BOSTON — Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez kept hitting while the Red Sox lineup was ravaged by injuries. General manager Theo Epstein wants them back now that the wounded are well into their recovery.
Whether he can give those two attractive free agents what they want is uncertain.
Martinez “would be our first choice at catcher and Adrian would be our first choice at third base,” Epstein said Friday. “Whether that could be worked out certainly remains to be seen.”
Beltre signed with Boston for one season with both sides knowing he would test the free agent market. His stock soared when he led the team with a .321 average and hit 28 homers and 102 RBIs one year after batting .265 with 8 homers and 44 RBIs for Seattle. Martinez, in his first full season with Boston, hit .302 with 20 homers and 79 RBIs while being limited by injuries to 127 games.
Both may attract better deals than the Red Sox are willing to give, but Epstein made it clear he wants to keep them.
Beltre may prefer a team on the West Coast, where his family lives, but Martinez has said he’d like to return. Epstein refused to say if he had met in person with either player but said the Red Sox have been “pursuing” Martinez.
“We absolutely want this guy back. He’s known that for a while,” Epstein said in a conference call before he leaves Monday for the general managers meeting in Orlando.
“It always comes down to years and dollars in the end, but there’s no lack of interest on the Red Sox end in Victor coming back and, I think, certainly the same is true from the other end. I think Victor would love to be here.”
The Red Sox already have picked up their $12.5 million option on designated hitter David Ortiz. And four opening-day starters who missed long stretches with injuries all should be over them before spring training.
First baseman Kevin Youkilis missed the last two months with a torn thumb muscle, second baseman Dustin Pedroia played only two games after breaking his foot on June 25, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury played only 18 games because of broken ribs, and outfielder Mike Cameron appeared in 48 games before having season-ending surgery for a torn abdominal muscle.
Epstein was upbeat about their recoveries.
Pedroia had a CT scan last week, is no longer wearing a walking boot and could begin running early next month. Youkilis hit for about a week after the season and can show up to spring training without “any real lingering concerns about the hand,” Epstein said.
Ellsbury should be healed completely before spring training and Cameron is “showing steady improvement,” he added.
The Red Sox stayed in third place in the AL East from July 5 to the end of the season. But despite all the injuries, they weren’t eliminated from playoff contention until just four days remained in the regular season. A healthy lineup would make them more dangerous.
So would bounce-back years from starters Josh Beckett and John Lackey, who have four years left on their contracts at $68 million for Beckett and $61 million for Lackey. Both underperformed, but Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, both just 26 years old, emerged as two of the best pitchers in baseball. Daisuke Matsuzaka rounds out the rotation.
“We certainly feel like we don’t need to do anything,” Epstein said, “That said, if there’s an opportunity to acquire someone who would fundamentally impact our staff and make it even better, we can’t rule that out.”
The Red Sox would be better off spending money on their bullpen, which had the third worst ERA in the AL. Setup man Daniel Bard was the only outstanding reliever and closer Jonathan Papelbon had the worst year of his career.
And there are plenty of quality relievers available.
“Usually when you have a deep free agent class at any one position that means that there’s a lot of demand as well,” Epstein said, “because those clubs that are losing the players to free agency are always in the market, looking. That seems to be the case this year, too.”