Carl Crawford, John Lackey, and perhaps even Adrian Gonzalez didn't work out in one way or another (performance or chemistry) after receiving huge deals from the Red Sox. You can certainly see why the team might now be gun-shy about handing out such contracts.
And the recent signings seem to be the "good value" kind.
That's all well and good, but the Red Sox do need a splash. If it's only one splash, that's OK, but right now, the Red Sox aren't stirring up their Nation. It remains a skeptical one, if unopposed to the deals for David Ross and Jonny Gomes — two very appropriate fill-in players. And if Mike Napoli comes aboard, that, too, will be a nice righthanded bat, though with Gomes and Napoli (at first base), defense would be taking a back seat.
These are obviously the preliminaries. And there are likely more to come, perhaps at shortstop, where Stephen Drew remains a possibility.
You need to have the preliminaries because you can't have nine All-Stars. The Red Sox used to think they could; sometimes it worked gloriously and other times it didn't.
But you have to add to the core. It's great to have Dustin Pedroia. You hope that Will Middlebrooks is a core player. Jacoby Ellsbury is still a core guy. At 37, David Ortiz is still the centerpiece of the offense (not sure that's the best thing).
So the splash has to come with a hitter. A big-time hitter. This lineup needs a superstar. What it really needs is a great all-around hitter who can hit for power and produce runs but also be a pure hitter who can hit for a high average.
It might be hard to get both, so this is where Josh Hamilton comes into play.
We know that Ben Cherington has explored it. We know that teams around baseball are waiting for the market to settle on him because no one wants to give him a seven- or eight-year deal. In the end, there may be a team or two willing to go that far, but if he would take five years — even with an outlandish yearly base — then you do it.
Initial reports were that Hamilton wanted a seven-year, $175 million deal. So, $25 million a year? Do you overpay so you can get him for five?
There are always going to be concerns about his history of addiction problems, but as someone close to the Hamilton scene has said, "As long as you have his support system in place, he'll be fine. His performance by the end of the season is always superb. He's one of the top two or three players in baseball, and there's no way you can dispute that."
Hamilton disappeared on the Rangers the second half of last season, hitting .259 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs over his last 69 games. But the 2010 American League MVP still wound up with 43 homers, 128 RBIs, and a .930 OPS. He's still a terrific outfielder, an excellent baserunner, and for sure a five-tool player.
He is likely to get hurt at some point because he plays hard. But he will give you about 135 games and off-the-charts production. He would play most of 2013 at age 32, so at least the next three years should be prime years.
Someone who would classify as a pure hitter is Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer.
The Red Sox passed on the opportunity to claim him on waivers last season, but Mauer would really help them get back to being that good on-base team; he led the league with a .416 on-base percentage.
Mauer, 29, could be platooned between catcher and first base to protect his health. He caught 74 games last season and split the rest of the time between first base and DH. Mauer is a career .323 hitter and was the 2009 American League MVP. Last season he hit .319, but he had diminished power, with 10 homers and 85 RBIs.
Mauer has six years remaining on his contract, which calls for salaries of $23 million per season until he's 35. The Twins could eat some of that if the Red Sox offered good players in return. If Mauer had not signed that deal, Boston would have been a likely destination for him in free agency. He lives in Fort Myers, Fla., and has always been enamored with the Red Sox.
An ideal player for Boston would be Troy Tulowitzki — though this is complete pie-in-the-sky. The Rockies have built their team around this superb all-around shortstop (thus the 10-year, $157.7 million contract) and it would take a fortune to pry him loose. But what a fit for the Red Sox . . .
We've said in the past that we'd back up the truck for Felix Hernandez and give the Mariners anything they wanted. The same might be true about Tulowitzki. The Rockies have spent years trying to get their pitching right, and Boston would have to give up pitchers it doesn't want to give up, such as Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz.
We know from Cherington exploring the Miami option with Jose Reyes that the shortstop position is troubling him — that he is not sold on Jose Iglesias as the starter while waiting for Xander Bogaerts.
The Red Sox have started Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Jed Lowrie, Julio Lugo, Nick Green, Marco Scutaro, and Mike Aviles at shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra was traded in 2004. It has been the most unstable position on the field.
In short, the preliminaries, the opening acts, have been fruitful so far. But we all await the Big Show. And there needs to be a Big Show to excite Red Sox Nation once again.
Apropos of something
For the holiday season, here is a feel-good story about how Major League Baseball and the Players Association came together to award cash sums to players who served in World War II but didn't have enough service time to qualify for a pension.
The story is brought to life by Douglas J. Gladstone, author of "A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve."
Gladstone had a role in getting the union and MLB to act, though he points out, "What was announced on April 21, 2011, doesn't provide health insurance coverage, nor will any player's spouse or loved one receive a designated beneficiary payment after the man passes.
"So in my estimation, this is only a partial victory.
"I am, however, elated that these men are at long last finally going to receive some type of payment for their time in the game.
"This was a wrong that should have been righted years ago."
The players will receive up to $10,000 per year, depending on their length of service.
Battle of the Bulge veteran George Yankowski of Lexington (raised in Cambridge) is one of those players.
Yankowski was a catcher signed by the Philadelphia Athletics when he was 19. He played from July to October in 1942, then served in the US Army. He was released when he returned home, but played one more year, with the White Sox in 1949.
According to Gladstone, Yankowski, who is now 90, used the money to pay for dental work.
"I've said on numerous occasions that this whole disgraceful chapter in labor relations was a terrible inequity and injustice that stained baseball's history," said Gladstone, whose book features a foreword by Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist Dave Marash.
