It might be a likely assumption that the Boston Red Sox are set with the team they hope to carry into spring training in 2014.
The Red Sox have seen a number of changes from the roster that won them the World Series the year prior—the most notable being the losses of Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia via free agency.
As quoted from Chad Finn of Boston.com, "All of their essential offseason business is done, other than waiting for Stephen Drew to inform Scott Boras (or is it vice-versa?) where he will play baseball in 2014."
Yet general manager Ben Cherington seems poised to defend Boston's World Series crown with the current team on paper.
By letting players like Ellsbury go, Boston is putting its faith in the development of young prospects like Jackie Bradley Jr. at the big league level. The same could be said if Drew departs in regard to prospects like Xander Bogaerts.
Regardless of that faith in this current roster, the Red Sox still need to take some action before the commencement of spring training. While there is not necessarily much to do, it is imperative that Cherington approaches these situations with prudence so that the benefits can be reaped during the course of the forthcoming season.
Let us take a look at three things that need to happen in Boston.
Backing Out of the Stephen Drew Discussion
There was a time earlier this offseason when the Red Sox were still interested in retaining Drew's services.
Boston offered Drew a qualifying offer, and he subsequently turned it down. Since then, Cherington and the Red Sox have been open to Drew returning, albeit on the team's terms, per Peter Abraham of Boston.com.
Said Cherington via Abraham, "“We like Stephen and the job he did. Because of that we’ve kept the door open. We’re going to continue to listen and talk and see where it ends up."
Since the holidays, Cherington and Drew's agent Scott Boras have had zero contact with each other, per Ricky Doyle of NESN.
While the lack of action could be an indication that Boston is perfectly content with letting Drew sign elsewhere, it would be nice for Cherington to stand by his young players and reveal the final intention of this team regarding its future direction.
The primary beneficiaries? Bogaerts and third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
As far as Bogaerts is concerned, there are few reasons to assume he will not be an impact player in the very near future. His .298 batting average during Boston's postseason run is a good indication of what type of player he may become.
A similar argument can be made of Middlebrooks. While Middlebrooks' 2013 campaign was not particularly awe-inspiring—he batted only .227 with a .696 OPS—one cannot overlook the fact that he was once touted as a high-level prospect within the Red Sox's organization, especially through 2011 and 2012.
One year removed from his 2012 rookie season—where he hit .288 with a .835 OPS—it is safe to assume Middlebrooks possibly suffered from a "sophomore slump" and deserves at least one more season to prove his capability at the big league level.
If Drew is re-signed, that would likely force Bogaerts and Middlebrooks into a platoon role at third. Neither would benefit from this scenario, Bogaerts most significantly.
Both are deserving of a full-time role in 2013 and would benefit from the knowledge that their roles would include being everyday infielders.
Thus, Cherington would be best off wishing Drew the best and sticking to what the Red Sox already have moving forward.
Perhaps this is exactly the direction toward which Cherington is heading.
Stay Out of the Masahiro Tanaka Sweepstakes
There is a strong possibility that Japanese star righty Masahiro Tanaka will be the big deal in the majors.
Plenty of factors could inhibit Boston's legitimate pursuit of Tanaka outside of the $20 million posting fee it would cost to negotiate a contract.
Paul White of USA Today describes why the Red Sox would be interested in the first place:
The champions have to think about any major free agent. It would overload the already-crowded rotation but that only puts them in position to trade for other upgrades and guard against upcoming contract talks with the current staff. It's tough to beat the attraction of the World Series champs in an iconic ballpark with Japanese guys on the staff who are comfortable in the environment.
Herein lie some of the problems. First, as mentioned by White, Boston's rotation is already crowded—a total of six venerable starters under contract who will likely be on the roster by Opening Day.
While that does give the Red Sox some flexibility with their rotation, potentially to execute a trade, one has to wonder if this would thwart the chances of locking up contract extensions for starters like Jon Lester, whose contract expires after 2014.
It also could get in the way of some of Boston's young pitching prospects—further described by Finn here.
Tanaka will likely receive a long-term and lucrative contract, which goes against nearly everything that Cherington has done with the Red Sox in recent years—short-term, more-expensive contracts without long obligations to many players.
Lastly, Tanaka is still an unproven commodity at the big league level. Unlike minor league prospects who can be slowly worked into a big league role, Tanaka will likely be relied upon immediately rather than being worked into a rotation.
While the Red Sox have talked with Tanaka's agent, per Doyle, nothing more has transpired. This leads us to believe that Cherington is doing the proverbial "kicking of the tires" regarding Tanaka's future landing spot.
Even if Tanaka is the real deal, Boston already has a bona fide lineup with plenty of talent waiting in the folds.
Banking on that should be the Red Sox's priority here.
Finding an Insurance Policy for Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley's impact at the big league level will likely be the direct result of Boston losing Ellsbury to free agency.
There are two ways to look at this.
If Bradley prospers in his first full season with the Red Sox, any concern over his development will likely be an afterthought. If he struggles, however, Boston may be forced to deal with any ineptitude that transpires in 2014.
This is not to say Bradley will not amount to a major league talent. On the contrary—Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus has Bradley ranked as the No. 2 prospect within the Red Sox's organization.
Yet let us assume for a moment that Bradley emulates the type of hitter he was in a limited 2013 campaign—he had a .189 batting average and .617 OPS in 107 plate appearances.
As Bradley develops, are those numbers that the Red Sox want to count on from a starting center fielder?
Pending some outfield shuffling—which causes its own set of problems—the Red Sox could rely on in-house options like Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp to balance out the remainder of the outfield, complementing Shane Victorino.
A better option could be a short-term deal—something that the Red Sox are known for—for an already established center fielder that could provide an upgrade over Bradley in 2014.
Who this could be, or how Cherington could make it happen, is anyone's guess, but this option would at least give the Red Sox a chance to work in Bradley at a much more reasonable pace and not risk demolishing his confidence.
Plus, the added competition is always a noteworthy thing come spring training.
In all likelihood, the Red Sox appear all but set with their franchise heading into spring training.
There are things they should do, things they should not do and certain elements that could use some tweaking.
Yet at the end of the day, Boston is in a strong position to defend their World Series title. They boast a formidable rotation and bullpen and can rely upon steady defense. The Red Sox offense is also in good position moving forward.
At any rate, we shall see how these issues pan out over coming weeks and months. Spring training, after all, is only a short time away.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.
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