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Things we learned at the GMs’ meetings: Warning shots from Theo Epstein

11.17.10 at 7:43 am ET
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ORLANDO, Fla. — Let the offseason begin.

While talks with free agents and other teams had been percolating even before the general managers arrived at their annual get-together — this year taking place at the Waldorf Astoria — Tuesday seemed to supply a good amount of momentum in regard to this offseason’s hot stove. Face-to-face meetings incorporating all parties involved will do that.

There were names being thrown about as possible fits for the Red Sox (Justin Upton), potential free agent fits being taken off the board (John Buck) and lines in the sand already being drawn (see the Boston Globe’s report that the Sox won’t offer Adrian Beltre more than four years, $52 million).

We very well may look back on it all and find it hard to fathom how much reality ended up changing in a matter of weeks. But, there was one line from Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein that should be digested more than the endless stream of whispers circulating throughout the hotel’s hallways.

The quote in question came during Epstein’s meeting with the Boston media, in the midst of talking about the merits of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

“At some point you need to give a chance to young players, let them build value,” Epstein said. “[Saltalamacchia's] one of those guys. [Jed] Lowrie is potentially another, [Ryan] Kalish is potentially another. We’€™re not going to have high-profile solutions to all our needs. It’€™s good to have those alternatives that you can turn to and realize that maybe you’€™re taking an educated gamble but you’€™re also potentially building a lot of values in those guys, giving them an opportunity to put themselves into the core we’€™re developing.”

And with that, a warning shot was fired.

Epstein understands that his team’s impending dive into the free agent pool could be more treacherous than most years. The issue is that three of the team’s perceived targets, Victor Martinez, Carl Crawford and Beltre, will be coveted by numerous teams, and at least one of those organizations will surely take the price to a level the Sox won’t be comfortable with.

And even if the Red Sox do go the extra mile financially to lock up one of the big-ticket free agents, the likelihood is that the “high-profile solutions” won’t be making an appearance at numerous other positions. And, Tuesday, the focus on such a reality was placed firmly on the catching position.

Panic ensued among Red Sox fans when news came out that the No. 2 option in the free agent catching market, Buck, was headed to the Marlins on a three-year deal. (The reality was that the Sox had been wary of Buck due to his perceived cost and limited track record of success.)

With teams like Baltimore, Detroit and Texas all strongly rumored to be making a run at Martinez, the scenario regarding who might step up and be the Sox’ starting catcher appeared to be getting hazier by the moment. A year before, at the general managers’ meetings in Chicago, Epstein had declared that Martinez was going to be the team’s starting catcher. There was no such statement this time around, although one scenario was cast out.

Even with the unevenness that has plagued the 25-year-old throughout his young major league career, Saltalamacchia has shown the Red Sox enough that he is a viable option to take on the brunt of the workload behind the plate if need be.

“We’€™ll probably have a more experienced guy on the roster than him as well, but I think we’€™re comfortable with him in a role anywhere from a backup, to job-share, to everyday guy, depending on how the rest of the club shapes up,” Epstein explained.

“We like him. We liked him from a scouting standpoint, we took an opportunity to buy low after he’€™d been through a rough period and then he really impressed the staff, who really had no vested interest in him. He really opened some eyes, from the manager [Terry Francona] to Gary Tuck to the pitching coach, the way he handled pitchers, the way he threw, the way he conducted himself in the clubhouse. He was impressive to everybody.”

Starting in the big leagues isn’t anything new to Saltalamacchia; he had been ordained as the starter for the Rangers throughout a few different stints. And he has already transformed himself into the kind of defensive catcher many thought the Florida native couldn’t become, not only becoming one of the game’s best at blocking balls, but instantly demonstrating the fastest time throwing down to second base of any Red Sox catcher last season on his very first toss in a Sox uniform.

“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.”

Along with the catching scenario presented by Epstein, here are some other things we learned on the first day of the general managers’ meetings:

THIS ISN’T YOUR FATHER’S DH

David Ortiz is still the best at his position, but the fact is that his position is dying. It’s a notion that more than a few general managers pointed out Tuesday.

