INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — What if I told you that the Red Sox could sign an All-Star left fielder to a reasonable contract?
This player is coming off the best season of his career, combines power and speed, and has a World Series title on his résumé. He has a strong arm and even switch hits.
One negative: It’s Melky Cabrera.
If there is a benefit to finishing in last place, it’s the freedom to take chances that a contender might pass on. Cabrera, who was suspended for 50 games in August for using performance-enhancing drugs, represents that kind of player.
The Red Sox do not view Cabrera as an option. But there are others like him, talented players with flaws because of injury, circumstance, or underperformance. Whether it’s by free agency or trade, it’s a low-cost way for the Sox to fill one of their holes.
As the Red Sox remake their roster after a 93-loss season, creativity will be needed. There are too many gaps in the roster to simply look at the list of available free agents and throw money at the ones who seem to fit best.
As Major League Baseball’s general managers meetings get started Wednesday, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington understands that.
“We have a general idea of the things we want to pursue the most aggressively. We’ll see if any of those land more quickly and if they do, that might shape us in a certain way,” he said Monday. “But I think we have to keep our options open as much as we can knowing that we have a lot of work to do.”
The Red Sox long have regretted having to give up righthander Justin Masterson in the 2009 trade that returned Victor Martinez from the Cleveland Indians. Now could be a good time to get him back following a down season.
Masterson was 11-15 with a 4.93 earned run average for the Indians last season. Only seven pitchers in all of baseball had a higher ERA. His WHIP of 1.45 was one of the highest in the game, too.
But Masterson, who turns 28 in March, has averaged just over 200 innings the last three seasons. New Red Sox manager John Farrell also knows Masterson well, having coached him from 2008-09.
If Masterson proved unworthy of a rotation spot over the long term, he would profile well as a reliever.
Like the Red Sox, Cleveland has many needs. Their new manager, Terry Francona, certainly would be able to provide an educated opinion on prospects in the Sox system.
Righthander Scott Baker was 46-28 with a 3.92 ERA for the Minnesota Twins from 2008-11. He is available after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The same is true of late-inning reliever Ryan Madson, who signed a one-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds last winter and never pitched.
Brandon McCarthy is another intriguing injury case. He has made only 43 starts in the last two seasons because of arm issues but pitched well when he was on the mound. When he came back this season, McCarthy was struck in the head by a line drive on Sept. 5 and needed surgery to repair a skull fracture and a hemorrhage. McCarthy is now healthy and is a free agent.
His close relationship with the Athletics, one strengthened by the team’s support after the head injury, could result in McCarthy returning to Oakland. But for now, he is available.
The Red Sox spoke to the Los Angeles Angels last week regarding righthander Dan Haren, an accomplished starter whose performance in 2012 was affected by a back injury. No deal was struck and Haren became a free agent. A team willing to take a chance in his return to health could get a bargain.
In the outfield, Cleveland right fielder Shin-Soo Choo is the kind of player who could be worth trading for. He is eligible for arbitration after earning $4.9 million last season and will be a free agent a year from now. Choo hit .283 with 61 extra-base hits last season and stole 21 bases.
Choo is a solid right fielder — a must at Fenway Park — and would be a good temporary solution for the Red Sox as they wait to see how their prospects develop.
The Red Sox believe in the potential of right fielder Bryce Brentz, who finished last season with Triple A Pawtucket. But he is not ready for the majors yet.
Starting this week, how the Red Sox plan to rebuild will become clear. Cherington compared the process with a mosaic, saying one piece will affect the others.
Some of those pieces may have defects. For a team like the Sox, the fit could be perfect.