Never underestimate the possibility of the stealth Theo Epstein pulling off an under-the-radar blockbuster (Johan Santana, anyone?). But after re-signing popular third baseman Mike Lowell to a three-year deal earlier this week, Epstein sounded like a general manager who was content with his team.
"I think signing Mike was a huge part of our off-season and we really made it a priority," Epstein said during a conference call Tuesday. "Now that Mike's on board, Curt Schilling is back, I think we're feeling pretty comfortable in our starting position players and our starting pitching and we'll turn our attention to the bullpen [and] our bench and see what other opportunities might be out there for the rest of this winter."
A quiet winter would be an unusual occurrence for the Sox and Epstein, who added four new starters (Kevin Millar, Todd Walker, Bill Mueller and David Ortiz) during his first winter on the job following the 2002 season. Following the 2003 campaign, the Sox acquired Curt Schilling and signed Keith Foulke. After the 2004 world championship, the Sox re-signed catcher Jason Varitek, bid adieu to three key free agents (Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Orlando Cabrera) and signed Edgar Renteria.
Epstein left the Sox on Halloween 2005 and was not officially in charge when the Sox acquired Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell from the Marlins in exchange for a package of prospects that included Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez. When Epstein returned to his office in late January 2006, it took him just days to complete a trade for the Indians' Coco Crisp.
And last year, the Sox spent November and December pursuing and eventually signing Daisuke Matsuzaka. And the signing of J.D. Drew was held up nearly two months by contract language relating to Drew's suspect right shoulder.
But there's no urgent need to rebuild or reload this year for the Sox, who just won the World Series with a roster comprised largely of veterans at or near their peak as well as a handful of mostly homegrown 20-somethings. The oldest members of the lineup (Jason Varitek and Manny Ramirez) and pitching staff (Schilling and Tim Wakefield) are not signed beyond next season, though Ramirez has player options for 2009 and 2010 and Wakefield has a perpetual team option at $4 million.
Still, as set as the Sox appear to be, don't expect Epstein to sit back and take a passive approach over the next couple months. "We're not in a desperate situation where we feel like we have to completely overhaul our personnel 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, because we know our 29 competitors are doing the same.
"We're never afraid of change. I think change in baseball is often necessary and often times a good thing. But we're also not going to go out and seek change just for the sake of change."
Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at email@example.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE
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