NASHVILLE -- Five takeaways while wondering how many fans can name who preceded the Flying Hawaiian, Shane Victorino, as the only Hawaiian-born player ever to play for the Red Sox. Yes, we know, Victorino has yet to play for the Sox, and even though Victorino tweeted out a photo in which he modeled a Red Sox cap, GM Ben Cherington won’t confirm a deal is done, choosing to wait until the Sox medical team administers a physical.
Still, the answer is below. We’ll offer one hint: Like Victorino, this Hawaiian also was an outfielder.
On with the takeaways:
1. Our suspicions that GM Ben Cherington and John Farrell met Monday with free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton proved true. Had he known they were headed to a rendezvous with Hamilton, ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald, who saw the pair leave, would have hopped into the next cab and uttered those immortal words, “Follow that car!” Alas, McDonald left his cloak and dagger at home, but he did note that they didn’t return until two-and-a-half hours later.
Cherington on Wednesday admitted that yes, they had met with a player, but wasn’t dropping a dime on whom they went to see. Someone else did, though, and it turns out it was Hamilton.
How did that session go? Well, a day later, the Sox were striking a deal with Victorino, and on Wednesday, Cherington said he won’t be trading Jacoby Ellsbury, which would seem to indicate that Hamilton is destined to land somewhere other than Boston. It might not be a return to Texas -- the Rangers reportedly are in hard on pitcher Zack Greinke -- but the Red Sox, according to sources, are not offering Hamilton more than a three-year deal, a threshold likely to be exceeded by another club.
The Hamilton-to-Boston speculation has not breathed its last, but the odds were growing longer by the hour.
2. One of the more intriguing subplots to next season will be to watch how Ellsbury reacts to the pressure of performing in his free-agent year. Tens of millions of dollars will be at stake. If he plays like an older version of Mike Trout, the way he did in 2011, Ellsbury will position himself to become the game's next $175 million-$200 million player. If he gets hurt again, the way he did in 2010 and 2012, or is merely just very good, the way he was in 2009, when he hit for average, set a club record for stolen bases, but had no power, he still will be in great demand, especially with Scott Boras as his agent, but probably will have to settle for a trifling $100 million or so.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he thought Victorino cracked a bit under the pressure of playing through his free-agent year last season. “He definitely started trying too hard, and he's always been what I call a high-energy, kind of nervous guy,’’ Manuel said.
Ellsbury is wired differently, but until a player has been through it, you never know how he will respond.
It is widely assumed that the Sox will not re-sign Ellsbury as a free agent, especially given their new pledge of fiscal conservatism that stipulates no more deals longer than a half-decade. With that the case, the Sox listened to trade offers for Ellsbury here this week. Team sources called it a long shot that they would move Ellsbury, but given their interest in Hamilton, the Sox didn’t rule out trading Ellsbury if they could find the right fit. Evidently, they didn’t, because on Wednesday Cherington said he expects Ells to be back in 2013.
“That’s not our intent,’’ Cherington said of trading Ellsbury. “We’re expecting Jacoby to have a really good year and he’s a huge part of what we’re doing. Our expectations are that Jacoby will be here and be our center fielder.’’
3. Cherington, who made swift strides in addressing Sox needs since the end of the season by adding catcher Cody Ross, outfielder Jonny Gomes, first baseman-catcher Mike Napoli and Victorino, sounded like there wouldn’t be more in the offing before he heads home Thursday. Winter-meeting veterans know not to take such intimations too seriously, and it certainly wouldn't be shocking to see a flurry of activity just before everyone takes their final laps at the Opryland 500.
Still, with teams waiting for the big chips to fall on the pitching market, particularly Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez, the market for starting pitching was moving slowly, although the $13 million deal the Nationals gave Dan Haren demonstrated that any arm still attached to a pitcher’s body won’t come cheap. Cherington said it was too soon to say whether the Sox will succeed in adding through free agency or via trade, but add they must. Ryan Dempster’s name has surfaced as a possibility.
4. A day later, some people are still saying less than nice things about the Sox acquisitions, especially given the contracts for Napoli and Victorino, who are both in line to receive three years and $39 million. “What are they doing, loading up to win the Senior League?’’ one executive said. Snarkiness runs neck-and-neck with bogus rumors during the winter meetings.
5. Terry Francona can still draw a crowd, whether he’s working for the Red Sox, ESPN or his newest employer, the Indians. Francona, who was surrounded by reporters during his media session Wednesday, had personally recruited Victorino for the Indians, but as often happens, the big-market dogs prevailed. How did it feel for Tito to be on the wrong end of that equation?
“Bastards,’’ he said in deadpan style. “You know what, it's kind of hard to fault a guy like Shane Victorino for going to Boston. When guys get to be a free agent, they earn that right to go wherever they want, and it's a great baseball town.’’
The only other Red Sox player born in Hawaii: Benny Agbayani, who played 13 games for the Sox in 2002, his last games in the majors. The Sox released him the following March.