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Red Sox are sticking with plan

Meetings yielded little, as expected

Sox GM Ben Cherington addressed a priority in retaining David Ortiz. Sox GM Ben Cherington addressed a priority in retaining David Ortiz. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff/File)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / December 9, 2011
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DALLAS - Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington spoke to a small group of Boston-area reporters in the lobby of the Hilton Anatole after baseball’s winter meetings ended yesterday.

He then grabbed his bag and strolled past the front desk to a waiting car without being further interrupted. The cameras and microphones were chasing bigger stories elsewhere.

The Red Sox were bit players this week, Cherington and his staff huddling in their cluttered fourth-floor suite contemplating cost-effective moves while teams like the Marlins and Angels were throwing bags of money at the best free agents.

Cherington knew that would be the case. The Red Sox won the winter last year, trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford within a span of a few days. Those deals, and Gonzalez’s subsequent $154 million contract extension, limited how much flexibility the Red Sox would have this year.

So while fans may be a little agitated at seeing other teams hold press conferences, Cherington isn’t concerned with the lack of activity.

“We’re a really good team that really just needs complements and needs to be put in a better position to win over a six-month stretch,’’ he said. “That’s what we’re focused on.’’

The Red Sox did take care of one piece of business when David Ortiz agreed to salary arbitration Wednesday night. Cherington has said for weeks that retaining Ortiz was a priority.

“We’re happy about it,’’ Cherington said. “He’s one of the best hitters in the American League back on the team, so it’s a good outcome.’’

Under the rules, Ortiz is considered a signed player for 2012. At worst he will have a one-year deal with a raise from the $12.5 million he earned last season. The sides also could hammer out a multiyear agreement that gives Ortiz some security and the Red Sox some added financial flexibility for 2012.

“There will be a lot more talks, because we have to get through the arbitration process,’’ said Cherington. “What the outcome of those are, I don’t know.

“I think this sort of focuses the conversation, at least a little bit because we have both worked under the framework of the arbitration system.’’

Regardless, the return of Ortiz and the size of his salary could preclude the Red Sox from signing a player like Carlos Beltran or Michael Cuddyer to play right field. Josh Reddick or Ryan Kalish would be acceptable.

“Yes, to some degree,’’ Cherington said. “Doesn’t mean that we would rule out making an addition to the outfield. But David’s a huge bat in the lineup, so I don’t think we’re in a position where we need to add a lot more offense. There are other things we’d like to do.’’

That means pitching. The Red Sox still have gaping holes in their rotation and bullpen, and for now only theories about how to fill them.

“We made progress, but nothing close,’’ said Cherington. “We’ll continue to do a lot of work. I think we have a good idea of what we may or may not be able to do.

“I think on the pitching front, we felt like all along it was really going to be an all-winter project and some of the moves would be very under-the-radar. There may be some that are more on the radar. But we have a much better idea of what’s out there and what would it take than we did on Monday.’’

The loss of closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies as a free agent left an opening that remains.

Daniel Bard could fill the spot unless he becomes a starter. There could be a trade for a prominent closer such as Oakland’s Andrew Bailey. Free agency remains an option, as Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, and Francisco Cordero remain unsigned.

The Sox are willing to wait and let the market come to them.

“I think we have some internal options,’’ Cherington said. “We’re in a good position, frankly, in respect to a closer because we have guys we think can do it. If there’s a deal that makes sense to acquire someone this offseason, then we’ll see what happens.’’

Cherington’s wait-and-see strategy has the support of team president Larry Lucchino.

“You have to pick your places, pick your times to do big things,’’ Lucchino said on WEEI. “But our general admonition to Ben is to be bold. Major free agent splash? I’m skeptical about that, but a major trade? Always a possibility.’’

A year ago at this time, the Red Sox had their team of stars in place, and former general manager Theo Epstein was being hailed as a visionary. A third-place finish led to manager Terry Francona and Epstein leaving the organization. Cherington is left having to take a new, more methodical approach.

It may not make headlines. But the rookie GM isn’t worried about that.

“Being out front on things doesn’t always lead to the best outcome in the long run,’’ he said.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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