Sports

Red Sox looking at outfield upgrades

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — There was a time two years ago when Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers thought about moving outfielder Justin Upton to the Red Sox.

But it was just a fleeting thought.

“My gut, one time with Boston, something at least got me thinking, but it went away in a hurry the next day,” Towers said. “But there hasn’t been anything that has caught our attention.

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“We’ve been pretty thorough. There’s probably a handful of clubs or less that we’ve had talks with, there’s others who have interest that we probably don’t match up with. There are probably two or three clubs we match up very well with.”

Towers, who said he’s not shopping Upton at the general managers meetings here but is listening to discussions about him, said he’d be looking for major league-ready players in return, likely a stud shortstop, third baseman, or starting pitcher.

Could you see the Red Sox parting with Will Middlebrooks, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, or Felix Doubront? Doubront is highly unlikely. And it doesn’t appear that Jose Iglesias would float Towers’s boat either.

And the player Towers wanted for Upton two years ago — Buchholz — is still not available to him.

Most of these conversations about big-time trades don’t usually come to anything.

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said Tuesday that he has talked to several teams and to several agents about players, but hasn’t heard any “surprising” names on the trade front.

There have been conversations with the agent for Angels righty Dan Haren, who was at the meetings Wednesday. There have been talks on Nick Swisher and B.J. Upton. The Sox seem to have covered their bases on all the big names out there.

They have even touched base on Torii Hunter, the veteran outfielder who would be an outstanding character guy. He’s also very close to David Ortiz, who told this reporter Wednesday that he could deliver Hunter to the Sox.

Hunter is coming off a $90 million deal with the Angels and had a very productive season. He wants to win a championship, which means more to him than the money. The Tigers, Yankees, and Giants seem to be the teams most interested in him, but he would seem to fit the Red Sox, who need a right fielder, and the commitment probably wouldn’t be more than two years.

“I would say, if there’s an area where the free agent class is deeper, it’s in the outfield,” Cherington said. “We’ve talked to a lot of the agents so far. Probably a little bit of a feeling-out period for the players and teams. We’ll see. We’ve had contact with them.”

Outfielders — either through trade or free agency — who might fit Boston include Ryan Ludwick, Cody Ross, the Uptons, Josh Hamilton, Swisher, and Cleveland’s Shin-Soo Choo, who could be trade bait as he enters the final season of his contract.

The Red Sox have always liked Kansas City’s Alex Gordon, a player Sox vice president of player personnel Allard Baird drafted when he was the GM in Kansas City.

Cherington was also asked about former Sox left fielder Jason Bay, who had $21 million remaining on his contract with the Mets bought out Wednesday.

“Certainly surprised that it didn’t go better for him,” Cherington said. “He’s a terrific guy. Great player for a long time. We expected him to go there and do well. Don’t know the particulars of why it didn’t go well.

“I have a lot of respect for him and hopefully he’ll find a better situation. We haven’t talked about it yet, but we haven’t ruled anything out.”

Bay, of course, has concussion issues that pretty much ruined his career. He’s had problems rebounding from that, and it didn’t help going to New York and playing half his games at Citi Field.

Bay hit 36 homers and knocked in 119 runs for the Red Sox in 2009, but he left as a free agent when the Sox tried to make him agree to a clause protecting them in case he needed knee surgery. The Mets swooped in with a four-year, $66 million deal.

If he resumes his career, Bay likely will go somewhere on a one-year minor league deal with a major league invitation.

Cherington said he’s probably looking to add two outfielders, through trade or free agency.

He is also after a starting pitcher. Haren has been on the radar, and he would seem to fit as a fifth starter if Cherington keeps Boston’s front four intact. These days, Haren pitches more on experience and courage than talent, given his back issues, but he still could be a valuable piece.

With Juan Nieves now the pitching coach, one wonders whether the Sox would engage in trade talks for Gavin Floyd of the White Sox, who appear to be open to dealing him.

“I think the best way to really get better still is to see improvement from the guys we have,” Cherington said. “That’s going to make a bigger impact than any single pitcher we could add. That has to be a focus.

“Bottom line is we didn’t pitch well enough last year. It goes back a couple of years. We can’t close the door on getting better either internally or [via] more outside help.”

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