Francona: We'd be fine with Kotchman at first base
In an interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI's "Dale and Holley" program Thursday afternoon, Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona had some interesting comments about one of the last remaining questions of the Red Sox offseason: Who will play the corner infield positions?
Out of respect for Mike Lowell, whose trade to the Rangers is still pending, the Red Sox manager didn't say anything definitive about who might be manning third base. He did, however, indicate he'd be comfortable with Casey Kotchman as his starting first baseman.
"I'm a big Kotchman fan," Francona said. "I think Kotch kind of goes under the radar because he came over [after the trade deadline last season] and he didn't play and he didn't say anything and he just kind of went about his business. We can do just fine with Kotch playing first, hitting down toward the bottom of the order and catching everything in sight. I'm pretty comfortable with that."
Starting Kotchman at first would mean Kevin Youkilis would move back to third base, a position he'd prefer to play, according to Francona.
"[Youkilis is] a tremendous first baseman," Francona said, "but I think his first and true love is third base."
Kotchman, who was acquired from the Braves on July 31, hit .218 with a .284 on-base percentage in 87 at bats after coming to Boston. Known mostly for his defense, Kotchman's best offensive season came in 2007, when he hit .296 with a .372 on-base percentage, 11 homers and 68 RBIs. Those certainly aren't the kind of production numbers you hope to see out of a corner infielder, but that seems to be fine with Francona.
"We talked a lot this winter about wanting to improve our defense," Francona said. "We're trying to find ways to get better and rather than just go out and chase every bat that's available and then playing softball, I've sat down and talked about pitching and defense and trying to be better than the other team, and I think we all feel pretty good about that now."
The Red Sox won't say so publicly, but they essentially have pulled out of the running for free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. They are not interested in signing Beltre for the terms sought by agent Scott Boras, one club source told ESPNBoston.com, and they're not willing to wait around until late December or early January to see whether Beltre's price drops.
Beltre is believed to be asking for a five-year deal worth $13 million-$15 million annually. And as much as the Red Sox see Beltre as a significant defensive upgrade at third over Lowell, they are not willing to sign him at that price.
The Sox, who contacted free-agent first baseman Nick Johnson earlier this winter, also could revisit him, although he has other possibilities (Baltimore, San Francisco) percolating.
ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes contributed to this report.