a team that is already in good shape.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.