Shane Victorino Could Shift to Center Field If ‘Compelling Opportunity’ Arises and Other Red Sox Offseason Notes

John Farrell, Ben CheringtonThe streets of Boston are still soaked with champagne, and the hangover is probably still subsiding for many jacked-up Red Sox fans. There’s no rest for the weary, though, and those within the organization are already looking toward next season.

General manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell answered questions at Fenway Park on Monday pertaining to the offseason. The club’s exact offseason plans are, of course, still being formulated just days removed from Boston’s World Series victory, but the duo’s responses did offer some clarification on certain topics.

The Red Sox extended qualifying offers to Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew on Monday, with Cherington noting that he has an interest in re-signing all three of those free agents plus Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Cherington also said that it’s unlikely all will return for 2014 based on the nature of the business.

Most of the Red Sox’ championship-winning squad is expected to return next season, so this offseason might be a little less active than last winter, when Cherington and Co. were busy revamping a team that had just finished a 69-93 campaign. That doesn’t mean that some moves aren’t forthcoming, though.

Monday’s topics ranged from the team’s overall mindset going into the offseason to what the organization’s expectations are for certain players on the cusp of the majors. The following notes from Monday’s media availability should get you up to speed.

  • Depth. Depth. Depth.

The Red Sox’ depth was a huge asset in 2013. It was one area in which Boston constantly held an advantage over its opponent, and it allowed the Red Sox to play to guys’ strengths while also keeping everyone healthy and fresh. The Red Sox will look to maintain a similarly deep squad in 2014, with the understanding that it takes far more than just talented starters to succeed over the course of a 162-game grind.

“We’re just looking to be as strong as possible throughout the roster,” Ben Cherington said. “Just because we have a young player who we really believe in, doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be interested in adding to a particular area. Again, I think one of the hallmarks of this team in 2013 was that we had a deep roster. It helped us get through certain parts of the season. So we want to do whatever we can to continue that next season. We don’t know yet what opportunities are going to be out there for us, but we want to be as strong 1 through 25, 1 through 40 as we possibly can.”

  • The Red Sox’ current depth extends beyond the major league roster. There are a number of talented young players coming up through the organization who would certainly help lessen the blow of losing Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and/or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, even though Cherington would prefer to see some combination of his free agents return.

“The four position player free agents that played key roles, we’re going to continue to talk. All four of those spots have to be determined in some way,” Cherington said. “In a lot of those spots, we have, we think, very strong, viable alternatives in the organization, younger players. I think there’s probably a preference on our part not to commit to being young at all four of those spots, and maybe there’s a combination somewhere in there, so we’ll just have to see. But those four, the free agents and their respective positions, are things that we have to work on.”

  • If the Red Sox’ current rotation remains intact through the offseason and into spring training — which Cherington said is entirely possible — Boston will have at least six major league starters vying for five spots, with a number of other young hurlers on the cusp of becoming full-time big leaguers.

Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront are all under contract for 2014. The Red Sox also have the likes of Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster waiting in the wings, so barring anything crazy, there should be no shortage of arms come February.

“Relative to past years, we think it’s an area of strength and depth,” Cherington said of the Red Sox’ rotation. “We could certainly envision a scenario where everyone that’s currently under contract shows up in Fort Myers. In fact, at this point, that’s what I would expect. We’ll see what the offseason brings.”

  • Workman and Britton will be two young pitchers to really keep an eye on when camp opens up. Both were starters throughout their minor league careers before eventually joining Boston’s bullpen.

Workman, especially, played a pivotal in the Red Sox’ bullpen mix. He took the ball in high-leverage situations in October and thrived, finishing the postseason without surrendering an earned run in 8 2/3 innings.

John Farrell was noncommittal Monday when asked about the future roles of his young pitchers.

“Both [Workman and Britton] showed they can pitch at this level in meaningful spots. Brandon is a little bit unique in his situation because he did both for us [starter and reliever], and I think if we were to poll 10 people within the organization, there might be a split camp on which role he’s best served at,” Farrell said. “But the fact is he had success at both. So as we look at improving the pitching staff that also includes the six starters that Ben already mentioned, you could see him occupying a spot in the bullpen. In the event of unforeseen injury, there’s a guy that I’m personally very comfortable with him stepping right into the rotation.

“For two guys who started the year at Double-A and came to us and filled very defined roles — and not to limit the conversation to those two guys — but I think that’s what makes us feel very good about the overall health of the organization going forward.”

  • Doubront will present another interesting case going into next season.

Doubront was one of the Red Sox’ most reliable starters for a 15-start stretch in 2013, but he book-ended his rollercoaster regular season with a shaky start and a less-than-impressive finish. The 26-year-old came out of nowhere to provided meaningful innings in relief during the World Series, though, so one has to wonder if he’ll be considered for a bullpen role in 2014.

