Changes inevitable for Red Sox

BOSTON -- The 2013 postmortem for the Boston Red Sox had a completely different feel from the closings of the two previous seasons.

The 2011 and 2012 campaigns ended poorly, and each offseason began with the organization firing the manager (Terry Francona in '11 and Bobby Valentine last year). This season, however, the tone was not one of peril, but one of celebration as the Red Sox are World Series champions.

On Monday afternoon, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell sat side-by-side in the interview room at Fenway Park and spoke about the numerous decisions that will need to be made this offseason.

There are plenty of them.

Cherington announced the team has made qualifying offers to shortstop Stephen Drew, first baseman Mike Napoli and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is a free agent, did not receive an offer.

Cherington and Farrell, as well as the players, understand this group will not return intact in 2014. There will be changes. The trick is to handle those transitions in a relatively seamless manner in hopes of putting another successful team on the field next season.

Cherington has been with the organization for 16 years and remembers what former GM Theo Epstein had to deal with after the team won the World Series in 2004 and 2007. A lot of what Epstein preached during those offseasons is still fresh in Cherington's mind.

"If you just try to replicate exactly what you had this year, it's probably not going to work the same," Cherington said. "Whether we, as a group, handled all those transitions as well as we could have or not, I don't know. But I think we have to go into this offseason with the same sort of general mindset and same general philosophy to build as deep a roster as we possibly can, to be as balanced as we possibly can, but if we try to just simply replicate what happened this year, I don't know if that's possible.

"The general philosophy will still lead us toward a lot of the same things that we were looking for last year, but exactly how it plays out, we'll just have to see. Again, the players that are free agents we have interest in coming back. We've got to keep the dialogue going with them and we have to be prepared to pursue other alternatives too."

As strange as it may sound coming off a World Series title, Cherington believes there are areas where he can upgrade the team for the 2014 season and beyond. The areas he was pleased with include the team's offensive output, depth at most of the positions and contributions off the bench.

"The offense was a strength overall until we got into the playoffs and faced some of the pitching we faced," Cherington said with a smile.

The Sox's bullpen became a strength in the second half of the season, with Koji Uehara becoming the closer and the rest of the relievers performing well. The GM believes the bullpen will be a strong point again next season and would like to find a way to add to that group.

Cherington explained the Red Sox were able to have success because of their depth in different areas, as opposed to being elite at some positions and thin at others.

"We want to maintain that depth, the strength throughout the roster, as best we can," Cherington said.

More specifically, Cherington pointed out the four positions that were occupied by Drew, Napoli, Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia, and how they might be filled in the event the incumbents do not return.

"In a lot of those spots we have very strong, viable alternatives in the organization in younger players," Cherington said. "There would be a preference on our part not to commit to being young at all four of those spots, and maybe there's a combination somewhere in there."

Let's start with Ellsbury. It's all but certain he will not return to the Red Sox, so that leaves the team with a few options.

Cherington and Farrell were extremely impressed with the defensive work of Shane Victorino in right field. A natural center fielder, he moved to right when he signed with Boston since Ellsbury had the real estate in center covered. With the possibility of Ellsbury signing elsewhere as a free agent, Victorino could move to center.

"It's certainly one possibility," Cherington said. "As we look at alternatives in the outfield, we have to be open-minded and that would be one possibility. I think I speak for John, we both recognize just how good he was in right field this year and how valuable his defense was in right field, so I guess we'd have to be compelled to move him, but we can't rule that out because he's capable of doing it."

Farrell believes prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. is ready to be a full-time big league center fielder. Offensively, however, Bradley needs to improve in order to earn a spot on the roster next season.

Napoli has said he wants to return and the feeling seems mutual, while Cherington tapped the brakes (at least for now) on talk about moving third baseman Will Middlebrooks to first.

"Having a young third baseman with Will's ability, power, athleticism and ability on both sides of the ball is a really important thing for the organization," Cherington said. "You only consider moving someone like that off a spot if it's driven by the need of the team and we're not there yet. We see Will as a third baseman and that's what he'll focus on this offseason."

Given the fact that Drew is a client of Scott Boras, there's a good chance he'll decline the qualifying offer and test the free-agent market. If the defensive wizard does not return, it's evident the Red Sox are comfortable with the in-house options for the left side of the infield. But that doesn't mean they would simply stand pat.

"We have very high hopes and expectations for [Xander Bogaerts and Middlebrooks]," Cherington said. "We're just looking to be as strong as possible throughout the roster. Just because we have a younger player who we really believe in, doesn't mean we wouldn't be interested in adding to a particular area.

"Again, one of the hallmarks of this team in 2013 was that we had a deep roster and it helped us get through certain parts of the season, so we want to do whatever we can to continue that next season."

In 12 postseason games, Bogaerts posted a .296 average with 8 hits, 9 runs, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 6 walks, 2 RBIs and 9 strikeouts.

"He certainly looks like he's ready to play in the big leagues," Cherington said. "We obviously thought very highly of him for a long time. You don't know exactly when that stage would arrive but he looked very comfortable on it, so we'll see. It's very early in the offseason and we'll have plenty of time during spring training to figure all that out. We're glad he's on our side."

From a rotation standpoint, the Red Sox have six veteran starters under contract for next season: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Ryan Dempster and Jake Peavy.

"We feel it's a position of strength," Cherington said. "Those six guys, plus we think we've got younger starting pitching candidates that have either gotten a little taste of it or are on their way. Relative to the past year, we think it's an area of strength and depth. We can certainly envision a scenario where everyone currently under contract shows up in Fort Myers. In fact, at this point that's what I expect, but we'll see what the offseason brings."

Cherington and Farrell were pleased with the production from the starting rotation in 2013, even with Buchholz missing three months due to a neck and shoulder strain.

At catcher, David Ross will be back and Saltalamacchia's status is unclear. If he does not return, Ryan Lavarnway, Dan Butler and Christian Vazquez are already in the organization, although only Lavarnway has big league experience. There's a strong free-agent market for catchers, including Ross' former Atlanta Braves teammate Brian McCann.

Cherington figures to fill the team's voids with a mix of young players from within and veteran additions.

"Be opportunistic," he said of the team's approach to adding from outside the organization. "Be prepared for opportunities that come our way, or seek opportunities if we can find ways to give us a better chance to improve in an area even if it's not obvious. We want to be prepared to do that."

After Saturday's rolling rally, Farrell said as soon as he stepped off his duck boat, he and the rest of the team already knew it would probably be the last time this group would be together. This offseason will take the Red Sox in a different direction.

"If we could duplicate this group and keep it together and take another run at it, that would be great," Farrell said. "But a lot of questions need to be answered, and the one thing we all subscribe to is that stability and continuity has a chance for success. We've already been successful with this group and if we had an outside chance of reassembling in Fort Myers next February, I think another year of familiarity would be a really good thing."

The 2013 season ended the best way possible for the Red Sox, but now it's time to focus on 2014.