Ben Cherington still shopping

BOSTON -- Awfully quiet on Yawkey Way, with just four shopping days left before Christmas.

Don't be fooled.

The rewiring of the Boston Red Sox for 2012 remains in progress. Few people outside of Boston think that Mark Melancon will be the team's closer next season. A potentially nice upgrade to the bullpen, to be sure, but it defies logic to believe that the Sox are going to entrust such a vital job to a guy whose resume consists of five months of closing for the worst team in baseball last season.

Poker-faced Ben Cherington may try to tell you otherwise, but Melancon far more likely projects as inheritor of Daniel Bard's eighth-inning role, now that the Sox are committed to bringing Bard to camp as a starter. Melancon isn't overpowering the way Bard is -- his curveball is his best pitch -- but he is young and durable and has the makings of a reliable setup man.

And if the Red Sox really are going to transition both Alfredo Aceves and Bard to the rotation, then manager Bobby Valentine will insist on having more options than are currently at his disposal. At the moment, all he has are question marks.

Can Melancon, whom the New York Yankees gave up in a deal for Lance Berkman that did little for them, thrive in the AL East? What, if anything, can be expected of Bobby Jenks after a lost year in 2011? How much trust does Matt Albers inspire after the way he unraveled at the end of the season? Can Junichi Tazawa help? Alex Wilson?

And it's not much better on the left side. Felix Doubront was a big disappointment last season. Franklin Morales and Andrew Miller are both guys whose arms are bigger than their track records.

Cherington knows what he has. And he knows what he needs. The best closer still available is Ryan Madson, who was aced out of his job in Philadelphia when the Phillies opted for Jonathan Papelbon. A trade could be made for Oakland's Andrew Bailey, but A's general manager Billy Beane is asking for a premium in return, and the Sox are disinclined to give up top prospects two years in a row.

Madson will only cost money, something that has very rarely been in short supply on Yawkey Way. Much has been made this offseason of how mindful the Red Sox are of the luxury-tax threshold, but if you were paying attention, you heard CEO Larry Lucchino remind one and all at the team's Christmas at Fenway event that the club has not shied in the past from stepping over that line when it made sense to do so.

"We have gone over it when we felt there was a need to,'' Lucchino was quoted as saying. "When the baseball operations department suggested a certain transaction made eminent good sense, we were willing to go over it, and I think that will be our policy going forward."

Madson, of course, makes all the sense in the world. Now it's for Cherington and agent Scott Boras to spar over price. The dollar figure itself shouldn't be a real issue. The length of the deal almost certainly is. Madson is the same age (31) that Keith Foulke was when he signed with the Red Sox, but Madson has thrown nearly 200 more innings than Foulke had by the same age (630 to 446). Foulke was magnificent in 2004, his first season with the Sox, especially in the postseason, but he quickly broke down thereafter. That's not to say Madson's career will follow the same arc -- there are plenty of closers who have thrived well into their 30s -- but Foulke's case underscores why Cherington would like to commit as few years as possible.

With so many other clubs having filled their need for a closer, the Red Sox would seem to be ideally positioned to cut a deal for Madson, especially since Cherington has the leverage Bard offers him. The Sox can always scrap the plan to make Bard a starter and push more vigorously to make a deal to bolster the rotation.

But of all the available closers on the market, Madson is the most talented.

Mark Melancon to close for the Sox? Someday, perhaps, but 2012 is a reach. This is the same team, remember, that two winters ago said it would be happy to open the season with Casey Kotchman at first base and days later signed Adrian Beltre, and before that said Alex Cora would be perfectly acceptable at short, until they signed Alex Gonzalez. Melancon-as-closer appears as part of the same tradition.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.