Sox have full plate at Winter Meetings

Sox will be hard at work during Winter Meetings

BOSTON -- Presumably, Theo Epstein's hotel suite at the Winter Meetings will come with a bed and pillow. Not so easy to determine is whether Epstein will ever have time to use those comfort items during his four-day stint in Orlando.

Epstein and his assistants, in case you haven't noticed, are in the midst of several time-consuming projects as they construct a roster for 2007.

It doesn't seem like the Red Sox are working on many subtle maneuvers. Instead, most of the items on their checklist seem to be on the big-ticket variety.

"There's always an atmosphere of anticipation and excitement heading into the Meetings," said Epstein. "I think this year we have more holes to fill then we had in previous years. That seems to be the case around the game. There's a lot more moving parts right now. There's a lot of teams with some holes to fill, so I guess that makes for exciting times at the Winter Meetings."

There is also the matter of getting Japanese right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka signed to a contract by the deadline of Dec. 14.

Expect those negotiations between Epstein and agent Scott Boras to pick up in earnest during the Winter Meetings. The Red Sox posted a record-setting bid of $51.1 million to the Seibu Lions on Nov. 14, winning exclusive negotiating rights to Matsuzaka.

Matsuzaka isn't the only issue Epstein will be discussing with Boras. Outfielder J.D. Drew, another Boras client, has been courted heavily by the Red Sox the past few weeks and most baseball insiders expect that he'll sign a contract with Boston within days.

Of course, one of the biggest reasons the Red Sox seem so apt to spend big money on Drew is that they might be ready to unload the big bat -- and contract -- of superstar slugger Manny Ramirez.

Every year, it seems, the Red Sox spend a good portion of the Winter Meetings entertaining trade discussions for their gifted RBI machine. But this time around, there seems to be more substance to the talks and a feeling that Ramirez's time in Boston might finally have run its course after six years.

The battle for Ramirez seems to have taken on an NL West flavor, with the Padres, Giants and Dodgers all believed to have shown interest.

Ramirez has two years and roughly $37 million left on his contract. Because he has the right to veto any trade as a 10-5 man, Ramirez may want his 2009 club option picked up by any team that acquires him.

"I don't think it's appropriate to comment at this time," said Epstein. "He's obviously a big part of the team and we have really no further comment unless or until there's something to announce."

It remains to be seen if Ramirez -- should he be dealt -- will bring back Minor League talent or additions to the Major League roster.

Oh, and by the way, the Red Sox also need a starting shortstop, a closer and additional bullpen help. Second base is also a position Epstein will explore, though the Red Sox might give that job to prospect Dustin Pedroia.

Free agent Julio Lugo is rumored to be Boston's top choice to replace Alex Gonzalez at shortstop.

Less clear is who the Red Sox might go after to fill the closing void left by Jonathan Papelbon, who is moving to the rotation. Perhaps the Red Sox can get back a closer if they wind up trading Ramirez. Then again, yet another Boras client is available in closer Eric Gagne, who should come far below market value after battling major injuries.

"I've had a lot of talks with teams about trades in which we'd get a closer back," said Epstein. "We've dabbled in free agency, but obviously we haven't gotten anything done yet. The search continues, and I think our bullpen is not yet a finished product and it will look a lot different on Opening Day than it does now."

"Well, I think the bullpen is becoming our top priority," Epstein said. "We've made a lot of progress on either trades or potential free-agent signings to address other needs and getting to the point where the bullpen is our top concern."

But far from the only one. Epstein, who was not employed by the Red Sox at last year's Winter Meetings before returning to the club in January, is looking forward to the pace that will take place in the heart of Disney World.

"I'm sure it will be a very fast-paced, active Meetings for all the teams," Epstein said. "It just seems like there's still a lot of needs out there, a lot of available players. It will be really fun to see how all of the parts settle. There will be trade talks, there will be a lot of continued free-agent discussions. It's always a great place to get stuff done, because everyone is under the same roof."

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.