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Winter Meetings an opportunity for Red Sox

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  December 8, 2013 06:53 PM

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Baseball's Winter Meetings are back at the Swan and Dolphin hotel complex at Disney World for the first time since 2010. It was here the Red Sox made their ill-fated seven-year, $142 million deal with Carl Crawford.

The Sox were kings that week, trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Crawford in a span of a few days.

Don't expect that kind of action this week.

The Red Sox have filled their primary needs by signing free agents Mike Napoli, A.J. Pierzynski and Edward Mujica. No matter what happens, the offseason has been a success.

At the moment, the lineup could be something like this:

Shane Victorino RF
Daniel Nava / Jonnny Gomes LF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
David Ortiz DH
Mike Napoli 1B
Xander Bogaerts SS
A.J. Pierzynski / David Ross C
Will Middlebrooks 3B
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF

That lineup, right now, is not as good as the group that finished last season. There's no real leadoff hitter, for instance. But taken as a whole, the Sox should score plenty of runs. Bogaerts will have a Manny Machado-like impact on the offense.

Pedroia, now that his left thumb has a working ligament, should be a more productive offensive player. Pierzynski will likely provide roughly the same production as Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Middlebrooks can't help but be better than he was last season.

The drop off will come in center field. But Bradley is better than his brief stints in the majors showed last season.

The Sox also have a strong rotation and bullpen. They'll send a solid starter to the mound every day and that is where success starts.

“I do think we go into the Winter Meetings in a position of strength, with a very strong roster and one that we feel good about going into the season if not much changes,” Cherington said.

In a way, having a largely settled roster could create more work for Cherington and the baseball operations staff. Not having many specific needs will allow the Sox the freedom to be creative in the trade market and seek ways to improve a team they already feel is strong.

“I have a feeling it will be just as busy. The pace won’t be any different. We’ll just be talking about different kind of things,” Cherington said. “When there’s a clear need to fill, there’s more of a linear process and we’re focusing on certain things and trying to march down the field on certain things, a certain player or trade that fills that need.

“When you’re not doing that kind of thing as much, it’s a bigger universe so there’s a lot of ideas floating around the room and a lot of conversation.”

A few thoughts on where those conversations could go based on talks with sources from various teams, including the Red Sox:

• Making a big trade: The Sox have an extra starter, an extra catcher in Ryan Lavarnway and some solid prospects. It's enough to cobble together a deal.

The Dodgers have spoken to the Sox to gauge interest in outfielder Matt Kemp, a two-time All-Star. But there is ample reason for caution.

In the last 14 months, Kemp has twice had surgery on his left shoulder and once on his left ankle. He had a torn labrum repaired in Oct. of 2013 then a procedure on the AC joint a year later.

Kemp hit only six home runs in 263 at-bats last season and there is concern that the shoulder injury affected his mechanics and power, much in the same way it did Adrian Gonzalez.

Gonzalez has averaged 22 home runs in the three seasons since his shoulder surgery. He averaged 32 in the five years prior.

Kemp also has six years and $128 million remaining on his contract. The Dodgers would presumably pick up part of that in a trade, but the Red Sox have avoided long-term deals for two years now outside of Dustin Pedroia.

• Making a medium-sized trade: The Sox could deal from their depth and pick up a solid first base or outfield prospect, two areas where the farm system is a little deficient.

• Pick up an infielder: The Red Sox need a utility infielder, somebody who could back up at second, third and shortstop. Free agent Justin Turner would work. Maybe they will bring John McDonald back.

• Retaining Stephen Drew: In what has been a frenzied market for free agents, Drew's name has not come up much because of the draft-pick compensation attached to his price. If he is still searching for a team on Jan. 20, the Red Sox could be waiting. They would take him back on their terms and play Bogaerts at third base.

The Red Sox are willing to be patient with Drew because they can always simply play Bogaerts at shortstop and Middlebrooks at third.

It's important to note that the Sox are close to their payroll number of last season. Contracted raises, arbitration and a full year of Jake Peavy added to the payroll along with the free agents. Cherington also values having some money to be flexible for in-season additions.

So don't expect the Red Sox to be in play for a prominent free agent like Shin-Soo Choo. Such a move would require some roster manipulation.

No matters what happens, we'll have coverage from the Meetings all week here on Extra Bases and in the Globe.

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