CHICAGO — Theo Epstein issued the first defining words of the offseason in a secluded corner of the downstairs lobby at the O’Hare International Airport Hilton Tuesday.
“I think we have a lot to do,” the Red Sox general manager said. “But I’m not so sure there are obvious ways to do it. Se we’re going to have to explore creative ways to get better.”
Got that? No “obvious ways.”
When looking at how the Red Sox might be re-shaped for 2010, perhaps the only cut-and-dried, fill-in-the-blank position the team has is shortstop. And even that gets somewhat complicated when looking at the four-year big league contract 19-year-old Cuban shortstop Jose Iglesias is playing under (along with Jed Lowrie’s health).
Other than that, it could be status quo for the Sox, with the re-signing of free agent outfielder Jason Bay while going with the same corner infielders and starting pitchers. That scenario would mean no Adrian Gonzalez, Felix Hernandez or Roy Halladay. But that wouldn’t seem to be the “creative” approach to which Epstein refers.
On Tuesday, at the general managers meetings, a few of the particulars who figure to factor into exactly how creative Epstein and the Sox can get took center stage.
You might remember Jed Hoyer, you probably never met Alex Anthopoulos, and you sometimes want to forget Scott Boras. But by the end of the offseason you’ll have most likely digested their words and images because, as Epstein explained, the Red Sox have a lot to do.
Here is a look at three men who surfaced Tuesday at the GM meetings and don’t figure to be fading off into the offseason sunset anytime soon:
The New Hampshire native clearly is energized. Anybody who watched the new Padres GM Tuesday during the media availability period in the Presidential Ballroom could see that.
But, unfortunately for Hoyer, there is that out-of-the-gate awkwardness that he has had to dodge from Jump Street.
He is the general manager for a team that employs Adrian Gonzalez, a player who just so happens to be one of the main objects of desire when it comes to Hoyer’s former employer, the Red Sox. So, whether Hoyer likes it or not, assumptions are naturally made.
“Adrian is such a good player, such a good fit for our team and the market. It’s the easy link to me,” Hoyer said. “They say, ‘Oh, they know each other so they’ll deal.’ It’s not the case, but it’s the easy conclusion to draw. That part of it is frustrating. I know the Red Sox prospects better than any other team, but that doesn’t change my perspective on Adrian in any way.”
Hoyer hadn’t met Gonzalez until just before the Padres hired the 35-year-old, when the two ran into each other at Petco Park. But that by no means meant he wasn’t intimately familiar with all the first baseman brings to the table. When you spend months targeting a player as the focus of your trade deadline strategy — as Hoyer helped the Red Sox do last July — then there are few secrets.
“I think so,” Hoyer said regarding if his experiences in assisting in the Red Sox’ trade deadline pursuit helped him hit the ground running when it came to Gonzalez. “Certainly he’s one of those players everybody knows. He’s a superstar player. There’s no secret. But I do think so. Certainly in July he was the object of the affection of Boston’s front office.”
So, while Hoyer digs in with a flurry of “no comments” regarding the particulars of Gonzalez’ case, we do know this: The two sides are scheduled to meet shortly and talk about the possibility of extending the slugger’s contract past his 2011 team option.
“We’re going to try and start a dialogue soon, and obviously once that dialogue starts we’re not going to comment on it, but we are going to start that dialogue,” Hoyer explained.
If the dialogue gets murky, that’s where the Red Sox come in. And if the Sox can manage to secure the services of Gonzalez, then that make a complicated scenario even less obvious. What pieces of the Sox’ future (Clay Buchholz?) would no longer be available? What would come of Mike Lowell (who could draw interest from teams such as Philadelphia or St. Louis in such a scenario)?
Hoyer holds the key, as does …
People in Boston knew J.P. Ricciardi. He was a local guy (West Boylston) who continued to live in the area despite serving as Toronto general manager for most of this decade. Few are familiar with his replacement.
Anthopoulos is a 33-year-old who grew up watching the Expos in Montreal. He got his first job in baseball by cold-calling former Expos GM Jim Beattie before ultimately ascending to become Ricciardi’s assistant general manager with the Blue Jays. For reference sake, he was the one who spearheaded the Aaron Hill contract, which is considered one of the most team-friendly in baseball.
Anthopoulos has become increasingly popular because he is the only one with the answer to a question that will dominate the offseason: Will the Blue Jays trade Roy Halladay?
Like Gonzalez is to Hoyer, Halladay’s situation is the albatross that Anthopoulos’ job came with. Does it bother him?
“No, because I’m so focused on the global view of the organization,” the unassuming GM said. “I’m looking to change the foundation of the organizaiton of scouting and player development. I understand there are going to be topics with specific contract and players, but the challenges I have and we have are so far greater than that. It’s about changing the culture, changing the scouting, changing the player development. It’s more a long-term view of what this organization can be. That’s really what I’m focused on right now.
