BOSTON – It’s still too soon for the Red Sox to hang a “Mission Accomplished” banner from Fenway Park’s facade and give General Manager Ben Cherington a few weeks off.
But barring an unexpected change in course, their heaviest lifting appears to be complete.
Consider the Sox’ long list of needs when the offseason began.
From a new manager (John Farrell) to a pair of outfielders (Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino), at least one starting pitcher (Ryan Dempster) and even a stopgap shortstop (Stephen Drew), they’ve checked off nearly all of their empty boxes, to say nothing of adding depth at catcher (David Ross) and in the bullpen (Koji Uehara).
And if Mike Napoli’s contract is ever finalized, they will have filled their first base vacancy, too.
So, what’s left?
Earlier this week, Cherington identified a few areas that will command the Sox’ attention before pitchers and catchers are required to report to Fort Myers on Feb. 10.
• Who’s on first? In the end, the Red Sox probably will resolve issues that are believed to have arisen during Napoli’s physical, then cross their fingers that he stays healthy enough to make about 600 plate appearances and adapts to playing first base every day.
For now, though, nothing is certain.
“First base is the area, going back to the beginning of the offseason, we clearly identified as a need,” Cherington said. “We haven’t been able to address that yet. Still working on it.”
Cherington won’t comment on the snag holding up the Red Sox’ three-year, $39 million deal with Napoli, nor will he address an SI.com report that the team is seeking to reduce the contract by a year. He’s also been unwilling to handicap the odds of completing the deal.
Just in case, Cherington said the Sox “have got to keep active.”
One potential alternative, Adam LaRoche, remains unsigned, although he’s sitting on a two-year deal from the Nationals. Fellow free agent Nick Swisher has begun visiting with several teams, including the Indians and Mariners.
One name to cross off: Kendrys Morales. The Angels traded him Wednesday to Seattle for 29-year-old lefty Jason Vargas.
• Arming the pitching staff: A year ago, the Red Sox lacked the financial flexibility to sign even right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million deal. So, they attempted to deepen their stable of pitchers by signing veterans Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, Carlos Silva, Ross Ohlendorf and Justin Germano to minor league deals.
This time around, they have more money to spend and a rotation that already includes Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Dempster, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales. But they don’t intend to stop shopping for pitchers.
“I don’t think you can ever have enough,” Cherington said. “There will be guys that we’ll be talking to when the calendar turns. Sometimes the closer you get to spring training, guys get ready to sign. We’ll be active in continuing to try to build depth.”
And not just in the starting rotation. Indications are the Red Sox will continue to look for ways to add to a bullpen that already contains several potential late-inning options, including injury-prone closer Andrew Bailey, Uehara, right-handers Junichi Tazawa, Alfredo Aceves and Mark Melancon and once-dominant set-up man Daniel Bard.
• A left-handed complement: Although Gomes is expected to play a lot in left field, the fact remains he’s only a .223 career hitter against right-handed pitching.
Paging Ryan Kalish.
Before being derailed by injuries in 2011, lefty-swinging Kalish figured heavily in the Red Sox’ plans. He may finally get his chance, especially because he’s expected to be completely healthy by spring training after spending most of last month in Boston working with physical therapist Dan Dyrek and strength coach Mike Boyle to build back his left shoulder after labrum surgery.
A major league source said the Sox feel “comfortable” with either Kalish or switch-hitting Daniel Nava splitting time in left field, although they also haven’t ruled out adding another outfielder.
• Making a deal with Ellsbury: As center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury enters one more round of salary arbitration, the Sox will explore the possibility of signing him to a long-term extension.
Two problems: Ellsbury’s value is difficult to gauge after following his MVP-caliber 2011 with an injury-interrupted, underachieving season. And he’s represented by agent Scott Boras, who typically advises his clients to test the open market once they reach the doorstep of free agency. But it never hurts to talk.