ORLANDO — By the time the World Series was over, Red Sox closer Koji Uehara had appeared in 86 games and thrown 88 innings.
At age 38, Uehara made the most appearance of his career and threw the most innings since 2008, when he was pitching in Japan.
Setup men Junichi Tazawa (84 appearances) and Craig Breslow (71) also experienced heavy workloads.
Uehara, Tazawa, and Breslow are all coming back. But as the Red Sox build a roster for next season, adding some bullpen insurance is something general manager Ben Cherington feels is critical.
“We don’t have a reason to be concerned with any of those guys other than the obvious, which is relievers are a bit unpredictable,” Cherington said. “To be fair, if Koji’s performance isn’t quite as good next year as it was this year, we’re still OK.
“We want to add because it is an area where you have to assume there’s going to be some attrition.”
Righthander Brandon Workman could become a starter, if needed. If not, the Red Sox see him as having a prominent role in the bullpen. The Sox also will get lefthander Andrew Miller back from a foot injury.
Drake Britton, Franklin Morales, and Alex Wilson are other options. But Cherington also wants a few veteran relievers in the mix.
“We want as many guys as possible that we think have the potential and have the stuff to execute and pitch in high-leverage situations. The bullpen almost never looks the same at the end of the year as it does at the beginning of the year,” Cherington said. “The more guys we have with that kind of capability, even if they don’t have the résumé and track record, the more guys who have that kind of capability the better.”
Cherington is wary about trading for an established relief pitcher after deals for Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan backfired because of injuries.
The Red Sox also traded for Mark Melancon, who underperformed in 2012, then became an All-Star when he was traded to Pittsburgh.
“Frankly, I haven’t done a good enough job in the way I’ve tried to build that depth in the past,” Cherington said. “I need to do a better job in figuring out how to do that. That’s what we’ll try to do this winter. It’s nothing specific to the guys that are back, it’s just acknowledgment that we need to add to that area.”
Hanrahan, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, is still being considered by the Red Sox after becoming a free agent. The Red Sox also will look at other free agents, although they’re unlikely to invest in any of the high-end options, such as Grant Balfour or Fernando Rodney.
Ideally, the Red Sox will find another version of Uehara, a pitcher with good stuff coming off a down year who will bounce back.
Cherington laughed and said he would even consider a trade despite his track record.
“It’s an area of the game that’s toughest to predict,” he said. “I think the more quality, the more good arms — and we have some of those with the young guys — some of them could step into that role.”
Not ruling out Drew
Cherington disputed a report by ESPN Boston that shortstop Stephen Drew will not return to the Red Sox.
“That’s not something I’ve been told,” Cherington said. “We’re still talking with him and we’d like to have him back. We’ll see what happens.”
On Wednesday, agent Scott Boras said that Drew “very much enjoyed” his time in Boston and would consider opportunities to stay. Boras, too, said no decision had been made.
Drew is seeking a multiyear contract, something the Red Sox would prefer to avoid. But because Drew was tendered a qualifying offer by the Red Sox, signing him could cost a team their first-round draft pick. That could dampen the market for Drew and perhaps lead to a return to Boston.
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia finished tied for seventh in the American League Most Valuable Player voting. It was his highest finish since winning the award in 2008.
Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers repeated as MVP with 23 of 30 first-place votes. Mike Trout of the Angels was second again, with Baltimore’s Chris Davis coming in third.
Pedroia received 99 points, tying Adrian Beltre of Texas. David Ortiz was 10th with 47 points. Jacoby Ellsbury, Koji Uehara, and Shane Victorino also received votes.
The Red Sox had 31 players who were on minor league contracts become free agents. The group includes righthander Alfredo Aceves, who was 16-13 with 27 saves and a 3.94 earned run average over three seasons with the Sox.
The Sox have no plans to retain Aceves.