BOSTON — Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is heading to baseball’s winter meetings in Nashville with his pockets bulging from the $250 million he saved in the deal that sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Spending all that money might be the hard part.
In an off-year for big-ticket free agents, the Red Sox will probably not be able to rebuild from last year’s 93-loss fiasco into a contender just from the players on this year’s market. Right-hander Zack Greinke and outfielder Josh Hamilton are expected to be the biggest prizes when baseball’s annual winter bazaar opens in Nashville on Monday.
“It’s not difficult to find things to spend it on. It’s difficult to find the right things to spend it on,” Cherington said at the Red Sox holiday festival at Fenway Park on Saturday. “Maybe there are fewer of those (high-profile free agents) than in other years. Maybe it doesn’t feel like last offseason. But there will still be headlines; there will still be deals.”
Snowflakes sprinkled down on Fenway as Red Sox fans streamed into the ballpark to see the Christmas tree, listen to carolers and buy tickets for the 2013 season. There were magicians and balloon animals and even a choo-choo train for the kiddies, while inside the team’s two World Series trophies were available for photographs and to remind all the children in Boston of the time not too long ago when the Red Sox were good.
And likeable, too.
Cherington said he was paying even more attention this winter to signing the right kind of player, the ones who have an attitude – and not just a swing – tailored for Fenway Park. Beckett, Gonzalez and Crawford are gone from the clubhouse that blew an unprecedented September lead in 2011 and then finished last in’12.
“I think our fans want a winning team, and they want a winning team year after year. They want a team they can root for and get behind,” Cherington said. “It’s always been a focus. Coming off a 93-loss season, we’ve got a lot to prove. We’re trying to build something.”
New manager John Farrell and his coaching staff should smooth out some of the problems that arose under Bobby Valentine’s 10-month reign, Cherington said, but “the player in the clubhouse have a bigger impact on that than anyone else.”
That’s one of the things that attracted him to outfielder Jonny Gomes, who agreed to a two-year deal around Thanksgiving that was announced on Saturday.
“He’ll have an opportunity to play a lot,” Cherington said. “I see him playing a lot of left field. I think his bat fits well in the lineup, in the ballpark. He’s developed a really good reputation in the clubhouse. He’s used to the AL East. So just a good fit all the way around.”
Gomes said in a conference call with reporters later Saturday that he is certain the Red Sox won’t put together another disastrous season.
“Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know what happened last year,” he said. “Right away, without even signing, I knew the Red Sox would be playing with the biggest chip on their shoulders. There’s no way they’re going to play like that two straight seasons. I would be honored and love to bring back the fire to the nation.”
Gomes, who’s played more than 120 games just once in his 10-year career, said he doesn’t know what his role will be with the team, but he’s prepared to earn his playing time.
“This is a results-driven industry,” he said. “If the results are there, you’ll play.”
And even when he’s not playing, he feels he can contribute.
“How does a big machine run? A big machine runs with a lot of grease,” he said. “I represent the grease that runs the machine, not the machine.”
After signing Gomes, the Red Sox still need another outfielder, a first baseman, at least one starting pitcher and a closer.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done this offseason,” Cherington said. “I still see the week before the winter meetings as pretty early in the offseason. The water’s headed down the river, but hasn’t gotten to the waterfall yet.”