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Assistant GM Mike Hazen on Red Sox’ delicate balancing act of present and future

The Red Sox [1] face a challenging offseason. Typically, every decision the team makes is from the vantage point of a contender, one of the handful of teams considered a favorite to make a run at the World Series [2]. Not so this year.

The Sox are coming off a 69-93 season. They are confident that the final record of 2012 did not reflect the talent on the club, nor should it rule out the possibility of contention. Still, the team is mindful that it will take some time to re-establish its footing as an unquestioned contender. As such, decisions that might have gone one way a few years ago would not necessarily play out in the same fashion.

Take, for instance, the decision after the 2010 season to trade three of the team’s top six prospects (Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes) for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez [3]. At that point, Gonzalez looked like a player whom the team could employ as a centerpiece of World Series aspirations for years to come. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way, with the Sox spiraling so quickly that by this year, they dealt Gonzalez to the Dodgers as part of a reset.

Still, that does not erase the logic of the initial deal to acquire Gonzalez two offseasons ago. Even so, it is fair to ask whether given the state of the current Red Sox roster, whether the team would consider a trade of top prospects for an established star in his prime again.

Confronted with the hypothetical of whether the Sox might consider a trade of multiple top prospects for a superstar (at a time when the team needs a starting first baseman, left fielder and right fielder), assistant GM Mike Hazen — in an interview on WEEI’s Red Sox Hot Stove Show on Thursday night — acknowledged that the set of decision-making inputs in 2010 is different from the ones the Sox would face now.

“It’s hard to say right now [whether the team would do another Gonzalez-type deal]. I think looking at where we are today vs. where we were a few years ago, we’re in a different place,” Hazen said from the GM meetings in Indian Wells, Calif. “I think coming off the season that we did, looking at what we want to do and build for the next three to five, seven, 10 years, we’re going to be relying on those young players to come up and be part of that core future. That’s not  to say we aren’t going to go out and get that star player to. It all comes down to the cost. At the time, the cost of that Gonzalez deal was what we felt like we should do at the time. It’s impossible to say that situation is going to present itself again.”

Hazen noted that the team would be uncomfortable dealing several top pitching prospects.

“We need to continue to enhance our rotation, our starting pitching depth,” he said. “If someone comes in and for a first baseman asks for three starting pitchers, that’s going to be a tougher thing for us to do at this point in time given what we’re trying to build from a pitching standpoint.

So would the team make another Gonzalez-type move? Hazen couldn’t say. But clearly, the decision-making process would have been, at least, more complicated than it was in 2010 when the team’s roster (and, hence, competitive ambitions) for the following season were far more well-defined.

“At the time, the Adrian Gonzalez deal was the one we needed to make,” said Hazen. “But we’re in a slightly different place than we were then.”

Hazen also addressed a number of additional topics, including the team’s interest in right-hander Hiroki Kuroda [4], whether the team felt comfortable with the idea of rounding out its rotation with a player coming off a down year, whether the team might consider trading Will Middlebrooks and how the team regarded prospects Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias [5] after both struggled in year-ending big league call-ups. Highlights are below. To listen to the complete interview, click here [6].

On the team’s interest in Hiroki Kuroda: I don’t want to talk about [specific] free agents obviously. We have the universe of free agents out there right now. Certainly everyone is aware of our needs and the players who would be of interest. I don’t think that’s any secret. There’s quite a few. Certainly, we have to look at ways to enhance our rotation, corner infield, corner outfield, specifically in the infield at first base. All the guys that are out there, we’re connecting with, we’re talking to the agents, obviously we’re talking to teams on trade scenarios as well.

Everybody’s in play right now. It’s the nature of the beast. [GM Ben Cherington] is grinding away out here, meeting with everybody. We’ll see what happens over the next month or so.

[Kuroda is] a good pitcher. Certainly a guy who’s able to haul 220 innings in the American League [7] East is an interesting pitcher. He’s got stuff, he’s got obviously the makeup to pitch in the division, he’s a tough guy. We saw that, unfortunately, against us quite a bit this year.

