PHOENIX — The general managers meetings, which start Monday at the Biltmore Hotel here, are traditionally a time for baseball executives to start the process of setting up trades and free agent signings that take place later in the offseason.
But can the Red Sox wait that long?
The semi-annual Ben Cherington rebuilding project got started in July with a series of significant trades made with 2015 in mind. But much more remains to be done.
The Red Sox need at least two starting pitchers, a third baseman, and relief help. A lefthanded hitter — whether at third base or elsewhere — also is needed, along with a backup catcher.
Cherington said at the end of the season that his staff had already spent months evaluating players who could fill the many holes on the roster. The Red Sox also are perfectly situated to make a significant trade or two. They have payroll space to take on star players and the prospect inventory to use as trade chips.
The Red Sox acted quickly after the World Series when they re-signed closer Koji Uehara to a two-year, $18 million deal. Will they maintain that pace?
The Sox will meet this week with Gustavo Vazquez, the agent for free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Vazquez told the San Francisco Chronicle that Sandoval deserves a six-year deal. Such a contract would surely top $100 million.
The Giants have said they are “engaged” with Sandoval and want him to return after he played such an important role for the World Series winners. But the Red Sox have the financial means to end the discussion quickly.
It remains uncertain whether the Red Sox will be willing to make long-term commitments given the poor history of such deals. Principal owner John Henry (who also owns the Globe) spoke of his aversion to long-term contracts before last season, and the team has acted accordingly since.
Lefthander Jon Lester, who had historic success in Boston and showed no signs of injury, was given a lowball offer of $70 million for four years in spring training, then traded in July. Lester is now one of the top free agents on the market and easily will command twice what the Red Sox offered.
Lester’s return is unlikely given Henry’s stance. But will the Red Sox pay market price for a lesser pitcher such as James Shields? If not, the alternative would be a reclamation project such as Justin Masterson.
That could make trades more viable.
In Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rusney Castillo, Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, and Shane Victorino, the Red Sox have a glut of outfielders at a time when the most attractive outfielders on the market are Yasmany Tomas and Nelson Cruz.
Tomas is a 23-year-old Cuban with power who could command $100 million. Cruz played well for Baltimore after a PED suspension, but is 34 and started 89 of 159 games as the DH last season. Other teams could find trading for a player such as Cespedes or Craig could be an attractive alternative.
The Red Sox also have decisions to make about their young starting pitchers.
In lefthanders Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Eduardo Rodriguez, the Sox have three rotation building blocks who could be ready at some point in 2015 or be included as centerpiece players in a trade.
Older prospects Rubby De La Rosa, Edwin Escobar, Anthony Ranaudo, and Allen Webster could go to spring training and compete for a spot in the rotation.
For Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman, the bullpen seems like a landing spot. Knuckleballer Steven Wright — who outperformed more heralded names — can’t be forgotten.
Given the fragile nature of pitching, depth is paramount. But the Red Sox have enough young starters to make some available via trade.
The Phillies (Cole Hamels), Reds (Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos), Athletics (Jeff Samardzija), and Padres (Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner) have starters they might trade. They are likely to expect pitching prospects in return.
One interesting sidebar is the obstacle presented by the Chicago Cubs and former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein.
Epstein fled the Red Sox after the 2011 collapse and has since presided over three consecutive last-place teams as Chicago’s president of baseball operations. His effect on the Red Sox has been minimal beyond picking up former Sox players Daniel Bard and Ryan Kalish.
But the Cubs, who have developed a roster of talented young hitters and hired Joe Maddon as manager, are moving closer to contention. The Cubs, like the Red Sox, have money to spend, prospects to trade, and badly need starting pitchers. Epstein’s moves this winter could serve to block the Red Sox from what they need to accomplish.
Epstein is not afraid of bold moves, something Cherington learned as his assistant. Now the race is on to see which of them steps out first.
A look at the Red Sox’ needs:
■ Two starting pitchers: Whether by trade, free agency, or both, the Red Sox need an infusion of top-tier talent in their rotation. General manager Ben Cherington could lay the groundwork for a deal this week.
■ Third base: The Red Sox learned a harsh lesson about trusting their young players last season. They also need a lefthanded hitter to balance their righthanded-dominant lineup. Free agents Chase Headley and Pablo Sandoval are potential choices.
■ Bullpen help: Outside of Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, the bullpen is unsettled. Bringing back righthander Burke Badenhop would offer stability. Lefthander Tommy Layne deserves a good look in spring training. But an experienced lefty is still needed.
■ Use their chips: The Red Sox have extra outfielders at a time when the free agent class is weak at that position. That could open doors to some deals.