INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — It’s true, to an extent, what Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington says.
“I feel fans in Boston are tired of hearing how good we are in the winter. We just have to be good and we have to build a team that wins and does the right things.”
But in this case, the Sox need to win the winter, as well.
There may not be a team in baseball that has more to do in the time frame it has given itself. Cherington said there is no two-, three-, four-, or five-year plan. The plan is to build a winner now.
We understand what Cherington is saying. When the Red Sox obtained Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, they won the offseason, but it did little good when it really counted. So Cherington wants less emphasis on the glitz and glamour and more emphasis on April through October.
“We have to do the best we can to build a team this winter, and in spring training shift to, ‘How do we put them in the best position to win?’ ” Cherington said. “I just think people are tired of how good we may be and may not be. We just have to be good when we start playing the games.”
Yet this offseason, more than ever, it’s of great interest to see whom the Sox are going after and how they will address first base, the corner outfield spots, the starting rotation, and a piece for the bullpen.
They have heard presentations of agents at the general managers meetings over the past couple of days about Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher, Torii Hunter, Anibal Sanchez, Dan Haren, Hiroki Kuroda, and everyone in between.
At some point, decisions will have to be made, with confidence and conviction. Maybe there doesn’t have to be chest-thumping about how they won the offseason, but last offseason, they lost it resoundingly and it showed on the field.
And forget this notion that agents are going to shy away from the Red Sox because they have a subpar roster right now. Everyone knows that’s not going to last.
“The great thing about them is they are one of the goliaths of the game, revenue-wise,” said agent Scott Boras. “It’s not a question of whether they can, it’s a question of choice. I don’t think there’s anyone that thinks the Red Sox don’t have the ability to compete in the free agent market.”
Boras pointed out that two of his clients — shortstop Xander Bogaerts and center fielder Jackie Bradley — are prospects who should add to the team’s star power in the near future. But prospects are prospects. They are unproven and inexperienced, and the Red Sox need to win now.
Toward that end, Cherington and his staff continue to speak to teams about deals, and to free agents.
Hamilton, Kuroda, Rafael Soriano, Swisher, Adam LaRoche, Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse, and B.J. Upton all received qualifying offers from their current teams of $13.3 million, the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball. All are expected to decline. The Red Sox have interest in Hamilton, LaRoche, Swisher, Kuroda, and Upton.
“We have interest in plenty of free agents, including some who are in that group,” Cherington said.
So far, Cherington hasn’t run into a free agent who would boycott Boston because the Sox aren’t good anymore.
“It’s a fair question, and one that we have not had to answer most offseasons,” Cherington said. “You answer it by telling people that you rely on track record.
“The reality is that this is Boston and we’re going to build the team up as quickly as we can. You rely on the eventual thought amongst players and agents that Boston is going to work as hard as they can to be competitive. You have to talk about it more this offseason than other offseasons.”
Everyone in baseball knows the Red Sox have gobs of money. They know the Sox can afford anyone, even Hamilton.
And while the Sox struggle not to give in to the big contracts that have gotten them in trouble in the past, they also don’t want to be left empty-handed, as they were last offseason.
While Cherington keeps his eye on the big picture, he continues to tweak the medical department. The Sox were plagued by injuries in 2012, and though Cherington didn’t blame it on the medical staff, he said that having a couple of injury-filled seasons has to be addressed.
“It’s more than health,” Cherington said about injuries being a factor in the poor performance. “We have to add talent. Players win games more than anything else. We need more talent on our roster. There are other things we can do better or get better breaks on, such as health, those things matter and they can help, but we have to improve on the field.”
Nobody expected anything big to happen at the GM meetings, and nothing did. It was face-to-face fact-finding, eliminating teams you don’t match up with, and identifying those with which you do. It was meeting with agents and hearing their sales pitches.
These may have been the preliminaries, but the nitty-gritty will soon be upon the Sox.
And while they don’t have to be a superstar this offseason, they’d better step to the plate and take some cuts.
They can’t afford to lose again — in the offseason or during the season.