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Red Sox focusing on finding a setup man

Brad Ziegler might still be in the Red Sox’ bullpen plans after appearing in 33 games for Boston last season.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/File 2016

OXON HILL, Md. — When Carlos Beltran signed with the Astros and Matt Holliday with the Yankees, it appeared the Red Sox missed out on players who could have filled their need for a designated hitter.

But the Sox never made an offer, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said on Monday. Their focus has been on finding a strong setup man for closer Craig Kimbrel.

“I figured we would wait to see what takes place later on, who’s out there. Our priority is to try to get a guy that can pitch the eighth inning for us,” Dombrowski said at the Winter Meetings.


The Sox also appear intent on staying under the competitive balance tax threshold of $195 million. So any hitter they bring in may be more of a bargain acquisition.

The Sox surpassed the CBT threshold in 2015 and ’16. Doing so a third consecutive time would trigger a 50 percent tax on any excess. It also would lead to a loss of draft picks and a decrease in the amount of money allowed for signing international free agents if they signed a qualified free agent next offseason.

“There’s a little bit more of a drive to [stay under]. But I can’t tell you where we we’re going to end up,” Dombrowski said. “There are penalties attached that I would rather not be in a position that we have to incur.”

Dombrowski said he received no instructions from ownership to stay under the limit. As it stands now, based on their commitments, the Sox have roughly $8 million to maneuver with depending on how much money they keep in reserve for in-season moves.

“I think we’re going to have a good club either way. But there’s also factors that get involved in it,” Dombrowski said.

Dombrowski said it’s uncertain whether a relief pitcher would be more likely to come via trade or free agency. He also hasn’t closed the door on bringing back Koji Uehara or Brad Ziegler.


Manager John Farrell suggested the Sox would use several players as the designated hitter.

“The one thing we view the DH slot is to rotate people through and to keep guys fresh,” he said.

Sandoval in sights

Farrell believes Pablo Sandoval is one of the keys to 2017.

“That’s not to put it all on him, but here’s a lefthanded bat who is a proven guy and has every opportunity to make a major impact on our team next year,” the manager said.

The Sox see Sandoval as their third baseman and getting at-bats as the DH.

“Panda’s been down in Fort Myers, he continues to work hard; he’s in tremendous shape and getting ready for the season,” Dombrowski said. “His conditioning is very good. He continues to work hard and has lost significant weight since he was with us in the beginning of the year. He’s in the condition that we would like him to be in.”

Sandoval has played only 129 games and hit .242 for the Sox since being signed to a five-year, $95 million deal before the 2015 season.

Future plans?

It may not be fiscally feasible for the Sox this season, but the new CBA incentivizes teams to sign young stars to long-term deals. That allows teams to benefit from a lower average annual value on those contracts and better manage their payroll for luxury tax purposes.


Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts would be candidates for that kind of commitment.

“Ideally would love to have them as part of your organization for a long time. It’s just a matter of when that happens,” Dombrowski said. “But there is a great deal of effect because those [luxury tax] numbers change when they’re long-term deals versus short-term deals.”

WBC plans

Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel said he would use lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez as a starter in the World Baseball Classic in March. Sandy Leon also will get regular playing time at catcher, sharing the duties with Salvador Perez.

Dominican Republic general manager Moises Alou said Hanley Ramirez would play first base and DH for his team. Ramirez said over the weekend that he planned to ask the Red Sox permission to play some games for Licey in the Dominican Winter League. But that request has not been formally made, Dombrowski said.

Alou said he asked David Ortiz to consider playing.

“I said, ‘We need you, Papi.’ But he told me he was all done,” Alou said.

Xander Bogaerts has committed to play for the Netherlands, which opens pool play in Korea on March 7.

The United States team put Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., David Price, and Rick Porcello on its provisional list. Betts is unlikely to play as he is recovering from knee surgery. Porcello has already opted out.

Andrew Benintendi is on the provisional list for Italy.

Pedroia on the mend

Dustin Pedroia, who had surgery on left knee Oct. 12, will be ready for spring training according to agent Seth Levinson. “I talked to him the other day and he was hitting golf balls. He’s doing fine,” Levinson said. “He’s working out like he normally would.” . . . Porcello was at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center making an appearance for Under Armour. The company will start making MLB uniforms for the 2020 season . . . Righthander Michael Kopech was named to the Top Prospects Team in the Arizona Fall League. Voting was done by the managers and coaches. Kopech, 20, was 3-0 with a 2.01 earned run average. He struck out 29 over 24⅓ innings when counting the Fall Stars Game.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.