BOSTON -- The baseball world will gather for four days at the annual winter meetings this week in Dallas, and no doubt the Boston Red Sox and general manager Ben Cherington and Co. will be busy on both the free-agent and trade markets.
But the first step in his offseason blueprint is some housekeeping within the organization.
"I'm sure we're going to accomplish something [in Dallas] but I don't know what it's going to be," Cherington said. "I can't guarantee when player moves will happen, but we've got a pretty good idea of the landscape and our needs. I've said it before, and it sounds like a cliché at this point, I really do believe the biggest work we have to do, the biggest job we have to do is really internally."
After missing the postseason the past two years, and with an already potent lineup in place, Cherington needs to fill out his baseball staff.
Getting Bobby Valentine in place as manager was the first major hurdle for Cherington. Valentine has already decided to retain hitting coach Dave Magadan. If Valentine decides to keep the current staff (third-base coach Tim Bogar, bench coach DeMarlo Hale and bullpen coach Gary Tuck) in place, Boston still needs a pitching coach and a first-base coach.
Cherington also needs to hire a new strength and conditioning coach after the club fired longtime staffer Dave Page last month. The club also needs to add to its training staff. Those aspects of Cherington's to-do list may not be as sexy as player transactions, but those people are very important in terms of having a winning product on the field.
During his introductory news conference Thursday at Fenway, Valentine said he would hit the ground running, and he wasted no time in doing that. The new manager left Boston on Friday for the Dominican Republic to participate in David Ortiz's charity golf event, and show his goodwill toward the free-agent slugger. Ortiz appreciated the gesture.
"That speaks to me," Ortiz told The Boston Globe on Friday about meeting with Valentine, tapping his heart with his fist. "I'm impressed. That's good stuff."
Cherington said he's had "good dialogue" with Ortiz and his agent and the sides plan on meeting in Dallas this week. The Sox offered the DH arbitration and Ortiz has until Wednesday to accept or decline. Other clubs have serious interest in Ortiz, but it's likely he and the Red Sox will come to some sort of agreement. Ortiz is looking for a multiyear deal, but could earn a higher annual salary for 2011 only by accepting arbitration and likely receiving a raise from last year's $12.5 million.
The Sox will also look at ways to improve their starting rotation. Right-hander John Lackey will miss the entire 2012 season because of Tommy John surgery. Fellow right-handers Daisuke Matsuzaka (elbow surgery) and Clay Buchholz (back) continue their respective rehab programs and it's unclear when they'll be ready.
While the biggest free-agent pitcher on the market this offseason is C.J. Wilson, Cherington could focus more on the trade market.
Oakland Athletics starter Gio Gonzalez, 26, is probably the most coveted starter perceived to be available via trade, for numerous reasons: a team's ability to control him financially, his young age, and the fact that he's a lefty with nasty stuff. It's possible he could gain even more attention than Wilson.
The 6-foot, 205-pound Gonzalez posted a 16-12 record with a 3.12 ERA in 32 starts (202 innings) last season. He would be a solid fit in any starting rotation, and is someone who could be a target for Cherington and the Sox.
Boston also needs a closer since Jonathan Papelbon signed a long-term contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Cherington has looked at outside options for that role -- Heath Bell left to Padres to sign with the Marlins on Friday -- but the Sox don't necessarily have to look far. Daniel Bard, Papelbon's setup man last year, has the ability to excel in the ninth-inning role and should be given the opportunity.
"There've been things that we could have done but chose not to," Cherington said about potential moves. "It's like any other offseason when you try to find the right opportunity and what makes sense to us."
The bullpen also has to be restructured.
Boston needs a right fielder and Cherington has different options in that area. Unless the Sox can land 26-year-old Cuban prospect Yoenis Cespedes once he hits the market, the Red Sox could go the subtle route with an Andruw Jones, Cody Ross or Josh Willingham type of player who would complement Josh Reddick and/or Ryan Kalish.
A bigger name is free agent Carlos Beltran. He's no doubt a talented player but doesn't necessarily fit with the Red Sox's philosophy.
"We're going to make player moves, but we've got a lot of good players and we've made some big moves last offseason. I think the work we do this offseason will be a little bit different in nature, but certainly there will be player moves and we've been working on that," Cherington said. "They'll start happening soon."
"Those two guys, in particular, given what they've meant to the organization over a long period of time, they certainly deserve to hear from us and get an honest and direct feedback where we see things," Cherington said during a recent interview on sports radio WEEI. "We would not do anything else in the market that would block their ability to come back without talking to them about it first. They deserve that and we've had some of those conversations.
"I also know both those guys have a lot of pride and they want to be back only if there's a real role on the team, an important role on the team. That's something we're still working to determine."
Cherington has a lot to accomplish this offseason, his first as GM of the Red Sox. The goals are still the same with a return to postseason prominence atop the list. He'll be working the phones and having plenty of meetings this week in Dallas.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.