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Should the Red Sox be so afraid of long-term deals?

Just because Carl Crawford left you at the altar doesn’t mean Josh Hamilton would.

AP/File

Just because Carl Crawford left you at the altar doesn’t mean Josh Hamilton would.

NASHVILLE — The Red Sox’ plan for the winter meetings and beyond sounds good. It’s solid on paper.

Try to sign good players who fit the budget and the team.

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Don’t go crazy on superstars who may not pan out.

Don’t react too quickly, but don’t be left in the dark either.

Protect your precious draft picks. Don’t give them up for any routine free agent.

I’ve said it before, I wouldn’t want to be Sox general manager Ben Cherington, trying to put the pieces together on a fifth-place team that is going to have problems getting out of fifth place if the core group isn’t improved significantly.

It’s hard to do that with nickel-and-dime deals, although Jonny Gomes fits a spot and fills a need.

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Mike Napoli likely would do well at Fenway Park with his righthanded power (though his glove at first base would be another story), but the Rangers don’t want to give him more than two years and they’ve had him on their team.

The Sox want to preserve their top prospects and don’t want to give up their second draft pick (their first draft pick is safe as a result of having one of the 10 worst records last season).

That seems like it could work.

But here’s my problem — do you want to compete in the American League East or do you want to win it?

Oh, the Sox can compete with a Gomes/Ryan Kalish platoon in left and Napoli at first and let’s say they get really lucky and have Nick Swisher in right field. Let’s also say that they obtain a fourth or fifth starter, and sign him for a couple of years.

Do the Sox surpass Toronto, Baltimore, New York, or Tampa Bay?

What I don’t understand about the Sox’ stance about long-term deals is why can’t a long-term deal work? Was the Tigers signing Prince Fielder for nine years a bad deal? Was the Angels taking on Albert Pujols for 10 years a bad deal? You can argue that the last two or three years of any long-term deal you may not have the same player you signed years earlier. But if you’re a big-market team with gobs of television revenue about to come in, can’t you afford one of those types of contracts?

It seems as if the Sox don’t trust themselves.

Their public comments have been geared toward staying away from long-term commitments because they were burned on Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett and John Lackey, and Adrian Gonzalez wasn’t suited for a big market such as Boston.

It’s like the guy who just got divorced and he swears he’ll never get married again. Well, why not? Can’t he find the right partner?

Can’t the Sox find the right long-term deal with a significant, core player? Of course they can. There are some pretty bright, experienced people in that front office. Just because Crawford left you at the altar doesn’t mean Josh Hamilton would.

The Sox really only have been a wreck for one season and that awful September, 2011 — but most of that season was fine.

Maybe the Sox are trying to lower expectations so when they don’t come up with a splash the public will buy into their cautious approach. Maybe there’s some gamesmanship going on — lower expectations and then produce a whopper of a deal that will create a ticket-buying, NESN-watching craze. It didn’t work with Crawford and Gonzalez. But it can work.

There are actually a few ways this could go.

For instance, it was quite exciting when the Jon Lester-Will Myers rumor with the Royals was out there. Myers is one of the best young sluggers in baseball. He would be a good gamble. Lester had a subpar 2012 season, and while new manager John Farrell said Lester vows he’s working hard to prove some people wrong, he’s had a few opportunities to prove he’s a top-of-the-rotation starter and hasn’t delivered.

Count me among those he needs to prove something to.

Another option for the Sox would be to forget about 2013 and build for 2014.

They could wait for Jackie Bradley Jr. if they think he’s really the next great thing. Or they could create excitement for Xander Bogaerts being the next Nomar Garciaparra — though I doubt he’s as good as a young Garciaparra — and figure on Matt Barnes and Rubby De La Rosa as studs in the starting rotation.

I’m guessing that struggling in the AL East is not going to go over well with the fan base.

If the Sox are building up the team to win a maximum 85 games, then they might as well build for 2014. But if they’re going to build a winner for next season, then they need more star power than the names we’ve seen bandied about.

Cherington told reporters at his Saturday press gathering at Fenway that he has options for deals that for now he’s holding back on. At some point, those deals might be at the forefront of his thoughts, and it sounds as if they could be impact deals but ones that may involve trading away some of his untouchables.

Team president and CEO Larry Lucchino has flat-out said no long-term deals, though he’s left a little wiggle room.

“We’re not going to get into seven, eight-year deals as we have done before,” Lucchino explained. “What we have ruled out is the kind of long-term, gigantic commitment to players if at all possible.

“We’re not going to set a hard-and-fast rule that says nothing will ever be done along the following lines. We’ll always have some kind of exception to a general presumption. But the general presumption is that we would go after everyone but avoid gigantically long-term deals. We are more concerned about years than we are dollars.”

No, a team doesn’t want to make too many of those long-term deals with the wrong players, like the Sox have the past few years, but you have to trust your people, your data, your ability to make sound management decisions. You have to be confident that when you do dabble in that long-term market again, when you do go after that superstar who will make a difference not only in your lineup but in the mind-set of your whole team, that you’ll do it right.

We all have to see how it plays out here at Opryland this week and in the weeks thereafter.

Maybe the plan the Sox have on paper will work famously. Maybe those short-term commitments for good players will be enough to make this at least a second-wild card team in 2013.

But they’d better make sure those itsy-bitsy moves get them from 69 to 90 wins.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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