On at least eight public occasions since the end of the season, general manager Ben Cherington has spoken about his desire to build “the next great Red Sox team.”
What hasn’t been said is when that team will be assembled.
Cherington has carefully avoided making promises to a fan base that has been burned all too often in recent seasons by bold talk that proved unfounded. His goal is long-term success, not a quick fix after last season’s 93-loss debacle.
“We hope it’s 2013. But we have a ways to go to get a great team to coalesce,” Cherington said Monday. “Hopefully it will. We’re working as hard as we can, but it’s not just for one year.”
The Red Sox have made two significant moves since the end of the season, hiring John Farrell to replace Bobby Valentine as manager and retaining designated hitter David Ortiz with a two-year, $26 million deal.
Cherington also signed an estimable backup catcher, David Ross, to a two-year deal.
But when the Toronto Blue Jays obtained lefthander Mark Buehrle, righthander Josh Johnson, and shortstop Jose Reyes as part of a 12-player deal with the Marlins, it created the perception among some fans that the Sox are stagnant.
“I never think about it that way,” Cherington said. “We’re working hard every day to execute the plan that we have. I’ve found that the best opportunities in free agency often come later in the offseason.
“That trade up north got everybody’s attention. But it’s still relatively early. It’s not even Thanksgiving. I think most people understand we have a long way to go.”
The Red Sox, at this point last year, did not have a manager and were six weeks away from finishing their coaching staff. The slow transition helped lead to the team finishing in last place.
With baseball’s winter meetings still two weeks away, the Red Sox are well ahead of the glacial pace of last fall.
“We have a lot of work to do because we lost 93 games,” Cherington said “But there’s no doubt that with some of the other things you have to do — the manager, the coaching staff, the infrastructure scouting-wise — we’re ahead of where we were last year.
“We’ve spent a lot more time on player issues at this time as compared to last year. That doesn’t always turn into announcements. You can’t predict when it will happen.”
Cherington said the Red Sox remain in contact with free agent outfielder Cody Ross and want to have him back. He predicted that Torii Hunter signing with the Tigers last week would help move that segment of the free agent market forward.
“We continue to talk. There’s really no other update than to say the door is open,” Cherington said. “We’re also talking to other guys and I presume he is talking to other teams. Those things have a way of starting to move once one of the dominos falls.”
Cherington also addressed, for the first time, why he added David Ross to a roster that already included catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway.
“We signed Ross because it’s strengthened the position,” he said. “We thought that was the best alignment for us . . . David has been in that second catcher role and has thrived in it. I’d rather have three good catchers than one or two.”
Ross, Cherington said, probably will play more than a typical backup catcher. The Sox expect him to have a significant impact on the field and off.
There is speculation the Red Sox now will trade Saltalamacchia or Lavarnway. But Cherington would not feed that fire, pointing out that Lavarnway has minor league options and could be returned to Triple A Pawtucket.
Saltalamacchia is viewed as the starter at this point. But spring training is still 12 weeks away.
“Salty has earned that right based on the last few years,” Cherington said. “He has done a good job.”
Cherington said there is “no consideration” to Saltalamacchia or Lavarnway playing another position.
Cherington expects that free agents will fill the team’s holes in the rotation, at first base, and in the outfield. He’s not adverse to a significant trade, but he pointed out that the Red Sox generally have looked more to free agents than trades during the offseason.
The Sox also have recommitted themselves to player development and would be hesitant to deal top prospects Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Bryce Brentz.
“I’m not going to rule out trading [top] prospects. But you’d have to get a player that makes sense over the longer term than the shorter team,” Cherington said. “It would be hard, but when you lose 93 games, you have to be open to lots of difficult things.”
The Red Sox essentially admitted the error of their spendthrift ways when they traded the mega-contracts of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers in August.
Asked whether he would venture down that path again, Cherington chuckled.
“But there may not be one guy out there who is going to fill our needs,” he said. “There are a number of players we have to look at. In theory, you can offer only so much to a player, even for only one year.
“We believe we’re going to have a significant payroll and we’re going to be active in adding free agent talent to the team. But you want the contract to make sense.”