Sox quiet at meetings, but not done yet

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The winter meetings are over. We return you to your regularly scheduled programming, the Red Sox having done nothing here to warrant your attention for four days.

But just because Sox general manager Ben Cherington did not make an appearance in the hotel ballroom where trades and signings were announced this week does not mean he has checked off all the items on his to-do list. There is unfinished business that he will address in the 58 days until the equipment truck departs Yawkey Way for spring training on Feb. 8, with pitchers and catchers due to report a week later.

There are two items that lead his agenda:

  • Determining whether Stephen Drew will be part of the Red Sox future. That may take a while, but there remains mutual interest, and if agent Scott Boras isn’t able to conjure the right multi-year deal, Drew could well be headed back to the Sox. If not, a backup shortstop will be sought.

  • Sifting through the trade proposals Cherington is likely to receive from the teams who will become increasingly desperate for a starting pitcher after they whiff on signing some of the free agents that are available. The pitching market has been slow to develop, especially at the upper end, where teams are still trying to determine whether Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka will be posted, and Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo remain unsigned.

    So far, at least a dozen starting pitchers have either signed a new deal, come to terms on a new deal, or are reported to have come to terms with a club on a new deal. Hiroki Kuroda returned to the Yankees. Bartolo Colon signed with the Mets. Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco went to the Twins. Scott Kazmir was signed by the Athletics. Tim Hudson signed with the Giants. Dan Haren signed with the Dodgers. Jason Vargas signed with the Royals.

    That hardly exhausts the list of teams looking for pitchers. Potential trading partners abound: The Angels, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Indians are among the many teams in need of more pitching. Those teams left out on Garza, Santana and (maybe) Tanaka, as well as others looking to upgrade their rotations, will be motivated to engage Cherington in conversations about three veteran Sox starters: John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster. Lackey would bring the greatest return and has the most team-friendly contract. Dempster, who was dropped from the rotation, is the pitcher the Sox would probably be most willing to move.

    “I wouldn’t say it’s definite the Sox will move a pitcher,’’ said one baseball source with direct knowledge of the Sox’s thinking, “but I would bet they will.’’

    The Red Sox could trade one of those three and still have a rotation of five veterans, with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront filling three of the spots. Promising rookies Brandon Workman and Allen Webster both started games for the Sox last season, and head a group of young pitchers that could pitch at the big-league level next season.

    Cherington has played down the likelihood of trading a starter, but the guess here is that eventually he will, for two reasons: greater financial flexibility should the Sox elect to make another move, and a chance to pick up a decent prospect or two.

The Sox could still patch and fill with another outfielder, preferably one who could play center, but unless they choose to revisit the Matt Kemp scenario in the spring after the Dodgers outfielder proves he is healthy, Cherington might be content to add big-league depth on the Triple-A level. Daniel Nava proved that he could handle right field when Shane Victorino was unavailable, so that makes it easier to stand pat in the outfield, with Mike Carp also in line to get more playing time after proving to be a valuable bench piece.

The Sox are expected to make the Mike Napoli signing official, perhaps as soon as Thursday night, and soon Cherington and his staff will be turning their attention to signing their arbitration-eligible players. The Sox have five such players, and according to projections made by the reliable Matt Swartz of MLBTradeRumors.com, they can expect to pay around $8.3 million to sign newcomer Burke Badenhop ($2.1 million), Andrew Miller ($1.9 million), Franklin Morales ($1.8 million), Carp ($1.3 million), and Junichi Tazawa ($1.1 million).

Counting Napoli ($16 million in 2014), the Sox have committed to around $151 million in guaranteed salaries to 15 players. Factor in the arb-eligible players, the payroll is around $160 million. Add another $4 to $5 million to sign the rest of the players on the 40-man roster, the $3.9 million the Sox are paying the Dodgers as part of the 2012 megatrade, and the nearly $11 million in medical benefits that are calculated for luxury tax purposes, and the Sox are approaching $180 million.

That’s still under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, but if the Sox intend to add Drew and stay under the threshold, moving one of their eight-figure starters becomes more pressing.