Theo Epstein: State of the Red Sox

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein went on Boston sports radio station WEEI on Thursday afternoon and conducted a more-than-30-minute interview on all things Sox, including his assessment of the pitching staff, the team’s injuries, players who will hit free agency in a few weeks and more.

Below are some highlights:

* On getting outbid by the Yankees for Kerry Wood at the trade deadline.

"There were four major league relievers who were traded during the year who ended up helping their club, five if you count August, when [Brian] Fuentes was moved. Two of those guys we had given opportunities before, Javy Lopez and Ramon Ramirez. One, Matt Capps, we couldn’t have gotten unless we gave up [Daniel] Bard, and Fuentes was behind us in the waiver order, and the last one was Kerry Wood.

“That was an important decision. We scouted [Wood] on rehab, we liked what we saw. He was available last minute at the deadline ... and we put in what I thought was a pretty aggressive financial bid for him and we were outbid by the Yankees when they were willing to take on just a little bit more of his salary. It ended up being a great move for them and cost us.

“There were a number of other relievers we were on that I thought would have made a difference. We were aggressive with our prospect proposals. Most guys weren’t moved.

“I would have loved to have made a trade for a reliever. I feel bad. I feel like we didn’t get it done. I said that on July 31 and it ended up being a factor and cost us. But not for lack of effort.”

* On where the team stood on re-signing players who could hit free agency at season’s end -- guys like David Ortiz (though the team has a club option), Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez -- Epstein would not comment, saying it was best to keep those matters private.

* On his expectations of Josh Beckett and John Lackey,who struggled this season:

“To be top of the rotation type guys and pitch up to previous levels. Those are still my expectations for those guys going forward. “

* On Beckett’s struggles:

“The [back] injury really cost him. It’s hard to say how much it cost his performance before he went down and then coming back he clearly wasn’t himself all year.

“He’s been very stand-up about it. He’s taken a hard look at his performance, taken accountability for it, which is an important first step. Last time he had this type of season ... was 2006. The last thing he said to me going out the door at the end of the 20-06 season was 'I’m going to fix this this winter.' He came back and had a great 2007. He’s showing a lot of the same tendencies right now.”

* On whether Beckett’s new deal looks bad in the context of his struggles this season:

“It’s about making an investment in the person and making an investment the rest of his career. Right now is a down point in Josh’s career, just like 2006 was. I think we trust the person, we trust the pitcher to be able to bounce back and I think he certainly will.

“Is his stuff different than it was early in his career? Maybe some, but it’s not dramatically different. Does he still have weapons to get guys out, does he still have the ability to combine that stuff with good command and throw strikes? Absolutely.

“He was hit pretty hard this year, times when he was around the zone, and I do think that’s largely a function of the injury.”

* On John Lackey’s season:

“With John Lackey it was a mixed bag. He did some good things. He’s leading our club in innings pitched, he’s tied for the club lead in quality starts. But that said there was definitely an adjustment period for him. The first half of the season in particular he didn’t pitch his best baseball. He’s had a pretty good second half, starting to pitch much better of late.”

* Epstein said the biggest issue for Lackey this year, as compared to previous seasons, is his performance against lefthanded hitters.

“Maybe that’s attributed in part to moving into this division. There are some really good lefthanded hitters. I do think there’s an adjustment period. I think he’s going to be better going forward for having gone through what he went through this year and I think we’ve seen some of that adjustment already with how he’s pitched in the second half.”

* On Jacoby Ellsbury’s rib injuries, Epstein said the only thing the team should have done differently was take a scan of the area sooner, which would have revealed the rib fracture sooner.

“It wouldn’t have gotten him back any quicker, but it would have helped managing the perception of the injury. Jacoby took some unwarranted heat from a lot of different sources because it wasn’t clear right from the get go that it the ribs were fractured. ...

“All in all it became a lost season for Jacoby. … Importantly, I don’t think there’s any residue of this gong forward. I don’t think these injuries will affect his career going forward. I expect him to pick up right where he left off when he comes back ... and I don’t think there’s any residue whatsoever of hard feelings. When I think of Jacoby, I think of a guy who got hurt, went through some tough times along the way, tried his best to come back and wasn’t able to because of the severity of the injuries and the repeated nature of the injuries.

* On Jonathan Papelbon’s struggles this season:

“I think two things you can certainly say about Pap. He didn’t perform this year at the level he performed earlier in his career especially in those peak years when he was far and away the best reliever in baseball. But I think you can also say he’s still good. He still helps us win. It was a tough year for him at times. There were some save situations where he didn’t come through. That’s the case for all closers. It probably happened a couple more times than any of us would have wanted and Jonathan would’ve wanted. When it happens, the closer’s going to become a bit of a lightning rod. ...

“It wasn’t his best year. Do we still consider him a very good closer, someone who capable of helping us win a lot of games? Absolutely. He’s under club control for one more year, and we certainly hope that he can perform again as he did early in his career. But at the same time we understand that’s an impossible standard. You’re talking about someone who for a couple of years there was near perfect. This year he certainly wasn’t perfect. We just expect him going forward to be really good and make some adjustments and make some improvements and I think he’s going to do that.”

* On how close this team is to winning a championship moving forward:

“I think pretty close [to being a championship team again]. I think this offseason presents us with a lot of challenges but at the same time it presents us with a lot of opportunities. You have to sort of be reasonable about everything. In a year that ends like this, sometimes there’s a tendency to look at all the issues and all the problems, and you think that you’re nowhere close to a championship team. Certainly there are elements to a team that are close to championship caliber.

“We have to completely fix the bullpen, we do have a lot of important position players eligible for free agency. We’re going to have to keep those guys or replace them, or some combination thereof. You can’t let the way things happened this year cloud your judgment about what you have.

“We had one of the best two offenses in baseball this year. We had a starting staff coming into the year that we expected, and just about every baseball person expected, to be if not the best in baseball then one of the two or three best in baseball, some good things happened on that starting staff -- the continuation of Jon Lester’s dominance, the Clay Buchholz emergence -- but clearly there were some other issues ... we have room for improvement on that starting staff as well.

“I do think there are some foundational pieces in place. I think we have some young players who are going to contribute to the club next year -- the [Jed] Lowries, [Felix] Doubronts, [Jarrod] Salalamacchias, maybe [Ryan] Kalish. And then another wave coming behind them, possibly 2012, the [Casey] Kelleys, [Jose] Iglesiases, [Anthony] Rizzos, Lars [Andersons], bullpen arms, young catchers.

“Those pieces, combined with the strong nucleus that we have -- many of whom weren’t available for most of the year but will be next year, the Youkilises, the Pedroias of the world -- combined with what we do this winter, either retaining some of our best players or perhaps bringing in some talent from outside the organization if we don’t retain those guys, I think adds up to an organization that’s in really good position and not far away from a championship at all.

“In fact, we could very well win one next year and that’s the goal."