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Theo Epstein takes stock of Red Sox roster options

08.31.11 at 10:08 pm ET
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Red Sox GM Theo Epstein checked in on a number of roster issues and questions about the future of certain Red Sox — including himself — prior to Wednesday’s game against the Yankees. Among the issues discussed:

–Epstein said that the market for August waiver deals was unpromising, given that players who are available in August typically a) have been passed over by every other team and b) require a significant cost of acquisition if they are any good.

Asked specifically about whether he thought the Sox needed to upgrade their left-handed relief and find a right-handed outfield bat off the bench, Epstein suggested his team was comfortable with current personnel. He noted that Franklin Morales (3.47 ERA, 24 strikeouts, 7 walks, .242 batting average against in 23 1/3 innings) has been “throwing the ball really well,” and that the team features minor league left-handed options (including Felix Doubront as well as a pair of southpaws — Trever Miller and Randy Williams — who are not currently on the 40-man roster).

“In an ideal world, if that guy would be out there, we’€™d have made a trade,” Epstein said of left-handers. “But looking at the factors I know why it didn’€™t happen and we’€™re content with what we have.”

Epstein said that, for now, the team is not exploring the possibility of shifting Andrew Miller to the bullpen as a potential situational lefty. Miller is slated to start against the Rangers on Saturday. The Sox GM did leave the door open to changing Miller’s role later in the year.

As far as right-handed outfield bats go, Epstein suggested that Darnell McDonald (who has five homers in 82 at-bats against lefties) is a solid option. Though McDonald entered Wednesday hitting .195 with a .536 OPS, since July 1, he is hitting .286 with a .386 OBP, .612 slugging mark and four homers in 49 at-bats against lefties.

“If you stack Darnell [McDonald] up against the alternatives and the way he’€™s been having some pretty good at-bats against left-handed pitching, I think, I know his batting average isn’€™t what you would want it to be but he’€™s hit some home runs against left-handed pitching and he’€™s a threat up there,” said Epstein. “We feel obviously he’€™s starting to play better in the second half of the season than he did in the first. So we’€™re satisfied with him, and satisfied generally with the team. We feel like we have a lot of the pieces we need.”

J.D. Drew was scratched from his scheduled rehab game for Triple-A Pawtucket on Wednesday after suffering a finger sprain on his right middle finger. Epstein suggested that the injury was “a little bit of a setback,” but that the Sox don’t believe it to be “anything major.” The GM said it remained to be seen how much Drew’s comeback to the majors — initially slated for Sept. 1 — would be as a result of the finger.

–Right-hander Clay Buchholz has now resumed throwing. However, insofar as he first played catch on flat ground on Tuesday, he remains in a race against the clock to position himself to pitch again this year.

Epstein said that the Sox “haven’t ruled anything out or anything in at this point” regarding whether Buchholz might contribute as a starter or reliever.

He also added that the team wouldn’t allow the end of the minor league season get in the way of having Buchholz get stretched out sufficiently prior to a return to the majors. It will be Buchholz’ back, rather than the available schedule of minor league games, that will determine if the pitcher will be able to contribute this year.

“If health allows, we’ll find away to get him a competitive enough an environment where he can work his way back,” said Epstein. “Health is the No. 1 obstacle. After the minor league season I’ll get up there and put a helmet on and he can have a [simulated] game with me if need be. We’ll find a way for him to have a game-like scenario to work him back, health is the big thing.”

–Epstein said that the additions of left-hander Trever Miller (signed as a free agent on Tuesday after having been released by the Blue Jays) and outfielder Joey Gathright (purchased from the Yuma Scorpions) were a means of providing depth for potential call-ups or postseason options.

Miller is a 38-year-old lefty who, as recently as 2009, had a 2.06 ERA in 70 appearances for the Cardinals. Gathright is a speedy outfielder whom the Sox carried on their ALDS roster in 2009 due to his baserunning ability.

“[Miller is] a veteran lefty who’€™s been there, done that and was available. Typically at the end of August we look to add to your Triple-A roster if you can for potential callups or potential alternatives for your postseason roster,” said Epstein. “[Assistant to the GM Allard Baird] worked [Gathright] out. Gives us a speed option that we don’€™t necessarily have right in Triple-A. Never know when you might need that kind of alternative on the bench.”

Epstein said that he did not expect the Sox to consummate an August deal with a player who was on or had passed through waivers by the end of Wednesday, the point by which a player must be in an organization to be eligible for the postseason roster.

–The GM said that the time was not right to comment on the future of David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon – both prospective free agents who are enjoying elite seasons.

–Asked if he would be interested in the vacancy as Cubs GM, Epstein would not comment specifically on such rumors, but did say that he is happy where he is.

“My exclusive focus is with the Red Sox,” said Epstein. “I try to avoid commenting on things that are so speculative. Obviously there was a couple articles that appeared, but I can say I’m completely focused on the Red Sox, the 2011 Red Sox first and foremost. What potentially lies ahead for this club, we’re really focused on trying to get to the postseason, win another World Series. I spend all my time working with my staff trying to make this the organization we want this to be, building for the future, and that’s where my exclusive focus is. Something like that, I can’t even contemplate it long enough to comment on it. I’m all Red Sox all the time.”

–The surgery to fix a bulging disk in the neck of outfielder Ryan Kalish, Epstein said, is expected to permit the 23-year-old outfielder to return to complete health.

“I understand that it’€™s not the most invasive surgery. It’€™ sort of something that he’€™ll be able to bounce back from 100 percent,” said Epstein. “[It has a] very good success rate with no limitations going forward after that. So that’€™s good to hear. Obviously it’€™s a tough break for him. It’€™s kind of a lost season for him. It’€™s really unfortunate but it’€™s not something that should get in the way of next year.”

–Epstein said that reliever Bobby Jenks, who hasn’t pitched in a game since early-July while trying to come back from a back issue, and who has subsequently been sidetracked by a gastrointestinal malady, has “got to get some breaks health-wise” in order to go on a minor league rehab assignment.

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