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Baseball Winter Meetings

Buzz has started, but will Sox be busy bees?

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / December 7, 2009

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INDIANAPOLIS - With suitcases in tow, the greetings started last night in the Marriott lobby. Managers filtered in, a few general managers, support personnel, and more than enough media to go around. There was little else of note at the baseball winter meetings, at least as pertains to the Red Sox, just the buzz beginning on the eve of the annual four-day rumor mill.

For the Sox, there will be talk of Jason Bay, including discussions with his agent, Joe Urbon. There will be talk surrounding players the team is interested in, and players the team is not quite so interested in.

But beyond a left fielder - and, yes, that is a big piece - there are few major deals the Red Sox need to make. Sure, the team could put in a blowout bid on John Lackey or pony up the prospects for Roy Halladay, but the Sox also could skate by with a few bullpen arms here, a few bench players there. In fact, the Sox technically could go without a blockbuster left fielder as well, remaining content with a platoon that includes Jeremy Hermida, though it’s more likely they’ll pick up a better player to roam in front of the Green Monster.

“The meetings are important,’’ GM Theo Epstein said Friday. “It’s a signal for the industry to go ahead and get some stuff done. Agents engage, teams engage the free agent market, teams will engage each other, which is rarer than you think. It’s not every day that you get to talk trades with other teams. It’s a not-so-subtle push to the industry to go get some things done.’’

There were a few happenings of note yesterday that could affect at least one aspect of Boston’s plans, mostly in relation to the deadline to accept or decline offers of arbitration, which occurs today. While Billy Wagner already has signed with the Braves, knocking that offer out early, the Sox have just one more offer out there in Bay. He is almost certain to decline.

But two relievers - a pair of Rafaels - might end up off the market sooner than expected. It was reported last night that the Rockies’ Rafael Betancourt is likely to accept Colorado’s arbitration offer. Rafael Soriano, who was thought to be a goner from the Braves given their signings of Wagner and Takashi Saito, might accept their offer.

It was reported Saturday that Soriano might head back to Atlanta for a one-year deal, according to his agent, Peter Greenberg. That takes two relievers off the market, both of whom might have been of interest to the Sox.

In addition to shoring up the bullpen, the Sox will look to add to their rotation, which could come in the form of the same low-risk deals they did last winter. Though John Smoltz and Brad Penny didn’t work out as Epstein had hoped, with both eventually being released, it’s unlikely the GM will shy away entirely from those types of deals.

The Sox rotation is mostly set, with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield returning. But Wakefield was limping by the end of last season and, even with surgery, is a year older. It remains to be seen whether Matsuzaka can bounce back from a lost year. And Buchholz, while performing at a high level down the stretch, hasn’t yet proven his consistency. There are players out there (think Ben Sheets or Rich Harden) who might fit, and provide the Sox with depth - all of which (and more) was needed last season.

The bench is also in flux, with Rocco Baldelli and Nick Green out of the picture. The Sox remain unconvinced about Jed Lowrie, so there appears to be a good chance they will pick up some utility competition for him, as well as at least one backup outfielder.

Some of those moves might be completed by the time the front office heads back to Boston. Or nothing might be done. But with the lobby full and the talks already started, the most intriguing four days of the offseason are set to begin.

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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