"The announcement is a step in the right direction, and I hope that both the league and the union will ultimately restore these men into pension coverage."
Apropos of nothing
1. Was Torii Hunter's quick dismissal of the Red Sox a sign that he wasn't sold on them becoming contenders? Sure sounds like it.
2. I'd be surprised if the Dodgers don't land Zack Greinke. They can outbid anyone.
3. Don't understand why so many people think that signing Jonny Gomes means the Sox don't want Cody Ross. Gomes cannot play right field at Fenway. As it is, he will be a liability in left. If the Sox don't sign Ross, it's because they didn't meet his salary demands or that he wants to play closer to his Scottsdale, Ariz., home.
4. Why did Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos hire John Gibbons for a second tour of duty? Same reason Ben Cherington hired John Farrell: familiarity and the knowledge that he can work with him.
5. A National League scout on Boston's possible addition of both Gomes and Mike Napoli: "That would be as bad defensively as you could get. That would be like Detroit without the pop. Those guys can hit, don't get me wrong, but defense is an issue with both of them."
6. As the GMs get younger, a lot of older people are being pushed out of baseball. You see it with hitting coaches like Cecil Cooper, Ron Jackson, Mike Easler, Rudy Jaramillo, Greg Gross, and Carney Lansford.
7. Dustin Pedroia's contract runs essentially for three more seasons if the Red Sox pick up an $11 million option in 2015. It's been reported that they may discuss an extension, and who would be against doing that for the heart and soul of the team? But is it out of step with their current philosophy that they would consider an extension with that much time left on the deal?
8. Let's not discount the Rangers re-signing Napoli.
9. Baltimore's Buck Showalter (Major League Manager of the Year) will be among those honored at the Boston Baseball Writers Association of America's 74th dinner, Jan. 24 at the Westin Copley Hotel. Tickets are $175, available by sending a check made out to The Sports Museum, c/o Rusty Sullivan, The Sports Museum, 100 Legends Way, Boston 02114.
Updates on nine
1. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Marlins — It would be a coup for whichever of the 25 teams (I'm exaggerating) that would or have bid for him to actually acquire him. But commissioner Bud Selig is watching the Marlins closely after the salary dump in the Blue Jays deal. While Selig did not step in to change or block that trade, he may not look too fondly upon a deal for the Marlins' biggest draw. Teams would have to give their very best to the Marlins for baseball's best young slugger. The Phillies, Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Cubs, and many more are inquiring, according to a major league source.
2. Nick Swisher, OF, free agent — The Red Sox have had ongoing negotiations with Swisher and his agents. Swisher would be more than adequate as a replacement for Cody Ross. He is a switch hitter and has a much better on-base percentage (.361 career). Swisher has been a remarkably consistent player since 2005, with the exception of his mulligan in 2008 with the White Sox. He would also be a good clubhouse presence and seems to fit Boston's lineup well.
3. Marco Scutaro, 2B, free agent — The Giants remain confident they'll sign the World Series MVP, though Scutaro is in demand around the league as a utility player or second baseman. He is seeking at least a two-year deal, and should be a viable starting player given how well he takes care of himself.
4. Carlos Pena, 1B, free agent — After a poor season at the plate, Pena may have to accept being a platoon player for a team like the Red Sox (but not necessarily them). If the Red Sox sign Mike Napoli, they may want someone like Pena as a lefthanded platoon who can provide power and defense. The Sox have not closed the door on James Loney, who showed how good he was defensively but doesn't have the power of a Pena.
5. Anibal Sanchez, RHP, free agent —
6. Tim Lincecum, RHP, Giants — The Giants continue to insist they are not interested in trading Lincecum. A few teams have inquired, but the market for him is likely to develop a bit later on, when some of the more viable pitching options have been exhausted. Lincecum's $22 million contract (though only for one year) will make him a later rather than sooner pursuit, according to a National League executive.
7. Chone Figgins, INF/OF, free agent — He wasn't the first player to go to Seattle and not succeed. Adrian Beltre had his share of difficulties there. So Figgins, who had the final year of his contract eaten by the Mariners (at $8 million), could still be a viable option for a team looking for that super-utility player. "When I'd watch him, he just looked like a completely different guy than the one I saw in Anaheim," said an American League scout. "You never want to say a guy is washed up, but he looked that way in Seattle. He's low-risk at this point, so why not see if he has something left?"
8. Grady Sizemore, OF, free agent — All is quiet on Sizemore, according to his agent, Joe Urbon. Sizemore has bad knees — it hurt for him to run late in the season — but there is hope that he turns the corner. Sizemore, 30, hasn't had a healthy season since 2008. He was once one of baseball's great young stars. Urbon says he will play again, but it seems he would have to come in on a minor league/major league deal with incentives. Much like another Urbon client, Jason Bay.
9. Carlos Villanueva, RHP, free agent — Except for his last two starts, Villanueva pitched very well for John Farrell in Toronto once he became a starter. Could Villanueva be on Boston's radar as a low-cost option for the fifth starter job? Villanueva was 5-7 with a 4.50 ERA in 16 starts, but his final two appearances were stinkers that brought up his ERA.
From the Bill Chuck files: "There are 16 active players who have played at least 800 games and have a lifetime average of .300 or better. Billy Butler is the newest member at .300, and Alex Rodriguez, whose lifetime average has dropped each of the last five seasons, is on the verge of dropping off the list, also at .300." Also, "Since John Farrell left Boston to manage Toronto, Jon Lester has gone 24-23 with a 4.17 ERA and Clay Buchholz has gone 17-11 with a 4.24 ERA." . . . Happy birthday, Mark Whiten (46) and Chico Walker (54).