ORLANDO, Fla. — Ben Cherington’s third trip to baseball’s Winter Meetings as the general manager of the Red Sox is sure to be a lot less stressful than the first two.
In 2011, Cherington was new to the job and had been forced into hiring Bobby Valentine as manager only days before. He was busy assembling a coaching staff and looking for ways to improve a team that had suffered a horrendous September collapse.
In 2012, Cherington was faced with rebuilding a last-place team after Valentine had been fired following a 93-loss season. The Sox made a series of moves before, during, and after the meetings, signing seven free agents and making a trade. The transactions came in waves.
This time, Cherington arrives with the Red Sox having won the World Series and with a roster that already has been supplemented with the signing of three free agents: catcher A.J. Pierzynski, righthanded reliever Edward Mujica, and first baseman Mike Napoli.
The Red Sox have had a successful offseason no matter what happens in the two months leading up to spring training.
The Red Sox suite in the sprawling Swan and Dolphin hotel complex at Disney World still will have plenty of activity. But the pressure to bring change to a bad situation has vanished.
“I do think we go into the Winter Meetings in a position of strength, with a very strong roster and one that we feel good about going into the season if not much changes,” Cherington said.
In a way, having a largely settled roster could create more work for Cherington and the baseball operations staff. Not having many specific needs will allow the Sox the freedom to be creative in the trade market and seek ways to improve a team they already feel is strong.
“I have a feeling it will be just as busy. The pace won’t be any different. We’ll just be talking about different kind of things,” Cherington said. “When there’s a clear need to fill, there’s more of a linear process and we’re focusing on certain things and trying to march down the field on certain things, a certain player or trade that fills that need.
“When you’re not doing that kind of thing as much, it’s a bigger universe so there’s a lot of ideas floating around the room and a lot of conversation.”
Cherington also noted that every other move impacts the Red Sox in some way and sometimes leads to a reaction.
“Somebody signing could create an opportunity somewhere else. Those are things we’ll be looking at and trying to take advantage of it if we can,” he said.
If the Red Sox do make a trade this week, it could be from their pitching depth.
In Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront, John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Jake Peavy, the Red Sox have six major league starters who all had a degree of success last season. The Sox also have 25-year-old righthander Brandon Workman, a starter throughout his career in the minors who pitched well out of the bullpen in the majors last season. The Sox see his future as a starter.
Two former first-round picks — righthanders Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo — are expected to open the season in Triple A Pawtucket. Lefthander Henry Owens, who had a 2.67 ERA in 26 starts last season, will be at Double A Portland.
The Sox also have righthanders Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, the two well-regarded prospects obtained from the Dodgers in 2012.
The Dodgers have spoken to the Sox to gauge interest in outfielder Matt Kemp, a two-time All-Star. But there is ample reason for caution.
In the last 14 months, Kemp twice has had surgery on his left shoulder and once on his left ankle. He had a torn labrum repaired in October 2012, then a procedure on the AC joint a year later.
Kemp hit only six home runs in 263 at-bats last season and there is concern that the shoulder injury affected his mechanics and power, in much the same way it did Adrian Gonzalez.
Gonzalez has averaged 22 home runs in the three seasons since his shoulder surgery. He averaged 32 in the five years prior.
Kemp also has six years and $128 million remaining on his contract. The Dodgers would presumably pick up part of that in a trade, but the Red Sox have avoided long-term deals for two years now outside of Dustin Pedroia.
A more plausible scenario would be the Red Sox trading one of their starters to add a significant outfield or first base prospect to the organization, two areas of need.
Cherington said the Red Sox have no major moves on the table at the moment.
“I wouldn’t rule anything out. But we’re certainly not close to doing anything like that,” he said. “We’re still just surveying, we’re exploring things aside from the moves we’ve made that are finished. We’ve had talks about a lot of other stuff and I’m sure we’ll follow up on that when we get to Orlando and meet with teams.