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Ben Cherington’s offseason update on catching market, search for power hitter, potential trades of starting pitchers

11.25.13 at 9:01 pm ET
By
Ben Cherington

Ben Cherington

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, at the Wang Theatre in Boston for the screening of MLB Productions’ World Series Film, discussed a few dimensions of how the offseason has taken shape to date. Among the takeaways:

– Cherington said that the team feels it can be “choosy” in the catching market given the long-term strength of the system at that position, where Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart are in the pipeline. He said that the team continues to talk with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but noted that, even with free agents Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz off the board, the team still has options.

“We kind of thought that might be a position that moved quicker just because there seemed to be sort of a set of teams and a set of somewhat comparable, somewhat equal players and the musical chairs would start. I guess that leaves us still talking,” said Cherington. “We have interest in a small handful of free agents. We’ve also talked to teams about trades. And we also think we’re in a pretty strong position long-term with the young catching we have in the organization and so we have, we’re in a position to be a little choosy, a little selective. If we could do something there, we’d love to. So we’ll see what happens.

“[Saltalamacchia is] certainly one of the guys we’ve talked to, continue to have an open door with, spoken to him pretty consistently — or spoken to his representative — pretty consistently since the season ended. Hopefully that continues. He’s doing the same thing we are, just trying to see what’s out there for him, too.”

Cherington didn’t go into details about the team’s pursuit of McCann, aside from saying that “it didn’t surprise me where he ended up. … It was made clear early on that might be a direction he was going.”

Red Sox catcher David Ross, who played with McCann in Atlanta for four years and is close friends with the player who signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the Yankees, said that McCann chose the Yankees over the Sox because of the length of New York’s guarantee.

“I definitely was lobbying [McCann about coming to Boston] but not like, ‘Hey man you’ve got to come here,’ because it comes down to him and his family,” said Ross. “He told me, I think it came down to years. When you add an option for six, it puts you at almost $100 [million], that’s a game-changer. And then when you talk about the short porch, I think he was excited about playing in that stadium long-term. He’s a guy who hits 20, and for me Atlanta’s a very fair park, you saw a guy who goes into Yankee Stadium. He’s going to miss 30 home runs there, he’s going to do well there, I just hope he doesn’t do it against us.’’

– While the team has prominent free agents at four positions (catcher with Saltalamacchia, first base with Mike Napoli, shortstop with Stephen Drew, center field with Jacoby Ellsbury), Cherington expressed optimism that the Sox already have a ready-made upgrade to their lineup at one position for next year. The Sox had well below-average production at third base, with a combined .242/.288/.395 line (where the AL average was .261/.323/.419), but the expectation of a bounceback from Will Middlebrooks and/or the presence of Xander Bogaerts at that position should help the team to enjoy some improvement at that position. That said, Cherington also said the team is looking to add a player to the left side of its infield, at least as a depth option.

“We think if we do nothing, we’ll get more out of third base than we did this year. That’s our hope and expectation given the players that are here,” said Cherington. “We’d like to add some, at least somebody on the left side of the infield. Whether that’s more in the form of an everyday player or depth, whatever that is, it just depends on how the rest of our offseason unfolds. But in the interests of building as deep a team as we can, that is an area — left side of the infield — that we’d like to add some depth to if we can, if the opportunity is there. We’re not close to anything.”

Cherington reiterated that the team views Bogaerts as a shortstop, albeit a player who gives the team considerable flexibility.

“We certainly believe he’s a shortstop,” said Cherington. “He could play another position if he had to. He proved that he was capable of doing that. We absolutely see him as a shortstop long-term.”

– Cherington said that the team does hope to add power this winter. But, given that the team finished fifth in the AL with 178 homers and first with a .446 slugging mark, he suggested that the desire for an upgrade was one of preference rather than dire necessity.

“It’s one of the things, one of the criteria, one of the things we’d like to do. We do think if we look across, even aside from anyone we might add, we think there’s power potential on the team, position by position. If Opening Day was tomorrow, we think there’s a chance to get pretty solid power production out of most spots on the field. But yeah, we’d like to add more,” said Cherington. “That would be a criteria we’d be looking at at certain positions.”

– With some of the free agent pitchers starting to sign (Jason Vargas received a four-year, $32 million deal with the Royals; Dan Haren received a one-year, $10 million contract; Tim Hudson got $23 million over two years from the Giants; Josh Johnson signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Padres), interest in the Red Sox’ potential pitching surplus (the team has six major league veteran starters under team control: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster) is starting to gain some definition. That said, the Sox GM suggested that the Sox would have to be “compelled” to deal a pitcher.

“We’ve had a number of conversations and I think it’s no secret, one area we have a little bit of depth in is the rotation. That’s an area other teams are sorting out, working through free agent options. Some of the free agents are starting to land, so I think that’s probably to become more clear for other teams, too,” said Cherington. “We’ll see what that means for us. I don’t know yet really what it means, other than we’ve had a lot of conversations. We know we’ll have to be compelled to do anything there because obviously a supposed surplus can turn into not one pretty quickly, so we want to be careful, not do something in the name of doing it, since there’s downside to doing that. We’ll see. We’ve had a lot of conversations.

– The acquisition last week of Burke Badenhop in a trade from the Brewers gave the Sox a pitcher whom they lacked as a bullpen option last year, chiefly a strike-thrower who gets groundballs in volume and whose strength is as a right-on-right option.

“As we talked about during the season, it was something we toyed with trying to add in the middle of the season and never really did,” said Cherington. “In the end, we were able to sort of survive without it, but we still had an interest in that type of pitcher. it was sort of trying to figure out the right portfolio in our bullpen, create different looks. That’s one thing that we didn’t have and kind of wanted to have it moving forward, so kind of made sense to add it.”

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