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The waiting game is no fun, but patience should pay off for Cherington, Red Sox

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  November 26, 2013 12:12 PM

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By the time Thanksgiving came around last year, Ben Cherington had already begun reparations to a Red Sox roster and culture that 11 months later would have Boston fans lining a parade route by the thousands to give thanks.

Cherington's pre-Turkey Day '12 transaction list: Fired Bobby Valentine, hired/acquired John Farrell (with friendly Mike Aviles heading to Toronto as compensation), brought in Juan Nieves as pitching coach, signed catcher David Ross to a two-year deal, signed designated hitter David Ortiz to a two-year deal, and offered Mike Napoli a three-year deal that became a one-year deal that we now wish was the original three-year deal.

This offseason? The delightful post-championship, can-you-believe-that-really-happened? buzz still lingers, sure. And it's always nice to add a eighth volume to that DVD library of recent Boston champions. But the offseason buzz that accompanies roster moves of meaning and interest?

That's been rather dull so far. Burke Badenhop, he of the 1.18 WHIP last season and owner of a decent sinker, is a useful low-leverage depth pickup for the bullpen. But it's Burke Badenhop, you know? If he's traded to any other team but the one we follow, it's a line in the Sports Log that may or may not catch our reading eye.

And that's the Red Sox' most noteworthy move so far.

I think there's only one thing to do in this situation: Complain! All together now, banshees in unison! C'mon, Cherington! Stop resting on your laurels! Don't go all Theo on us! Do something!

(I don't even know what that means. I just heard it on my radio and the guy yelping it seemed smart, possibly even a functioning member of society.)

All facetiousness aside, the needs and demands of the roster are obviously significantly different this offseason, and thus a different approach is required.

The 2012 Red Sox had a dearth of quality upper-middle class players, which is the kind of sad dilemma that allows you to convince yourself that Pedro Ciriaco is part of the future.

What was easy to overlook during the tumultuous 69-win 2012 season was that a sturdy foundation remained in place -- mainstays Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, and Jacoby Ellsbury would all go on to have better, healthier seasons in 2013.

Cherington's began building on that with the aforementioned moves, and more crucial complementary pieces were added in the first two weeks of December -- Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino, and Jonny Gomes had all signed or agreed to terms during that period. He brilliantly constructed the middle of a roster that was already better than we recognized.

This year, it probably is a wise approach, what with a deep, versatile big-league roster and a stacked farm system at his disposal, for Cherington to hang back and see how the market takes shape. And it's probably wise of us to presume his approach is the correct one, since he hasn't been wrong about much over, oh, the past year. (Matt Thornton? The right move. He just didn't do the job.)

Maybe there's some natural curiosity about why the Red Sox, at least on the surface, haven't been more aggressive in retaining their four major free agents -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Mike Napoli, and Stephen Drew.

But while there's not much to discuss around the Thanksgiving table in terms of what the Red Sox have done -- there's no 2006 Josh Beckett/Hanley Ramirez blockbuster coming this year, it seems -- there have been moves made elsewhere that might help us recalibrate what could happen soon with the free-agent quartet. Let's take 'em one-by-one.

Napoli: The always-trustworthy Ken Rosenthal reports that the Mariners are in on the slugging first baseman, which could pose a dilemma for the Red Sox. Seattle, shunned by available stars such as Justin Upton and Josh Hamilton in recent years, is desperate -- Rosenthal's word -- to do something. If they're desperate enough to give Napoli three years, he's going to have a decision to make between the place he sure seems to want to stay and the place willing to give him the security he desires. I can't see him going to Seattle -- he should ask former teammate Adrian Beltre how righthanded sluggers fare there -- but they sure seem poised to make his choice difficult.

swihartblake112713.JPGJarrod Saltalamacchia: This is biggest mystery to me: Do they want him back? And if so, on what terms? With Carlos Ruiz returning to Philadelphia and Brian McCann joining the Yankees on relatively lucrative deals, there should be a decent market for Saltalamacchia, who had a higher OPS than McCann the past two seasons and at 28 still may be improving. I hope the Sox retain him, even if it requires three years, maybe even four. Yes, they have two promising prospects behind him in Christian Vazquez and, further away but with a brighter future, Blake Swihart. But if anyone requires evidence that it can take a long time for a catcher to master all the things required of him in the majors, consider this comment from an unnamed scout his 2006 Baseball America prospect profile, which ranked him 18th-best in baseball: "He's got a chance to be Jason Varitek to me. The size, the strength, the power are all there." The career path isn't that far off.

Stephen Drew: Maybe the Cardinals really did prefer Jhonny Peralta; this column makes a fairly compelling case regarding the ex-Tiger's merits, particularly in regard to some surprising defensive metrics. But I tend to think Drew would be a Cardinal had the Red Sox not made him the $14.1 million tender, thus attaching draft-pick compensation. It seems apparent to me that this is going to reduce his list of potential suitors greatly. I'm more convinced than ever that he's back in Boston next year.

Jacoby Ellsbury: Let's put it this way: If Cherington somehow convinced him to stick around on a deal that also satisfied the Red Sox, it might be his greatest feat yet. In a month that isn't October, anyway.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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