On whether the team can afford to buy low on a fifth starter coming off a down year, or if it needs greater performance certainty given the struggles of the rotation in 2012: I think anybody would want greater certainty to round out the rotation. It’s just a matter of what the cost is, whether it’s dollars or acquisition cost in a trade with players.

The buy-low is always something we’re looking at. We’re always willing to take risks with guys. The guys on our scouting staff have done a good job of identifying some of those guys in the past. We’ll continue to do those things. You work on both fronts. I think you’ve got to shoot for upside. You’ve got to shoot for the guy who will make an impact in the rotation first, and then you’ve got to re-set your sights if you don’t end up where you want to be necessarily with some of those guys, and then you’ve got to maybe be able to go in another direction. You work on all those fronts at the same time.

Are you confident that short-term, high-impact pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda and Edwin Jackson [8] (both of whom signed one-year deals as free agents after 2012) will always be available: I think those guys are always going to be out there. You look back 365 days from now, it will be easy to say, ‘Those guys would have been a home run on a one-year deal.’ But those guys are always out there, to differing degrees of recurrence. But I do think those guys are always going to be out there.

Given the similarity of their ages, positions and track records at the time of their free agencies, is there any thought that the disappointing returns on Mike Cameron’s time in Boston might give the team pause about pursuing a player like Torii Hunter [9]? “Every player is an individual. Every situation is independent. It’s a fool’s errand to make connections to guys that have nothing to do with each other just because they play a certain position or they’re relatively the same age. There’s so many more variables that go into each and every one of these guys: their pedigrees, where they come from, their performance track, injury history. All those are things you have to weigh when making those decisions. You can’t go into it, do something one year and if it doesn’t work out exactly how you want it to, say from now on we’re going to write off this type of player, whether it be age, hit right/left, position. … You always have to be open-minded and examine every situation independently.”

The team fended off trade inquiries about Will Middlebrooks last offseason. Could you envision trading him this winter? (Note: Given the suggestions that the Diamondbacks would need a major-league ready shortstop or third baseman for outfielder Justin Upton [10], Middlebrooks likely would be a necessary piece from the Sox.) “It would be extremely challenging for us to move him. He’s a very good player. I think what he did this year showed us the ability to play in our market, on our team. He performed extremely well, dealt with a lot of challenges. Unfortunately at the end he got hurt, didn’t get to finish off the season. This guy is a pretty important person to us and player. Anything can happen, but I would say that’s going to be a tough one.”

How tough is it to evaluate the big league readiness of Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias based on their struggles in a brief September stretch? “Pretty tough coming off the end of the season. Certainly, it would have been a much easier dynamic walking into the offseason had both guys hit .300 in September. Didn’t do that. We have to trust what our scouts, what our player development guys, what their performance histories tell us. I know especially in Lavarnway’s case, with regards to his offensive potential and what we’ve seen from a defensive standpoint, he caught more than he’s even caught this year, doubled his innings caught this year. I think that probably ended up — pun intended — catching up with him at the end of the season. But it’s tough, looking at it from a straight stat perspective, and just completely say, ‘Hey, this is the way we’re going.’ But at the same time, we have to go back and trust the evaluations, the time we’ve spent with this guy, the personality, the makeup, the work ethic and believe in that. Iggy’s a slightly different situation. He moved through the system fairly quickly. We definitely believe in this guy’s defensive potential and think that he has offensive potential as well. It just might be on a little longer timeframe. But he definitely has a chance still to impact the game right now. It comes back to trusting those in your system — the scouting guys, the player development guys — that are with these guys every day, really, really try to separate the performance we saw in September.

“We go back to this — I’m not saying guys are going to be Rookies of the Year and MVPs — but if you’d taken the snapshot, had this conversation at the end of 2006, what would the conversation have been like on Dustin Pedroia [11]? We try to remind ourselves of that a little bit, keep things in the proper perspective. That’s not to say that we don’t use what we saw in September in some way, shape or form, but we have to keep it in some perspective.”