BOSTON -- Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, in a conference call Saturday to officially announce the signing of setup man Edward Mujica, said that the team is entering Monday's winter meetings from a position of strength and "it could be that we've done most of our heavy lifting for the winter."
Cherington added the caveat that the club, having addressed its most obvious needs -- signing free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, adding bullpen pieces in Mujica and Burke Badenhop, and retaining first baseman Mike Napoli in a deal that the club has not yet announced -- will be in "opportunistic" mode, sifting through a variety of scenarios that could bear fruit in Orlando.
Asked if that could include a significant roster move -- there have been, for example, at least some exploratory talks between the Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers regarding a potential deal for outfielder Matt Kemp -- Cherington, who was not asked about Kemp specifically, said:
"I don't rule anything out. Certainly, we're not close to doing anything like that. We're certainly exploring things. We've had -- aside from the moves we've actually made and finished -- had talks about a lot of other stuff. I'm sure we'll follow up on some of that when we get to Orlando and meet with teams, so I wouldn't rule it out. But we're not close to anything."
Including Napoli, who came to terms on a two-year, $32 million deal Friday night, the Sox have 15 players under contract for a guaranteed $149 million, a figure slightly higher ($151 million) when used to calculate payroll for luxury tax purposes. An additional five players are eligible for salary arbitration: Junichi Tazawa, Franklin Morales, Mike Carp, Andrew Miller and Badenhop.
That means the Sox, as presently constituted, don't have a great deal of room under the tax threshold ($189 million), when you factor in the arbitration-eligible salaries (figure around $10 million-plus) and medical benefits costs, usually calculated about another $10 million. However, the Sox could gain room to maneuver by trading one of their big league pitchers. They have received varying degrees of interest on all three veteran starters they might be willing to move: Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy and John Lackey.
Lackey has drawn the most attention, especially since his salary drops to the major league minimum in 2015 because he missed the 2012 season with Tommy John surgery. That was a provision of the five-year, $82.5 million deal he signed with the club as a hedge against future elbow issues.
One major league source said that Boston's preference, in order, would be to deal one of these three: Dempster, Peavy and then Lackey. With the scarcity in starting pitching and the deals that have been given to free-agent starters, it should be a sellers' market, although the Sox would likely have to eat salary in the case of Dempster, who is owed $13.25 million in 2014.
The Sox have six veteran starters in Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Lackey, Dempster and Peavy, and a host of young arms who are big league ready or very close to being so. Brandon Workman, according to one team source, would be the first in line to claim a starting spot should one open, given his strong showing last season. But the Sox also have Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo in the wings, with prized prospect Henry Owens rapidly climbing up the ladder as well.
The Sox thus have the pieces to make a deal for prospects (one of the veteran pitchers) or package some young talent in a bigger deal, with position prospects like third baseman Garin Cecchini, second baseman Mookie Betts and catcher Blake Swihart also looked upon favorably by other clubs.
"I think we go into the winter meetings in a position of strength," Cherington said. "A very strong roster. We'd feel good about going into the season if not much changes."
Cherington said he would still like to add an infielder on the left side of the infield, but has yet to decide if that player will be more of a "prominent player or complementary player." With Napoli re-signed, that ends any talk of moving Will Middlebrooks to first base, and lessens the chance that the Sox will make a strong push to bring back shortstop Stephen Drew, especially if he has multiyear offers on the table.
Cherington seemed to suggest as much when he described talks with Drew's agent as "off-and-on ... nothing too recent."
"The way the team stacks up right now, we've gotten some stuff done," he said. "We think that if Opening Day was tomorrow, we'd be in pretty good shape. But again, like I've said before, it's not. So we'll keep working. There are things we could do, things that we'd like to do, and there's still flexibility and means to do that. But certainly, the team is much more filled out than it was at the beginning of the offseason."