BOSTON -- The "Wow" factor has been a common thread to Red Sox offseasons. Trades for Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Adrian Gonzalez. Free-agent signings like Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Keith Foulke, Carl Crawford.
Will this winter produce another "Wow"? The Red Sox will send general manager Ben Cherington to Nashville on Sunday for baseball's winter meetings with no shortage of cash in his pockets and holes to fill. Outside of the newly gilded Dodgers, for whom money appears no object, no team may be in a better position to make some impact plays than the Sox, who erased $262 million from their balance sheet in last August's trade with L.A. Even the free-spending Yankees are fretting about staying under the luxury cap, which poses no obstacle to the current Boston payroll.
Cherington, in his first year as Sox GM, made only modest additions to his roster last winter. Charged this winter with rebuilding a Sox team that finished last for only the second time in the past 80 years, Cherington, if so inclined, could come home with a Josh Hamilton, the prized outfielder on the free-agent market, or make an unexpected bid for free-agent pitchers Zack Greinke or Anibal Sanchez.
The Sox, however, have been preaching fiscal discipline and prudent decision-making this winter. CEO Larry Lucchino has said the team won't bite on seven- or eight-year deals, like the one that blew up on them with Crawford. Cherington has also made it that clear that years, not dollars, will be the primary determinant in the choice of Sox targets.
But are the Red Sox truly taking themselves out of the "Wow" business, or could this all be a misdirection strategy that is buying the Sox cover as they maneuver to make another big splash?
On Saturday, appearing at the team's "Christmas at Fenway" event, Cherington was keeping his options open.
"I wouldn't rule anything out categorically," said Cherington. "We just want to find ways to improve the team, the rotation. We're working on a lot of ways to do that.
"In baseball, you always have to be open to the exception. The right time, right fit for the organization, but we're guided by an interest in keeping deals shorter if we can. You can't always do that. So, more than anything, we're trying to find the best fits for our team, and the guys that fit in best short- and long-term."
The chance for a big (aka Wow) deal, and how important would that be to the success of the team and the limited partnership known as the Boston Red Sox Baseball Club?
"I can't handicap it," he said. "You can't rule it out. I certainly wouldn't rule it in. I think if there's a deal we feel really makes us, the organization, stronger for the short and long term, we'll pursue it. Some of those can fit into that category. I can't handicap that right now. We're still working on so many things that we're trying to get the right mix for us.
"I think the bigger part of your question, I think our fans want a winning team, they want a winning team year after year, and they want a team they can root for and get behind, believe in. They want to see players they can get behind and root for, they want to see a direction, they want to see a reason for things, they want to see a team that plays the right way.
"There are different ways to get to that. Sometimes bigger deals help you do that. Sometimes smaller deals help you do that. We'll explore everything. Wouldn't rule it out or rule it in."
On Saturday, the Red Sox announced the official signing of outfielder Jonny Gomes, having opened a spot on the 40-man roster the night before by nontendering three players -- Scott Atchison, Rich Hill and Ryan Sweeney. Gomes puts the Sox roster at 38 headed into the meetings.
Before that, they gave a two-year deal to keep David Ortiz, signed a veteran backup catcher in David Ross and met last weekend with Mike Napoli, the free agent first baseman and catcher. They have maintained "consistent" contact with outfielder Cody Ross, Cherington said, but have been linked to many other outfielders, including Hamilton. They have been approached by the Kansas City Royals regarding the possible trade of Jon Lester, and are clearly in the market for more starting pitching help. Depth at shortstop is another obvious need.
"There are things we know we could do right now, things we're not ready to do right now, things we're choosing not to do right now," Cherington said. "The water's kind of moving down the river, but hasn't gotten to a waterfall yet. The winter meetings is usually when the water starts getting a little quicker and things start falling."
He added, "It's not difficult to find things to spend [our money] on. It's difficult to find the right things to spend it on."
It's too early to say, he said, whether the Sox will address their needs more through the trade route than free agency, though the team's determination to hold onto their best prospects would seem to make a major trade problematic. Other teams have been emboldened by Boston's 93-loss season to target Sox players they ordinarily might have figured were off-limits, Cherington said. Lester would seem to fall in that category.
The Sox almost certainly believe that Lester has more value in their rotation than he would in a deal, but again, Cherington wasn't ruling out moving a starter.
"Anything's possible," he said, "but it certainly gets harder to do that, to subtract somebody."
This much is certain: The Sox come to Nashville as motivated shoppers. And while they pledge to maintain a tight grip on their wallets, don't be surprised to see them at least dabbling in the luxury section of the market -- and if the price proves to their liking, they'll pounce.