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Theo Epstein on D&C: No trade option can take the place of Clay Buchholz

07.21.11 at 11:00 am ET

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein joined the Dennis & Callahan show Thursday and discussed the possibility of the Sox making a move before the July 31 trade deadline, the health of Clay Buchholz, the emergence of Josh Reddick and the attempts to sign Jacoby Ellsbury to a long-term contract.

Following is a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Which member of your roster has surprised you the most this season?

It’s going to be hard to pick just one. I think not to be overlooked is the contributions of guys like Matt Albers and Alfredo Aceves that really helped make our bullpen a strength in this club. You can add Wakefield and Andrew Miller as well as guys who have really stepped up and helped stabilize our rotation. The one thing we haven’t had to talk about this year that we normally have to talk about is a bullpen collapse. Knock on wood, we haven’t lost a lot of tough games out of the bullpen. There has been one or two, but usually by this time of year you have lost half a dozen or more. We haven’t had to talk about just throwing someone out there to start a big-league game that we don’t feel good about. The depth guys have really stepped up and stabilized things, which is huge.

Isn’t pitching what every team is looking for at the trade deadline?

Yeah, you can never have enough, obviously. We’ve proved that. The reason every team looks for pitching is that you can acquire a pitcher and slide him in. For position player help you have to have the right fit. Pitching is so tenuous. You think you have enough, you think you’re set, and one key injury to the wrong pitcher and you are in a compromised spot. So there’s probably not a team in baseball that could withstand an injury of their best pitcher and be fine. That’s why you can never have enough no matter what. Keeping these guys strong and healthy through the year is such a battle that you always need more pitching to back them up.

Will the next couple of weeks of medical reports on Clay Buchholz dictate in some fashion the direction the club might go in terms of trading for a starting pitcher?

There’s nobody that we can go out and acquire that is going to take the place of Clay Buchholz. If you asked me what player out there, if could name one player to acquire for this team it would be a healthy Clay Buchholz. I think we’re going to have that. It’s been a slower process than anyone wanted — especially Clay — but he is getting better. We’ve had three opinions on it now and it looks like it’s just a matter of time. Let’s say — and we don’t expect this at all — let’s say the news was different and it’s going to be a little longer I’m sure it would affect how we would look at things. But I don’t think there is anybody out there we could acquire that would come close to replacing Clay. And when it comes to depth options I think we have a lot of those internally and I’m sure we’ll look around. But I do believe that Clay will come back healthy and be that type of impact acquisition that we couldn’t make on the trade market.

Has Josh Reddick made the decision pretty easy about who should be playing right field now?

You can’t deny what Josh Reddick is doing and you can’t deny that he’s a different player than he’s been. Josh Reddick has always had a world of talent. From the day we drafted him, the ball jumped off his bat as well as just about any player in our system. Always really athletic, always a really good outfielder, always a playmaker in the outfield, always a pretty dynamic baserunner. It was simply of question of Josh — and it always has been — improving his plate discipline. His swing mechanics, going up there with a plan, working the count, putting himself in a position where he could let that explosiveness of his bat play and let his natural instincts play out there in the batters box. We’ve probably talked to Josh about it thousands of times over the years and it looks like a light has gone on for him. He’s a different guy and a really exciting piece, not for just this year but also the future. Tito makes out the lineup and I’m sure he’s going to have decisions to make on a nightly basis. I don’t want to speak for him, certainly Josh is someone who has helped us win games and you want to put him in a position to continue to do that.

Does the production from Reddick and the struggles of J.D. Drew mean that we have seen a full-time switch in right field?

I don’t think you have to cast your lot on one player and completely bury another. As I said, Tito’s job is to put the best team on the field on a given night to help us win. When you have one player performing so well, or so hot, maybe demonstrating that a light has gone on for him and another player who has struggled all year it’s something you have to really massage as a manager. But we’ve always been an organization that has given the best players a chance to impact the game for our team on that given night. I know there’s been a lot of discussion on these airways, ‘Do this 100 percent. The other guy plays zero percent.’ That’s probably not how it’s going to be, but of course the players who are playing the best at the time get the chance to win a game for the Boston Red Sox.

You took a chance with Andrew Miller, and for the most part with a 4-1 record I’d say the chance was well taken. At times, like when he walked the bases loaded yesterday it gets a little frustrating. How frustrating is it from an organizational point of view of, thinking if he could lock his delivery in, we’d really have something here?

It is not that frustrating because we think of it completely as a work in progress. We really want it to be a work in progress that benefits us right now and helps us win games and Andrew has done a nice job, and we’re lucky enough that we’ve gone out and won the games that he’s started for us. We treat this as a long-term thing and what we want to see is progress. We absolutely see progress. You know, it hasn’t been linear, but within certain games he’s made a lot of progress.

Obviously after three outs in the first inning then he tried to guide the ball and when he does that that’s when he gets erratic and obviously had all those walks in a row. Then he recovered and started to let the ball go, and you see when he is letting it go at 93-95 he can be around the zone, and he doesn’t have to have pinpoint command, with his stuff it really plays. The combination of his mechanics really make it tough on hitters. The life on his fastball, how he creates downward angles through the zone, and the movement that he has, he has a knack for getting movement on that fastball. When he really does let it go you get mis-hit after mis-hit, and we saw that yesterday. After the six walks he had no hits or one hit through four or five innings, so you saw he can be one of the toughest pitchers to hit off in the whole league.

