If you’re Ben Cherington, time to take that deep breath.
Actually, he probably already has.
What he doesn’t want to do is gasp, because there hasn’t been a time in recent memory when a Red Sox team has to be rebuilt to this degree. But this one does. And the job falls on general manager Cherington’s shoulders.
He’s got his manager (John Farrell), he soon will finalize the coaching staff, and he officially announced the signing of David Ortiz at a news conference at Fenway Park Monday.
Free agency began Saturday, but the general managers meetings are a definitive starting point for the hot stove season.
While big news rarely happens at these meetings, which begin Wednesday in Palm Springs, Calif., they are where GMs get together and begin to lay the groundwork, or as Cherington calls them, “concepts,” for trades and free agent signings.
You’re bound to bump into an agent or two in the hotel lobby and amid some of the industry meetings the GMs take part in. There are private meetings with those agents on free agents, and there are trade talks with other teams.
“It’ll be more information-gathering type meetings,” Cherington said. “We’ve already had a lot of conversations on the phone, but face to face you begin to discuss concepts — free agent concepts and trade concepts. It’s a bit of a mosaic. You look at one piece and see how it affects the others.”
All the pieces have to fall into place.
And the pieces must be these:
1. A left fielder. Carl Crawford isn’t walking through that door, so the Sox will have to explore free agents and/or trades. They could take a leap of faith and go with Ryan Kalish, but it seems more likely they’ll solve it via an outside transaction.
2. A right fielder. Cherington confirmed he has had several conversations with Cody Ross’s representative about a deal, but that Ross has elected to test free agency. The Sox still believe they’re in the hunt for Ross. If the Sox can’t get him signed, they’ll likely search for a hitter and a decent outfielder. That could range from Josh Hamilton to Nick Swisher to B.J. Upton to Ryan Ludwick.
3. A first baseman. The Sox could go with a big name here or use it as a platoon position. It’s traditionally a power spot, so they would ideally like someone who can provide some thump. Free agent possibilities include Texas catcher Mike Napoli, who could split time between catcher and first, or Adam LaRoche, who played six games for the Sox in 2009 and was traded to Atlanta for Casey Kotchman.
LaRoche, who has a made-for-Fenway inside-out swing, hit 33 homers and knocked in 100 runs and won a Gold Glove for the Nationals last season.
4. A starting pitcher. The Sox were involved in trade discussions with the Angels for Dan Haren, and now that he’s a free agent they still may be in the hunt.
“We’re considering all sorts of pitching options, both free agents and we’ll talk to a couple of teams about a trade,” Cherington said. “I don’t think we’re ruling out someone we can control longer-term. What we want to do is add to the 2013 rotation and we’d like to do that in a smart way for long term, too. We do believe we have better upper-level starting pitching depth than we did a year ago. We want to make sure that continues to mature.”
This could run the gamut, from a deal for the Marlins’ Josh Johnson to free agent pitchers such as Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, and others.
5. Shortstop. Cherington was asked about needing to take a leap of faith with certain young players who perhaps didn’t show convincingly that they’re ready for the next level. Jose Iglesias would fall into that category. With Mike Aviles gone (to Cleveland via Toronto), it looks like Iglesias’s job. Or is it? Would the Sox consider free agent Stephen Drew? Would they deal for an Elvis Andrus if they made Jacoby Ellsbury available? With Aviles in Cleveland, is Asdrubal Cabrera possible trade bait?
6. Ellsbury. Trade or no trade? The reality is Ellsbury and his agent, Scott Boras, may not be ready to sign a long-term extension. Do the Sox just play it out with Ellsbury and hope they can sign him next offseason? They are expected to receive a number of inquiries. The center field market is decent, with Upton, Michael Bourn, and Angel Pagan all free agents.
As one can see, there’s a lot of work to be done. The Sox have a great deal of payroll flexibility, even after spending at least $26 million for two more years of Ortiz.
One thing in the Sox’ favor is that they don’t have to worry about losing a No. 1 draft pick if they sign a top free agent. Because they finished in the bottom 10 teams, their No. 1 pick is safe.
Cherington said he doesn’t have any order in which he will rebuild the team, but he will prioritize and try to be aggressive in his pursuit.
“I don’t know if we can follow an order,” he said. “There’s enough to do. We have to keep engaged on a number of different things at once with agents and with different teams. We have a general idea of things we want to pursue more aggressively. We’ll see. If they land more quickly that may shape us in a certain way. We have to keep our options open knowing we have a lot of work to do.”
A lot of work to do is right.