New Red Sox manager John Farrell stepped to the podium at Fenway Park Tuesday and smiled after hearing a flowery introduction delivered by general manager Ben Cherington.
“Ben, you said an awful lot of nice things,” Farrell said. “But we know it’s going to come down to the quality of the players on the roster when it comes to the wins.”
It was a self-effacing little joke, and Cherington laughed. But there was plenty of truth behind it. If the Red Sox are to be successful, they have to make news about more than a new manager this offseason.
The Red Sox have holes in their roster that can’t all be filled by fringe prospects or discount free agents if they expect to rise out of last place in the American League East. Cherington needs a first baseman, right fielder, left fielder, designated hitter, shortstop, and at least one starting pitcher.
Some solutions will be easier than others. The Sox could announce a new multiyear contract for DH David Ortiz before the end of the World Series. Their discussions have been productive.
Right fielder Cody Ross, another free agent, is open to staying with the Sox after hitting .267 with 22 home runs and 81 RBIs.
Unlike Ortiz, who has strong ties to the organization, Ross would find it easier to relocate after only one season in Boston. That would be especially true if a team on the West Coast made a compelling offer. But it did seem telling that Farrell quickly mentioned Ross when asked what players he had contacted since becoming manager.
“We have been swapping text messages,” Farrell said.
Shortstop is a position that could be filled from within. Trading incumbent Mike Aviles to the Blue Jays as compensation for Farrell was a sign the Sox are willing to give 22-year-old Jose Iglesias a chance.
Farrell, like Cherington, was tempered in his comments about Iglesias.
“Good defender, showed good range, particularly to his glove side,” Farrell said. “A couple of times you saw him get the bat head out and take some aggressive swings. There were other times when he got tied up a little bit.
“Whether it’s a matter of strength or whether it’s a matter of timing in his swing, we’ll find more out about that as we get deeper.”
Other positions will require more creativity. Outside of Mike Napoli, there is not an attractive free agent first baseman entering the market.
Adam LaRoche of the Nationals — who played six games for the Sox in 2009 — would be a good fit. But he may not end up on the market. LaRoche, who has a mutual $10 million option with the Nationals, is negotiating a new deal to stay in Washington.
Cleveland outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who can become a free agent after the 2013 season, is the kind of player the Sox could acquire via trade and use their financial flexibility to try to retain. The same could be true of Twins first baseman Justin Morneau.
Veteran outfielder Torii Hunter, who finished the season strongly for the Angels, could fit. He has righthanded power and good leadership skills.
It is widely assumed that the Red Sox will pass on free agent Josh Hamilton. The Rangers have told Hamilton to go into the market and gauge his value. That could be considerable, but Hamilton represents the kind of free agent risk that sent the Sox down the path to 93 losses.
The best starting pitchers available in free agency are expected to be Zack Greinke, Edwin Jackson, Dan Haren, Hiroki Kuroda, Francisco Liriano, and Kyle Lohse.
The White Sox hold a $22 million option on Jake Peavy that almost certainly will be declined. He was 11-12 with a 3.37 earned run average.
The Rays have a $9 million option on James Shields. He is a candidate to be traded, but it is unlikely that Tampa Bay would send him to a division foe.
Matt Garza (Cubs) and Josh Johnson (Marlins) will be names heard all winter after being made available during the season. The Rangers could move one of their starters, as well.
With Jacoby Ellsbury a season away from free agency and sure to test his value in the open market, the Red Sox could use their center fielder as an asset to make other parts of the team better. A willingness to trade Ellsbury would put the Sox in position to make a major splash.
The Sox have what amounts to almost unlimited financial flexibility. The August trade of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez left them with less than $40 million committed for 2013.
Before spring training rolls around, prying Farrell away from Toronto will probably be remembered as one of the easiest tasks of the offseason.
“There are things that need to be fixed across the board,” Cherington said.