Boston's new G.M. has already been hard at work, swinging three trades in his first three weeks on the job and taking three players in Monday's Rule 5 draft of minor leaguers. But he has more pressing tasks ahead.
?Decide about Pedro. The Red Sox have a $17.5 million option on Pedro Martinez for the 2004 season. The righthander, 87-24 with a 2.27 ERA in five seasons with Boston, is worth the price—if he's healthy. Shoulder and rib cage muscle injuries have landed him on the DL four times since '99.
?Resolve the impending free agency crisis. In addition to Martinez, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, righthander Derek Lowe and catcher Jason Varitek will be free agents after the 2004 season. Operating under budget constraints, the new general manager might prefer the compensation that one or two of those players could bring in a trade. According to an executive from another team, Epstein offered Lowe to the Reds for outfielder Adam Dunn before the winter meetings but was turned down; he'd still like to acquire a power hitter.
?Round out the bullpen. Last year's 40-save man, Ugueth Urbina (and his $6.7 million contract), was not offered salary arbitration and won't be back, and Epstein is comfortable with a closer by committee, headed by hard-throwing lefty Alan Embree (2.03 ERA, 81 strikeouts in 62 innings). Even so, one or two more reliable arms are needed to complement Willie Banks, Bob Howry and Ryan Rupe.
?Restock the farm. Boston's minor league system was given a grade of D by Baseball America last month. No Red Sox first-round selection since 1994 (when Garciaparra was taken with the 12th pick) has reached the majors, and only one (2000 pick Phil Dumatrait, a Class A starter last season) is still with the organization. Expect Boston to go for college players—Epstein's preference—in the June draft and implement an organizationwide instructional philosophy stressing plate discipline for hitters and high strike percentage for pitchers.