BOSTON -- Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein reiterated on Friday the team's strong interest in re-signing third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher Victor Martinez, while acknowledging that the club has had recent discussions with Kevin Youkilis about returning to third base if Beltre does not come back, and that both the player and team are comfortable with that move.
Contrary to some media reports he said have suggested otherwise, Epstein said the team continues to pursue Martinez. "We absolutely want this guy back," he said. "He knows that. He's known that for a while."
Both Beltre and Martinez, the top players at their respective positions available as free agents, are already drawing significant interest from other clubs. There is a good chance that both players may receive better offers than the Red Sox are willing to make.
"It always comes down," Epstein said, "to dollars and years."
There were no surprises in the conference call Epstein conducted with beat reporters Friday in advance of the general managers' meetings, a three-day event beginning Monday in Orlando. Unlike previous years, when the GMs were often accompanied by other staff members, Epstein said that only the 30 GMs are scheduled to attend next week, although player agents will also be there in big numbers.
Epstein is tight-lipped about any negotiations, in part because he believes that is the best way to consummate a deal, and also, he said, because he is sensitive to the impact rampant speculation can have on a player the team is courting. "It's a matter of common respect and decency," said Epstein, who invoked his own very public negotiations with the team -- when he briefly left the club after the 2005 season -- when explaining his thoughts on the subject.
The flip side of that debate, of course, is the huge volume of free publicity baseball receives during the offseason, as fans eagerly devour any bit of news about what their favorite teams are doing.
The GM meetings, Epstein said, serve "almost like a starter's flag [going] off for teams and agents to get serious" in advance of baseball's annual December winter meetings. The accelerated calendar this season, which involved shortening the period of exclusivity for teams to negotiate with their own free agents and moving up the date in which they have to offer salary arbitration, has led to a little more activity than usual, Epstein said, especially in terms of trade talks.
It was at the GM meetings last year, Epstein said, that he realized that John Lackey was an obtainable target after assuming he would be signing elsewhere. "Plans are fluid," he said. "It's pretty rare to execute all your top choices. You're sharing a dynamic environment with 29 other clubs."
Epstein called the pool of available relievers -- especially non-closers -- "a fairly deep class," but noted that there are plenty of other teams in the market for bullpen help, too. He said he expects to add one or two relievers by either free agency or via trade this winter.
Starting pitching is not a priority, he said -- "We feel good about the group of guys coming back, it's a stable group with a lot of upside, with a few guys coming off years that weren't their best." Still, he did not rule out a deal for a starter, saying he intended to keep an open mind.
He expressed reluctance about losing draft choices as compensation for signing a free agent, especially because June's amateur draft is "shaping up to be terrific." Any team signing a Type A free agent loses a first-round pick (in some cases, a second). But the loss of a draft choice, Epstein added, would not keep the team from signing a player it really wanted.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.