The annual winter meetings begin today, Monday December 3, and run through December 6. It's often the hotbed of off-season activity, with many of baseball's premier free agents coming off the board during these sessions. It's no guarantee, but there's a very good chance that the likes of Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, and maybe even Josh Hamilton will all have new homes in the coming days -- once the dam breaks at the winter meetings, it's often hard to stop the flow of transactions.
The Red Sox have needs, but their needs might not entirely line up with what is going down at this event. They need another outfielder, a first baseman, and a pitcher, and they also very well might trade a catcher soon. The starting pitcher won't be Greinke, though, and unless the market craters in the next 15 minutes, the outfielder won't be Hamilton. Before things start to take off, let's get a sense of where Boston's roster is at, and what it is they might spend time doing this week if given the opportunity.
Boston has 38 players on their 40-man roster at the moment, giving them the space to add two players without the need to release or designate anyone, whether it be through trades or free agency. The Red Sox are set at second base (Dustin Pedroia), third (Will Middlebrooks), center field (Jacoby Ellsbury), and designated hitter (David Ortiz). Left field is likely filled, thanks to some Frankensteinian combination of Jonny Gomes and then either Daniel Nava or Ryan Kalish.
Catcher is overflowing, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross, Ryan Lavarnway, and two minor-league backstops in Dan Butler and Christian Vazquez. Shortstop similarly has options, and Jose Iglesias might very well be given the chance to win the starting job this spring, but like catcher, it's unclear just exactly who will be around and who will play.
Right field is where a new outfielder is likely needed. Boston has plenty of left field options -- the above, as well as Jerry Sands -- but no one profiles as a fit in right, either at the plate or defensively. At the moment, Kalish also profiles as the backup center fielder on the roster, but his arm is a little weak for right, and his bat is a better fit for center or left even if he hits his ceiling.
First base is an open question as well, and that's where negotiations with Mike Napoli and Adam LaRoche come in. It's likely one of those players will be signed this week during the meetings, whether it's by the Red Sox or someone else, and that might pressure Boston to make a move. Unlike with the outfield, where there are plenty of options for a patient team, first base offers very little this off-season. If it isn't Napoli, LaRoche, or maybe Nick Swisher, a trade is the only real way to fill the position.
As you can see, there's work to be done in the lineup, but Boston is unlikely to need a major overhaul or a big splash anywhere in that regard. Just good, solid signings like Napoli and Co., and things should come together well enough.
On the pitching side, there are fewer questions, but they are larger ones. Boston is set in four spots in the rotation, with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and Felix Doubront all presumably locked in. The optimistic view on Lackey is that he'll be average this far removed from Tommy John surgery, as he was in 2010, and while that's a positive development, it's not much of a ceiling. It's yet to be seen whether Doubront is a capable back-end starter or something more, and relying on him for the more portion of that at this point would be problematic. Lester is in need of a rebound, and while he's made progress to that end, he's still a bit of a question. The same goes for Buchholz, who, will pitching very well from mid-May onward, needs to do it over a full season.
This means Boston should be looking at something close to a guarantee in a pitching acquisition. The problem is that those with guaranteed talent want guaranteed contracts, and they want them for so much money or so many years that the idea of their being a guarantee becomes a bit hazy. Greinke is certainly the best pitcher on the market, but in order to get his 2013 and 2014, his new team will likely also be paying for his 2019, and who knows what he'll be by then. Besides expensive, anyway.
The Red Sox might not acquire a starter until after the meetings, instead letting the market settle a bit, and seeing who of the many options out there remain when others have spent their money and finalized their own rosters -- many of the arms we've looked at in our off-season target series, such as Brandon McCarthy, Shaun Marcum, and more fit this bill. It's a little risky in the sense Boston could be adding another question to the rotation, but there just isn't much to work with in terms of reasonable, guaranteed-to-produce arms out there. All it will take is one team overpaying Anibal Sanchez for the only arm that maybe fits that category to vanish from the market.
Lastly, you have the bullpen, which doesn't need help, but if someone with the talent of Mike Adams of Brian Wilson can be had on a short-term deal for respectable money, Boston is in the right if they go looking. Just because the bullpen is currently full doesn't mean that there isn't room for an upgrade, and since the 25-man roster doesn't need to be finalized for months, there's also room to stash until a trade can be worked out to clear space.
It should be an exciting winter meetings as it usually is, but don't be surprised if Boston does only the things we expect them to, leaving other organizations to the shiny bauble portion of the proceedings. They have their needs, but they aren't necessarily the kinds of needs that are filled at this spectacle. That doesn't mean they'll be inactive, or there will be nothing to report, but keep those expectations in check.