I think that as he develops with his delivery with the Boston Red Sox at the big league level we’re going to see one of guys locked in and throw his explosive fastball around the zone and will have plenty of results to go with his secondary pitches.

Theo, speaking of young players, given the price you paid to get Adrian Gonzalez into a Red Sox uniform, does that make Reddick and [Ryan] Kalish, [Jose] Iglesias, [Will] Middlebrooks and [Felix] Doubront more valuable to you and keep around. You paid such a high price, are these guys likely to stay around a little longer?

I think we did pay a significant price for Adrian and it is always important to build the system back up, probably the reason were able to do that is because of the strategies that we’ve had in off seasons past including this recent off season when we try to maximize the impact in the draft from the decisions of letting players go, or acquiring players knowing that we are going to let them go and try build up draft picks, it’s a pretty significant yield of picks over the years.

I know I am biased, but I think we have one of the deepest systems in all of baseball. We don’t have the true headlines because those guys went in the Adrian deal, but I think you take a step back in a few months and the guys that we know well and the rest of the industry are starting to know well will pop up on top prospects list. I think our system is in really good shape and if we find the right deal we can go ahead and make a deal. We have significant depth and volume in this system. From a prospect standpoint we should be able to match up and make a deal if we find the right fit. It’s so difficult, there are so many factors that go into it. I don’t think we are limited because we made a trade this past winter.

Since you just admitted you have a baseball bias, and again I can make the statement that no one roots harder for John Lackey than you, Theo, do you sleep on performance past and performance future with this guy?

I think it is the same for all of our players, we want to get the most out of these guys. The bottom line is I root for the Boston Red Sox and we want try and win as many games as we can and be the best organization that we can. This year we haven’t got the most out of John Lackey, and we haven’t got the most out of several other players as well, and there are players that we have got the most out of. We take it as an organization and there are guys who aren’t performing up to standard for whatever reason it may be to take it as a challenge as attack it from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint, a further mental standpoint and do everything we can, whether it is the coaches, manager, front office to help put that player in the best position he can be to succeed. We look at it as a challenge and as an opportunity to get better.

Often times, as much as you think about this and talk about this kind of thing, time is often the best remedy and players end up finding their level and hopefully this is what we see with John with the last few starts out there. He was going through a lot early in the season, and maybe this is a new phase of the season where he can go out keep us in games and go out and pitch good ballgames for us.

Theo, have you or would you consider the possibility of locking up Jacoby Ellsbury to a long-term deal?

Yeah, I think with all of our young players that we see as core members of our organization that is something we are interested in. We certainly see Jacoby as that. This certainly isn’t the right forum to talk about it as conversations are always between closed doors, but it is not a secret that we have sat down and tried in the past and tried to lock Jacoby up in the past, and we will sit down in the future and try and do it again at the appropriate time. He is somebody that we have believed in as a core, young member in the organization that we look to keep around.

We have certain organizational standards that have to be met, and we have worked hard to keep those standards with Pedroia and Youkilis and Lesters of the world, so we’d love to one day announce that Jacoby will be with this organization for a long time and this is where he should be and we see him as a core guy.

If Ellsbury continues this organic power production over the next year or so, do you see him more valuable at the bottom of the lineup than the top?

I think it is a good problem to have. I think too much is made out of batting order anyway, unless you do something really crazy like put your best on-base guys at the bottom or bury your best hitters at the bottom, it really doesn’t make that much difference. I think the key for Jacoby as a leadoff hitter is to get on base and that is something he has continued to improve, and the power has been a development that we have seen this year, one that we have projected from the time that we have signed him. Maybe not to this level, but he has always had the ability to hit for power in batting practice and bringing his natural swing into the game, he’s done that.

We felt like he always had the ability to get on base as well. He had to get used to the strike zone, it’s been a question of those thousands and thousands of professional at bats that he needs to get comfortable with the strike zone and what the pitcher is trying to do to you, and how to work the at bat, get on base and let his hitting ability come through, and he’s done both those things. As long as he gets on base he will be right where he is, he is never going to be a true power hitter and that’s where all his value strides, he is fine right where he is at the top of the line up.

Do you feel like you have a log jam at the top of the lineup? I’ll give you an example: If you wanted to bring up Ryan Lavarnway in September, you’d have to make a move on the 40-man, do you think there is a log jam there?

A little bit, again it is a good problem to have. I’ve been part of teams where we were looking for guys to add to the 40-man roster because we didn’t have enough to put on but I think it is not a huge problem to have. For in season moves, there is always a way to do. You always have candidates that can be DL’d, there are guys at the end of your roster that you might be able to sneak through waivers. We do have an organizational logjam so to speak this winter, we have a lot of prospects talented enough to warrant selection for the 40-man roster probably more than we had thought, but things work themselves out.

I think sometimes there is too much fear of the Rule 5 draft, if you leave a talented player in A-ball exposed and there is a good draft that he will be taken in the Rule 5 draft and you have two or three or four members of your organization taken in the Rule 5 draft, the reality is that very few players have always stuck with their new organizations and you will get those players back at spring training or early on in the season. It is a good problem to have and they always seem to work themselves out.

Read More: andrew miller, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, john lackey
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