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Ben Cherington says Red Sox unlikely to pursue high-end free agent pitchers

12.05.11 at 8:23 pm ET
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DALLAS — The Major League Baseball winter meetings are typically the peak of insanity when it comes to the rumor mill, but the Red Sox likely will approach the hot stove with caution. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, in a discussion with writers, said that the Sox are content to wait to see what happens in this winter’s market rather than trying to set it.

That stands in contrast to what took place a year ago. Last December, in the span of four days, the team finalized its trade with the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez and signed free agent Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal. Whereas the Sox were the talk of baseball at last year’s winter meetings in Orlando, this year, the team may remain relatively quiet during the convention of the baseball industry in Dallas.

“Our needs are a lot different this year than they were last year,” said Cherington. “We may be less likely to go out and sort of set the market this year than we were last year. The timing of things may be different.”

It may be a while before the Sox make their key signings, and when the Sox do add players, they may not be the so-called top-tier free agents whom the team acquires. Cherington has said several times this winter that the Sox are unlikely to be aggressive in the free-agent market. Despite persistent rumors connecting the Sox to the top available pitchers (such as C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle), Cherington cast doubt on the likelihood of deals for such players.

“You never say never, but I think it’s more likely we’ll be pursuing other options,” Cherington said during his session with the Boston media at the baseball winter meetings. “We always want to stay involved to the extent we have the latest information and keep your options open because you never know what may come your way and how that may change things. I would say it’s less likely we’ll be involved in those top tier guys as relative to the past.”

Here are other notes from Cherington’s session:

— Cherington said that the status of Daniel Bard remains unresolved. He could fill any number of roles: closer, starter, elite late-innings reliever. The Sox do not feel they need to make a decision on the right-hander yet. The team wants to give him a sense of how to prepare for spring training, but Cherington feels that time remains to let the market dictate the kinds of pitchers whom the Sox will acquire, which, in turn, will likely influence Bard’s role going forward. Likewise, the team hasn’t made a decision on whether to use Alfredo Aceves as a starter or reliever.

Asked if both Bard and Aceves could end up in the rotation next year, Cherington said, “It’s conceivable, but, again, I’m not ready to commit to that. … But it’s conceivable.”

Cherington said that manager Bobby Valentine will touch base with Bard, continuing offseason conversations that the team has already been having with the pitcher about his role. Cherington said that Bard has expressed a preference, but wouldn’t reveal what that preference was.

— Cherington and the Sox plan to meet with Fernando Cuza, the representative for David Ortiz, to continue conversations about the slugger’s contract status, including the decision about whether he will accept the team’s offer of salary arbitration by the deadline to do so on Wednesday at midnight.

Cherington said he could not say whether or not Ortiz might reach agreement on a new deal before that deadline. However, he also underscored that the Sox will remain open to continuing conversations with Ortiz regardless of whether he accepts arbitration or if he declines it.

‘€œHow does it impact the decision? Well if he accepts, if we don’€™t reach an agreement before then and he accepts, that will be a pretty strong indication that he’€™s on the team. And if we don’€™t reach an agreement before then and he declines, then it’€™s certainly open-ended,” said Cherington. “We still wouldn’€™t rule anything out. I think it’€™s an important date just in the respect that, depending which way it goes, it’€™s going to indicate either a very good chance he’€™s on the team or a continued dialogue and a chance he pursues other options.

— The Sox are exploring adding pitchers both through the free agent market and trade. Cherington said that the team had talked with other teams about deals that would require the Sox to part with prospects and that the team had entertained conversations involving the departure of more established veterans.

— Reliever Bobby Jenks is slated to undergo surgery on his lower back next week. Cherington said that the procedure is expected to be relatively minor, and that the expectation is that Jenks will be able to pitch in spring training and that he will be a “big factor” in the Boston bullpen next year.

Jed Lowrie is healthy this offseason, but he will have to wait for his chance to re-establish his credentials as a potential starter.

“He’€™s always been a guy we felt could be an everyday player and has been very close to being an everyday player, won the job at one point and got hurt. This year he was hot and got banged up again,” said Cherington. “When that opportunity will come again for him to grab onto an everyday job, I don’€™t know, but we still feel he has that potential and he shouldn’€™t have any physical issues moving forward.”

— With minor leaguer Ryan Westmoreland scheduled to play in a game this week for the first time since undergoing brain surgery on May 16, 2010, Cherington praise the 21-year-old for his remarkable progress.

“We’€™re going to try to get him an at-bat down there later this week. That was something that was really important to him as a benchmark at the end of the 2011 season. He wanted to have had an at-bat and gotten into a game,” said Cherington. “It’€™s incredibly inspiring. He’€™s persevered and I’€™m sure there were some days when it was hard to persevere. He’€™s battled through it. It’€™s a remarkable story. We still don’€™t know the end of the story. The fact he’€™s going to have a helmet on and a pitcher facing him and he’€™s not going to know what’€™s coming, that’€™s pretty cool.”

Read More: alfredo aceves, ben cherington, bobby jenks, Daniel Bard
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