“Certainly we’re trying to have the best team we can as soon as we can, but it’s about having it year-in and year-out. I’m trying to avoid the peaks and valleys. We just need to start winning.”
Anthopoulos' first mandate in his new job is that he simply will not discuss Halladay’s situation publicly. He won’t insinuate what the Blue Jays’ intentions are, and certainly won’t confirm or deny such things as the fact that the Red Sox are on the pitcher’s list of teams to which he would accept a trade.
“One hundred percent,” Anthopoulos said when asked if establishing a policy of not commenting on such situations as Halladay was a priority. “It doesn’t make it easier when things you’re trying to do get played out in the media. It makes things more complicated. Opinions start coming out and the decision-making process gets affected. If you can streamline it and keep it as quiet as you can, it will certainly help you.”
But if you’re truly searching high and low for some hint that Halladay might be one of those “creative” moves Epstein talks about, Anthopolous offered a few comments that you could possibly hang your hat on, such as …
“I don’t think it’s about any one player,” he said. “I think fans come out for a winning team and not one player.”
Or, when talking about his policy of dealing within his own division:
”If it’s apples and apples and I get two deals that are exactly the same, certainly I would not prefer to trade within the division,” Anthopoulos said. “But if I have a stronger deal within the division and it makes this club stronger, that would certainly be the one that I would want to lean to.”
This might be the first you’ve heard of Anthopoulos, but another offseason lightning rod you’re already very familiar with (and will continue to be) is …
Boras met with Epstein Tuesday night to discuss some things. As the Red Sox GM and he will tell you that it’s not officially the offseason until you’re discussing “some things” with the agent.
On the docket was the situation of Jason Varitek, who was still trying to decide whether or not to activate his $3 million player option. But this time around the catcher won’t be the reason Boras seeps into your Hot Stove psyche this winter.
The issue regarding Boras this time around is twofold: 1. Can the Red Sox still deal with him on the kind of grand scale that would be necessary to sign a player such as Matt Holliday (or even third baseman Adrian Beltre)? 2. Will Holliday (or Beltre) end up being the be-all, end-all when it comes to the Red Sox’ priorities?
As for the first question, there still apparently aren’t a whole lot of warm and fuzzies when it comes to the relationship between Boras and the Sox, with the discomfort stemming from last year’s Mark Teixeira’s negotiations still lingering.
“After this season I would say that the Boston Red Sox had a chance to sign Mark Teixeira before the New York Yankees did, because we gave them an offer,” Boras said Tuesday in his annual hotel lobby media scrum. “That’s the best I can do for owners, it really is. When you give them a chance to sign a player, that’s … the player was earnest in coming there at the time and he presented them with an offer they could have accepted.”
Then there is the player who could repeat the kind of drama Teixeira induced last season, Holliday.
The outfielder’s presence will affect which way the Red Sox have to turn. If the Sox can lock up Jason Bay, then it won’t matter. But there are plenty of other scenarios where Holliday will dictate what the Sox do.
For the next few months, Bay and Holliday will be linked, and because of it so will the Red Sox and Holliday, as well as the Red Sox and Boras.
Start with the comparisons of the two players, which was amped up by the assertion by Bay’s agent, Joe Urbon, that his client was the most complete player on the market. Boras responded on Tuesday: “I represent Matt Holliday and I’ll serve as an advocate. I don’t know what criteria he’s looking at, and that’s fine. All I can tell you is that I’ve been around baseball for a long time as a player and now as an agent and the reality of it is that Matt Holliday is a complete player. That’s all I’ll say.”
And then came the predictable tidal wave of Holliday compliments.
Holliday was one of the less than 30 franchise players in baseball. The Yankees signed their franchise player last offseason, Boras pointed out, and they were the team that won the World Series. Not a coincidence, said the agent.
Despite his struggles with Oakland, Holliday has great interleague numbers for his career (.322).
“I look at the totality of the circumstances,’’ Boras explained. “Matt in American League ballparks in interleague play did very well. When you’re talking about Oakland, [Johnny] Damon didn’t play well in Oakland for a period of time, but it doesn’t mean he couldn’t play well in the AL for a long time.
Holliday made some mechanical adjustments to his swing that led to his success in St. Louis, and returning to the National League had nothing to do with his resurgence.
“It was a moment in time when Matt was there where he was having problems with his hitting mechanics and he made some adjustments,” Boras said. “And frankly, after the first five weeks of the season he went back to his normal stance and he hit well over .300 and his slugging and OPS was at the same level it was in the NL.’’
The explanations will keep on coming, as will mentions of Boras.
The Red Sox’ road through the offseason is being paved by a few, and Tuesday we were reminded who they might be.