ORLANDO, Fla. -- There was a lot of baseball power in the Waldorf Astoria hotel bar Wednesday night. General managers and owners littered the room, having previously attended a reception to help punctuate the meetings taking place throughout the week.
For Red Sox fans, however, there was only one group -- sitting far in the back of the room, forming a circle with two couches and a pair of chairs -- that mattered. That was made up of owners John Henry and Tom Werner, team president Larry Lucchino and general manager Theo Epstein.
Who knows what the discussion involved? It could have very well been regarding the merits of the Florida weather. But, then again, this could have very well been the kind of architecture that ends up defining an offseason.
"We did that [Wednesday] night. There's a lot going on," said Henry when later asked about the get-together. "As to whether or not it will turn into anything actual is hard to say. We did get a chance to spend time together [Wednesday] night."
It is reasonable to believe that the discussions were of some importance when looking at the Red Sox' plan heading into the meat of the offseason, and not just singing the praises of minor-leaguer Reynaldo Rodriguez. (The former independent league first baseman highlighted a Thursday devoid of news when Epstein pointed out that he was hitting .368 with six homers in Columbia.)
The intrigue regarding the Red Sox' team-building process only figures to be amping up from here on in, but there were some bits of information that proved useful as we now await the winter meetings in early December. So, this is what we learned during the first of two go-rounds for baseball in Central Florida this offseason:
ARE THE RED SOX GOING TO BE DOWN WITH UPTON?
A commonly heard utterance in the Waldorf Astoria the last few days has been, "Why would the Diamondbacks trade Justin Upton?" It's a good question.
He is 23 years old, signed through 2015, making just $4.25 million in 2011, $6.75 million in '12 and maxing out at $14.75 in '15. He is two years removed from a season in which he hit .300 with 26 homers and 20 stolen bases, while only falling off slightly last year (.273, 17 HR, 18 SB).
In the middle of the week, one major league source said when asked about the Red Sox interest, "Who wouldn't be interested?"
The answer for why Arizona would be motivated to move Upton is simple: They need good players, such as the kinds they are thought to be asking for from the Red Sox (Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard as just part of a package). The problem for the Sox is that such a transaction might be too much subtraction without enough addition.
Would an Ellsbury-for-Upton swap make sense for the Red Sox? Absolutely. Upton is a much-coveted righty hitter, and would be under control three years beyond what the Sox have Ellsbury for. (He is a first-year arbitration-eligible player this offseason.)
But such a swap doesn't appear to be an option. The Sox experienced some frustration in regard to many teams' perception of their young center fielder, with some focusing more on the 27-year-old's 18-game 2010 season instead of the 70 stolen bases in 2009. The Diamondbacks want more, and at this time the Red Sox aren't willing to give them that.
ADRIAN BELTRE BETTER NOT LIKE OAKLAND
We had heard that the free agent third baseman was getting "unprecedented" interest even prior to the GM meetings. And while the hallways were filled with skepticism regarding what level of "interest" we were talking about, there appeared to be at least one sign that this isn't going to be another uneasy offseason for Beltre.
According to a report out of the Dominican Republic, the A's have come out of the gate offering five years, $64 million.
On the surface, this would appear to be a problem for the Red Sox, who are thought to feel uncomfortable going beyond four years for Beltre. They are most likely not about to get into an uncomfortable territory by chasing terms set by other teams, so matching Oakland's commitment (in years, anyway) would not appear to be a likelihood.
But this is (on a slightly different scale) a similar scenario to last offseason when the A's tried to lure in Beltre with a relatively impressive amount of years (3), only to see the third baseman choose the one-year deal with the Red Sox.
Now, this time around is a bit different considering the fact that landing in a spot where Beltre can put up numbers isn't so much a consideration. He won't be playing for a contract (or playing on a "pillow" contract) any time soon. So if it is security the player is looking for, Oakland would appear to present a pretty good option.
But there is the chance that Oakland simply isn't for Beltre. When asked at the end of the 2010 season what he would be prioritizing, he told WEEI.com: "It's winning." Does that give the Red Sox a leg-up, extra year, or not? That might be the Sox' best hope.
LIFE WITHOUT VICTOR MARTINEZ IS UNCERTAIN
More than a few teams met with Martinez' representatives while at the meetings (including the Red Sox and Rangers). And there was one report suggesting the catcher will be making his choice before the conclusion of the winter meetings.
Like Beltre, there won't be a shortage of interest in Martinez, amping up his price tag to a level that will be uncomfortable for the Red Sox.
