December 10, 2013

Tom Caron: Are the Red Sox done with holiday shopping?

GM Ben Cherington says he’s content with the roster changes so far, but Boston has a lot of pitchers that could figure in a deal.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Red Sox front office has gone to Disney World, and this isn’t some Mickey Mouse-inspired trip to celebrate the 2013 World Series.

General Manager Ben Cherington and his staff are here to work toward keeping the defending champs on top in 2014.

The major leagues’ winter meetings are usually a holiday season shopping spree for GMs around the league. Baseball executives and agents gather in one place, making it the perfect time to get some one-stop shopping done before the new year.

This offseason is different. Many teams have already purchased their big-ticket items for the coming season. Seattle put Robinson Cano under the Mariners’ Christmas tree for a cool $240 million. Jacoby Ellsbury is now a Yankee at the cost of more than $150 million for seven years.

One week ago I wrote that Ellsbury would spend most of the winter looking over his potential suitors, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I expected agent Scott Boras to take his sweet time with the Ellsbury signing. Instead, he quickly jumped at the Yankees’ offer.

In hindsight, it was another brilliant move by Boras. He not only got Ellsbury a great deal, but he also made several other player moves topple like dominoes:

n He opened the door for Jackie Bradley, Jr. to become Boston’s new center fielder. Bradley is a Boras client.

n He made it nearly impossible for the Yankees to re-sign Cano. Cano jilted Boras for Jay-Z’s new agency last season, and the rapper publicly ripped Boras. Apparently, revenge is best served over a latte in the quiet Pacific Northwest.

n He raised the bar for Shin-Soo Choo, the next-best center fielder on the market. Choo is a Boras client.

Meantime, the Red Sox continue their practice of financial discipline. They didn’t overcommit for Ellsbury or for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, as Salty was replaced by A.J. Pierzynski, who signed a one-year contract.

Cherington will keep his eyes open for a bargain center fielder, but knows he has Bradley in the wings.

Knowing he needed to keep some of last year’s team intact, he dropped $32 million on Mike Napoli. That’s a staggering amount, but it’s just a two-year commitment. Overpaying on short-term deals and maintaining flexibility for the future has served the Sox well of late.

There are still moves to make at the winter meetings. Stephen Drew remains a free agent, and the Sox would love to bring him back.

They also know they’ll get a draft pick in return if he signs elsewhere, and they’ve got Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks to fill the left side of the infield. They won’t overpay for a free agent.

Cherington will also take plenty of calls at the Magic Kingdom. As we’ve noted in the past, he’s got pitching to spare. With Napoli coming back, he’s got enough offense to back that pitching up.

He’s already added bullpen help with Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop.

We were reminded in 2013 that you can’t overstate the importance of bullpen depth, and the Sox appear to be just as deep again heading to 2014.

This week, Cherington said he is comfortable with his team as presently constructed for the coming season.

So there may not be many moves left for him to make. But Orlando is a place where fantasy becomes reality for kids of all ages. Cherington could still surprise everyone with a move.

If we’ve learned anything from the Red Sox over the past 12 months, it’s to expect the unexpected.

Tom Caron is studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.
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