December 17, 2013

Red Sox in no hurry to make deals

Boston has been successful by grooming young talent and avoiding big, long-term contracts.

By Tom Caron

It was undoubtedly the quietest of winter meetings in major league history. Thirty teams had their front offices on hand at Disney World, and hundreds of members of the media were poised to cover any breaking moves that were made.

click image to enlarge

Boston Red Sox's Mike Napoli scores on a wild pitch by Detroit Tigers' Anibal Sanchez, right, during Game 5 of the American League baseball championship series in Detroit on Oct. 17, 2013. Napoli reached agreement with the World Series champions on a two-year contract for $32 million.

AP

We’re still waiting for that news to break.

While the industry tries to figure out how to reinvigorate the meetings, fans are trying to figure out who the winners and losers are at this point of the offseason. It’s an incomplete picture, since we’re still two months away from the gathering of pitchers and catchers at spring training.

You could make the argument at this point that the Red Sox are both winners and losers. As defending champions, they are winning the test of will that comes when you are expected to repeat as a contender. General Manager Ben Cherington has not, and will not, stray from his philosophy of grooming young talent while not being handcuffed with long-term megadeals. The Sox won a championship without mortgaging the future, and Cherington isn’t about to refinance now.

Yet the Sox have lost two integral parts of the 2013 campaign. Jacoby Ellsbury is in New York, the beneficiary of the type of contract that Cherington is loath to give to anyone. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is also gone. He didn’t look particularly overjoyed when introduced as the new catcher of the Miami Marlins, but he found a home in South Beach and is moving on.

Will Jackie Bradley, Jr. and A.J. Pierzynski fill the void left by these two players?

Pierzynski is a proven veteran, but will be one of two 37-year old catchers on the roster when the Sox open up camp. Bradley is at the other end of the age spectrum, and will try to show that he really is the player who posted an impressive .842 OPS in 80 games with Pawtucket last season, as opposed to the player who looked overmatched by big-league pitching and put up a .392 OPS (.092 batting average) in 12 April games.

That’s why it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Sox add another outfielder to the mix before the snow clears. It won’t be a top free agent like Shin-Soo Choo (who is looking for an Ellsburian seven-year deal), but there are other “value” players out there.

Quintin Berry, acquired by the Sox last August, could also be in the hunt for a reserve spot. He’s fast and a good defender, but needs to improve at the plate. With Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava and Mike Carp all able to join Bradley and Shane Victorino in the outfield, Boston will be able to rely on depth once again in 2014.

The other player lying in wait is shortstop Stephen Drew. Super-agent Scott Boras represents Drew and last week insisted there was a robust market for his client.

But several GMs I spoke with were not so sure. The Sox offered him a qualifying offer and would receive a compensatory draft pick if he signs elsewhere. That’s a high price to pay for a veteran who struggled offensively this season.

The Sox believe he could excel in a return to Boston, and get back to putting up the offensive numbers he did before injuries plagued him in 2011.

They also feel they are OK without him, since Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks could handle the left side of the infield. Once again, Cherington has been able to cultivate youth while adding just enough veterans to contend.

Will he add more veterans for the 2014 season?

We’ll see. Unlike last Christmas, the Red Sox are in a position to take their time and stand pat if the price of talent becomes too high.

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

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