Then came news that the perceived Plan B, John Buck, would be exiting the market, signing a three-year deal with the Marlins. (The reality was that the Red Sox were wary of investing too much in Buck, who was coming off a career year in '10.) That left people wondering what was to become of the Red Sox' catching position if Martinez did go elsewhere.
All of it led to talk of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and if he could actually be considered a starter instead of the catcher-in-waiting as the Sox head to Fort Myers. Epstein said that the 25-year-old certainly was being considered as one option to serve as the team's primary backstop, and Texas general manager Jon Daniels passed on his opinion that Salty might be up to the task.
“I definitely believe he has the ability to be an everyday guy,” said Rangers GM Jon Daniels, the GM who traded Saltalamacchia to the Red Sox. “I’ve always felt that way. We just felt like he needed a change of scenery. Boston is probably a good fit for him. They’ve always liked him. They’ve had success with a variety of different guys behind the plate. Veteran pitching staff probably helps, vs. asking a young catcher to develop a young staff. I hope it works out for him.
“He’s going to work, there’s no question about that. And there’s not a question about the ability. I think in general, with the exception of the [Joe] Mauers and the [Brian] McCanns, it’s a tough position at a young age because there’s so much going on, and I think Salty had that. Plus, he had the weight of being a big name in a big trade [for Mark Teixeira], being called up to the big leagues out of Double-A in a pennant race; there was a lot going on in his life. It’s hard enough to catch and hit every day without having to deal with some of that stuff. Sometimes it doesn’t work out in certain spots. I would be surprised if it doesn’t work out for him.”
Still, securing the services of Martinez would appear to be the best fit -- certainly for 2011 -- when looking at the construction of the team. But it is Martinez' versatility that also made the catcher one of the most talked about names at the GM meetings, which could be trouble for the Sox.
THE RED SOX SHORTSTOP SITUATION MIGHT BE CHANGING
One somewhat surprising revelation at the GM meetings was that Marco Scutaro -- who has one more guaranteed year with the Sox (at $5 million), with a $6 million club option (that comes with a $1.5 million buyout) or $3 million player option in '12 -- is drawing interest.
If the Red Sox were to act on the inquiries from around the league, it would mean a few things:
- Jed Lowrie becomes a more important piece of the Red Sox' puzzle. Epstein told reporters Wednesday that he actually feels the 26-year-old is a better third baseman than second baseman (which was his primary position in college). Of course, if the Sox go down that route of moving Lowrie to shortstop (Epstein also surmised the infielder is built to play on a regular basis), that, of course, eliminates one back-up plan at third if Beltre left.
- The Japanese media members were insistent that the Red Sox would be bidding for the rights to infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a switch-hitting middle infielder who led Japan's Pacific League in hitting in '10 with a .346 average. They might be on to something. But even if Scutaro was moved, going hard after Nishioka (bidding stops at 5 p.m. Tuesday) might not make complete sense from the Red Sox' perspective. There is still the perception that Jose Iglesias will be ready to jump into the starting lineup in '12, and making a commitment to Nishioka, who some feel is actually more of a second baseman than a shortstop, might not add up.
BUILDING A BULLPEN IS NO EASY TASK
Few executives were thrilled with the three-year deal given to reliever Joaquin Benoit -- who had a career year in '10 after suffering through poor performances, and arm problems, for the rest of his nine-season big league career. The relief pitchers on the market, however, were certainly smiling.
The Red Sox liked Benoit -- more than they did Buck -- but not at what he ended up costing the Detroit Tigers. The one thing Epstein did admit, however, was that the Sox might just have to break from their philosophy of not giving multi-year deals to relief pitchers. In other words, this was one corner of the free agent market with which the Red Sox might have to get slightly out of their comfort zone.
The talk of trading Jonathan Papelbon figures to be just that, talk, and nothing more. Teams simply aren't going to take on a closer who is coming off his worst year, making more than $11 million, and is preparing himself to head to free agency after '11. And while the Sox very well may be willing to pay for part of Papelbon's price tag (hoping to perhaps get some money they can roll over to multiple pieces of the team's bullpen) not getting anything substantial back (whether in talent or finances) is a concern considering the closer's remaining importance in the back-end of the Red Sox' pen.
Andrew Miller and Taylor Buchholz were starts, but the Red Sox have a long way to go to fix the problem that was their '10 bullpen. In '09 they had a solid group, but that was built in a variety of ways -- trades (Billy Wagner, Ramon Ramirez), injury risks (Takashi Saito, Wagner) and prospects (Daniel Bard). It was a reminder that there is no one right answer when finding the best way to construct a successful group of relievers, a fact they will be faced with in the coming days.