“I think you would like to have flexibility,” said Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos, whose team has been linked to Manny Ramirez as a potential option as a full-time DH. “I really I think it started with Anaheim when Mike Scioscia used to rotate guys in. If you have the right guy who is an everyday DH you would certainly do it, but knowing that position, it’s going to have to be a pretty big bat. It depends on the composition of your team, and when you only have a DH it does impact your bench because you have a guy who can’t play a position.”

The Blue Jays were one of the few teams that actually went with a somewhat full-time DH, with Adam Lind getting 122 starts at the position. But Lind was just one of four players to man the spot more than 120 games, with Ortiz (136), Vladimir Guerrero (129) and Hideki Matsui (120) serving as the others.

While the Red Sox did pick up Ortiz’ $12.5 million option for 2011, the Rangers decided not to allocate the $9 million it would have cost to bring back Guerrero despite the DH hitting .306 with 25 homers and 106 RBI.

The thinking is that with a roster carrying aging position players, the DH spot serves as a built-in space for managers to give players respites while keeping their bats in the lineup. It is a philosophy that would have most likely ruled out Ortiz heading to the Yankees, with New York needing that spot to spell the likes of Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and even Derek Jeter.

“For us, we would welcome having Vlad back. He’s kind of a unique guy. If it doesn’t work out we could get a guy who could rotate a guy in and keep everybody fresh and healthy,” Daniels said. “Plus, it gives the manager a flexible roster. It makes sense. If you’ve got one guy who’s a perfect fit then it’s a great scenario, too. It worked out for us last year. But it also gives the manager an option, when a guy is good enough to play, maybe not 100 percent, and there’s a day game after a night game, get him out of the heat, things of that nature. It’s something we’ve looked at.”

BEANE: YOUNG THE PERFECT FIT

One of John Farrell‘s greatest achievements while serving as the pitching coach for the Red Sox was his ability to harness perhaps the most eclectic pitching staff in the history of baseball during his very first season, in 2007.

Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett and the youthful Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz all made up a group with very few similarities. Yet, when it was all said and done, the concoction resulted in a world championship. And a large part of the credit for the hurlers’ successes rightfully went to Farrell.

Now, it’s Curt Young‘s turn.

While the group he is inheriting might have a few more traits in common than the one from ’07, it is a staff that will present diverse challenges. That, according to Oakland general manager Billy Beane, shouldn’t be a problem for Young.

“The one thing about Curt and why it’s a great fit in Boston is all the pitchers like working with him. He has a great relationship with the guys. He has a velvet glove, and pitchers are like thoroughbreds a little bit,” said Beane, who appointed Young as the A’s pitching coach in 2004.

“He’s been there, and he’s been successful as a guy who wasn’t necessarily a power guy. He’s incredibly patient. Every pitcher who works with him feels like he has confidence in him. Similar to [St. Louis pitching coach] Dave Duncan, but in a different way. With Dave, he’s incredibly protective of him, and Curt is the same way with a different style. He feels like every guy he has is going to get better.

“If you’re going to introduce a guy to a staff like that, he’s the guy. I guarantee all those guys will like him. It’s not easy going into a situation like that, but he’s the perfect personality. It’s a good fit.”

LOOKING AT LACKEY FROM AFAR

The Angels wanted John Lackey back last offseason, having seen how he embraced residing at the top of their rotation for the previous seven seasons.

But Lackey would choose to switch coasts, landing with the Red Sox, for whom he went 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA, allowing a career-high 233 hits. While some Sox fans might have expected more eye-opening results for a pitcher in whom their team invested five years and $82.5 million, Angels general manager Tony Reagins saw a similar pitcher to the one he was trying to lure back to the Halos last offseason.

“It didn’t surprise me. I think he pitched with the same fire that he did when he was with our organization,” Reagins said. “He’s a good pitcher. I think he needed to make some adjustments to being in a new location and being with a new club and having new teammates. I think he’s going to have better years as he gets more comfortable on the East Coast.”

Read More: curt young, David Ortiz, gm meetings, jarrod saltalamacchia
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