INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington worked vigorously on multiple fronts during the annual GM meetings, though the majority of his work has been preliminary at this point -- checking in with agents about free agents, speaking with other GMs about possible trade deals.
Cherington returns to Boston on Friday and his next order of business will be to interview candidates for the vacant hitting-coach position. He leaves here feeling like he has accomplished a lot in the early stages of the offseason.
"Ongoing talks. Nothing to report," he said Thursday. "It's been a good couple of days. ... It's a lot more information-gathering. Someone asked a question yesterday if I thought there would be quicker movement, earlier movement -- I still don't know the answer, but there's been a lot of conversation. I do think the new rules have provided for a little more clarity in the landscape. Everyone knows what's at stake. Maybe that at least makes the conversation easier. I don't know if that turns into moves or not."
There are a total of eight free agents who received qualifying offers from their respective clubs, and those players have until 5 p.m. Friday to accept or decline the $13.3 million offers. (The list would include DH David Ortiz, but he has already re-signed with Boston.) It's likely all eight players will decline the offer and test the market.
"Most qualifying offers are really for players of the highest value," said agent Scott Boras. "When teams make them, they're acknowledging the value, and other teams know that as well. I don't anticipate many players accepting single-year contracts that are in that area."
Those players include Braves outfielder Michael Bourn, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche, Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse, Yankees reliever Rafael Soriano, Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher and Rays outfielder B.J. Upton.
The Red Sox are interested in a few of them.
"We'll keep an eye on it," Cherington said. "I bet you guys can probably predict that as well as I could, and probably pretty accurately. I don't think there will be too many surprises in their decisions. We'll keep an eye on it and react accordingly. We have interest in plenty of free agents, including some who are in that group."
Cherington's main concerns this offseason are first base, the corner outfield positions and adding a pitcher to the starting rotation. As far as shortstop is concerned, Cherington said it's on the back burner for now.
Trade talks have also begun. It was reported the Red Sox and Indians were discussing the possibility of a swap that would land outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and pitcher Justin Masterson in Boston. That deal, however, seems unlikely because Choo, who is a Boras client, will be a free agent after the 2013 season.
Indians GM Chris Antonetti "has never given me any indication that they have any reason but to have [Choo] there, because he makes their team better," said Boras. "I'm not in their meetings and I don't know what's been offered for him, but we all know he's one of the best young outfielders in the game and there's really a demand for guys who give you both offense and defense. He's shown the ability to leadoff, hit in the middle of the lineup; he's really a valued player."
A potential Masterson return to the Red Sox is intriguing, especially given that he has worked with Red Sox manager John Farrell in the past.
It's also unlikely the Red Sox would be in the market to trade center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Despite an incredible 2011 season, he's been injured in two of the past three seasons and has missed significant time. He becomes a free agent after the 2013 season, and Boras will no doubt be seeking a major payday for Ellsbury. The 29-year-old outfielder earned just more than $8 million in 2012, and the sides are expected to talk soon about his contract for 2013.
"We're obviously going to have a discussion about his contract upcoming because we have to negotiate the current year, but we haven't had those discussions, yet," Boras said.
Cherington would like to add two outfielders. Free agent Torii Hunter is gaining a lot of attention from many teams, including the Red Sox. An industry source indicated that the Red Sox have had talks with Hunter's agent, Larry Reynolds, but the process is still in the preliminary stages because there are a lot of clubs involved at this point.
"He's a popular guy right now," said a baseball source.
Cody Ross also remains in play for the Red Sox, but the veteran right fielder is seeking a three-year deal. B.J. Upton has also gained interest from Boston.
The Red Sox need a first baseman. The problem is there are not a lot of quality first basemen available on the free-agent market. Cherington could go with a platoon type of role at the position by signing a player such as Swisher, who can also play outfield, or Mike Napoli, who can catch and play first. LaRoche is also an option for the Red Sox.
"There's not a lot of options out there either," Cherington said. "We know we need to figure out that position for 2013 and [we're] looking at free-agent options and trade options and trying to find the right fit."
If the Red Sox decided to stay in-house at first, Mauro Gomez could be a fit.
The Red Sox would like to add a starting pitcher to the rotation. There have been preliminary talks with Angels right-hander Dan Haren. Cherington has reportedly spoken with Kuroda, too. Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez is also someone the Red Sox are interested in.
Rehabilitating Boston's image
There was this notion during the dismal 2012 season that upcoming free agents, especially veterans players, would not want to play in Boston because of all the problems on and off the field. Cherington is trying to fix that and make the Red Sox an attractive club to play for.
The team made steps by firing Bobby Valentine and hiring Farrell as manager. Cherington then signed veteran Ortiz to a two-year deal, and now the GM is attempting to woo external players to Boston. Unlike other years, however, the Red Sox have to prove to those potential players that there's a dedication to win in Boston and the team is not totally in the rebuilding stages.
"It's a fair question and one we haven't had to answer in most offseasons," Cherington said. "I think you answer by telling people that you rely on the track record here and the commitment from ownership to put a lot of resources into the team, and the reality that this is Boston. We're going to build a team as quickly as we can. There's not a two-, three-, four-, five-year plan. The conventional thought amongst players and agents is that Boston will work as hard as they can to be competitive, but, sure, we have to talk about it more this offseason than we have in past offseasons."
The Red Sox certainly have the money to spend and are more flexible this offseason than they were last winter, but Cherington isn't likely to break the bank. His mindset is based on disciplined spending while trying to rebuild the minor league system.
"I think we can work really hard and be aggressive in trying to put a good team on the field in 2013 while still being disciplined, and it's up to us to strike that balance," he said. "We'll see how we can do that this offseason.
"Our job is to look for alternatives and look for as many alternatives as possible through free agency or trades to address the needs we have so we can find fits that make our team better quickly but don't get in the way of the long term and fit with our goal of staying disciplined, so it's really doing both. It's a challenge, and it's up to us to do it."