The Boston Red Sox are no strangers to deals at Major League Baseball's winter meetings.
In two of the last three seasons, the Red Sox have executed significant deals during—or around—the winter meetings, which shall be held this year December 9 through 12 in Orlando, Florida.
Rob Bradford of WEEI.com provides us with a reminder:
The Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez the night before the winter meetings in 2010, before signing free agent Carl Crawford three days later. And last year, Napoli’s original three-year agreement was finalized the first morning of the meetings, with Shane Victorino coming to terms a day later.
Four key free agents stand at the heart of the Red Sox's offseason plans: Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Boston has indicated it wants each of these free agents back, having tendered them qualifying offers early in the offseason. As mentioned by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, "the offer for Saltalamacchia is believed to have been for something less than $10 million a year."
Yet each of these players have their own agendas and are, thus far, differing with what the Red Sox have offered.
As such, Boston needs to examine its options and should use the winter meetings as an opportunity to pull off a deal or two to retain the championship talent that thrust it to the 2013 crown.
In order to do this, we must assume certain things transpire—or that the Red Sox have secretly closed the door on some of their free agents.
Finding a Replacement for Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Early in the offseason, Boston's prospects for its 2014 catching situation did not seem all that precarious.
The team could have brought Saltalamacchia back on a short-term deal, with Heyman reporting that the catcher was looking for a three-year deal. Yet both parties remain apart in the discussion, and Saltalamacchia remains a free agent.
At the outset, the Red Sox could have pursued a highly touted catcher like Brian McCann or a veteran backstop like Carlos Ruiz. Now, McCann is with the Yankees and Ruiz has re-signed with the Phillies.
In short, the catching market is drying up quickly and Boston needs to act sooner rather than later.
The Red Sox have not been overanxious in ensuring Saltalamacchia returns which suggests that the team is not entirely adamant about signing him for 2014, per John Tomase of the Boston Herald.
If not Saltalamacchia, who else?
Tomase suggests that Boston could pursue the Reds' Ryan Hanigan via trade.
Hanigan made $2.15 million in 2013 while hitting an abysmal .198 in 75 games. Still, he owns a lifetime .262 batting average over seven seasons.
Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald states that Cincinnati is in a position to offload Hanigan and also writes that the 33-year-old backstop—and New England native—would be a perfect fit for the Red Sox. He states:
Speculation within the industry is that the Cincinnati Reds will trade Hanigan sooner than later, most likely next month. Hanigan, 33, fits the profile of what the Sox are seeking, a defense-oriented stopgap to play 90-100 games next season in a tandem with veteran backup David Ross while strong-armed, 23-year-old Christian Vazquez continues to mature at Triple A. Hanigan grew up in Andover and teamed with Ross for parts of two seasons in Cincinnati, where he has played an average of 88 games since 2009.
Lauber also notes that Boston has a well-stocked farm system in addition to a surplus of starting pitchers—commodities that could help execute such a trade.
In the meantime, general manager Ben Cherington and the Red Sox front office will eyeball the situation with Saltalamacchia until the time is right to execute such a deal.
That deal could happen soon.
Protect Big Papi
Another point mentioned by Tomase, this is as complex of an issue as it is vague.
There is no doubting the importance of David Ortiz in the lineup. The Red Sox saw that during the World Series. They also saw St. Louis—perhaps too late—intentionally walk the perennial slugger, forcing the remainder of Boston's lineup to do the damage.
It is safe to surmise that Ortiz needs protection in the lineup.
This problem would be answered if the Red Sox are able to retain both Ellsbury and Napoli. Ellsbury gets on base, as his 2013 .355 on-base percentage demonstrates. With Ellsbury aboard, walking Ortiz becomes precarious. Napoli and his 2013 .842 OPS would also provide the needed protection.
Ellsbury is seeking a lofty contract this offseason like Carl Crawford's seven-year, $142 million deal, per Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.
Cafardo states that the Red Sox would prefer to go no longer than five years on Ellsbury and the outcome of this deal is still in doubt.
Consider this scenario: Both Ellsbury and Napoli depart, which leaves Boston's 2014 lineup projections vacant around Ortiz.
Which options should the Red Sox pursue if that scenario comes to fruition?
Olney suggests through ESPN Insider (subscription required) that Boston could pursue someone like Michael Young or Mark Reynolds to fill the void. Young has reportedly shown interest in joining the Red Sox, so it will be interesting to see how that pans out.
The 37-year-old veteran hit .279 in 2013 with 46 RBI while earning $6 million in the final year of his five-year contract.
Cafardo also states that Boston has shown interest in trading for the Dodgers' Matt Kemp as a possible replacement for Ellsbury.
While that is an enticing possibility—given Kemp's phenomenal athletic prowess—the Red Sox would have to consider the fact that Kemp has missed extensive portions of the previous two seasons due to injury.
Los Angeles would also have to eat a good portion of his eight-year, $160 million contract for any deal to be made.
This deal is probably speculation at best, but the thought of a healthy Kemp in a Red Sox uniform would be exactly what Boston would want if Ortiz was to get the protection he needs.
Another plausible scenario is the addition of Carlos Beltran to the mix, which is a possibility according to NESN.
Whatever the case, the Red Sox need to consider other options to protect Ortiz in the lineup. They may still retain one, or both, of the aforementioned free agents critical to protecting Ortiz's offensive prowess. Boston may also explore other options on the market.
Whether these other potential options are splashy or under the radar, the importance cannot be understated.
Baseball's winter meetings do not often generate the trade buzz and action like other periods of a full season. Yet Boston has shown its ability and willingness to execute deals during the meetings.
Cherington and the Red Sox have put a formula of short-term, higher-paying contracts to the test—the results of which have proven successful.
Now, the challenges continue as Boston looks to retain its hold on baseball's greatest prize. There are a lot of questions to be answered. Some may be answered at the meetings. Others may be solved later.
Only time will tell.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.