Surely, Doubront is more valuable as a consistent back-end starter. But given that he wasn’t in the best shape last spring training and once again broke down toward the end of the regular season, it’s not far-fetched to think that he could settle into a bullpen role if the current core of starters remains in place.

  • Cherington expects to add to the Red Sox’ current crop of relievers. He’s just not sure how at this point.

“We have a number of guys returning to the bullpen and the makings of a good bullpen, but we’ll probably look to add to that some group somehow,” Cherington said. “Again, not sure how or what sort of roles or flavors, but we’ll try to add to that group. And then really just be opportunistic, be prepared for opportunities that come our way or seek opportunities if we can find ways to give us a better chance or improve in an area. Even if it’s not obvious, we want to be prepared to do that.”

  • So who’s going to be catching these pitchers on a full-time basis if Saltalamacchia doesn’t return next season?

Don’t expect the Red Sox to hand the keys to a 37-year-old career backup with a concussion history who hit .216 during the regular season. David Ross is just fine in his current role.

“I think going back to this time last year or when we signed David, it was a thought that he was a 60 to 70 games caught type of player,” Farrell said. “That’s not to put a ceiling on him, either. But I think we’re probably comfortable in that it’s a tandem position. I think that’s how we’ve viewed the catching position here for a number of years, and David from a physical standpoint would clearly be able to handle his side of the tandem.”

  • And what if Ellsbury doesn’t return? Who will man center field?

Well, Jackie Bradley Jr. is an obvious possibility. The other idea involves shifting Shane Victorino to center field — where he has spent the majority of his career — and acquiring another corner outfielder.

“It’s certainly one possibility, and as we look at alternatives in the outfield, we have to be open-minded and that will be one possibility,” Cherington said. “I think I speak for John that we both recognize just how good [Victorino] was in right field this year and how valuable his defense was in right field, so I guess we’d have to be compelled. To move him, it would have to be a pretty compelling opportunity, but you can’t rule it out. He’s capable of doing it.”

  • Jonny Gomes wants to be an everyday player. He might not get an opportunity in 2014, though, despite showing vast improvement against right-handed pitching.

“I think the one that we can look back on this year is we probably allowed guys to have success by taking advantage of their strengths. I know you can make the argument that he performed better against righties this year than in years past, but when you look at the combination of what he and Daniel Nava did in left field. … I think that combination was extremely productive,” Farrell said. “Depending on what the entire roster looks like when we get to spring training, that will have a lot to do with the workload of every guy on this team. The one thing that we are sure of is that Jonny Gomes did exactly what we had hoped for him to do when he came here.”

Gomes hit .258 (39-for-151) with five home runs and 25 RBIs against right-handed pitchers this season, and .236 (38-for-161) with eight home runs and 27 RBIs against left-handed pitchers.

Entering 2013, Gomes had a .223 average, .307 on-base percentage, .425 slugging percentage and .732 OPS in 1,960 career plate appearances versus righties, and a .284 average, .382 on-base percentage, .512 slugging percentage and .894 OPS in 1,100 plate appearances against lefties.

So, yes, there was a drastic improvement on Gomes’ part when it came to facing right-handers.

  • The Red Sox’ infield, meanwhile, might have a logjam if Drew opts to re-sign. Xander Bogaerts showed that he’s ready for the big stage, and the Red Sox still have high hopes for Will Middlebrooks.

One idea that’s been tossed around frequently is shifting Middlebrooks to first base if Napoli doesn’t re-sign. Cherington said that the Red Sox are not yet considering such a move.

  • Dustin Pedroia is expected to undergo thumb surgery this offseason, likely in the next couple of weeks. Nothing has been finalized, though.
  • The Red Sox are in an excellent position to contend for a World Series again in 2014. But don’t call it a perfect position.

“I think we can [be daring this offseason]. I think we’ve got to take each opportunity as it comes,” Cherington said. “We’re in a good, strong position, not a perfect position. No team’s in a perfect position in the beginning of November. Every team has challenges. We have challenges and work to do this offseason to put together the strongest roster we can going into spring training.”

  • It’s easy to say that the Red Sox should do whatever they can to field the same exact team in 2014. After all, this team just hosted a parade.

But that’s not exactly a fool-proof approach, and Cherington is focused more on maintaining a similar philosophy this offseason than on ensuring that every single piece is the exact same next season.

“I remember at the time [in 2004] one of the things that was discussed and that [former Red Sox GM] Theo [Epstein] felt strongly about was if you just try to replicate exactly what you have this year, it’s probably not going to work to quite the same extent,” Cherington said. “Whether we as a group handled all of those transitions as well as we could have or not, I don’t know, but I think we have to go into this offseason with the same general mindset and sort of the same general philosophy to build as deep a roster as we possibly can, to be as balanced as we possibly can. But if we try just to simply replicate what happened this year, I don’t know if that’s possible.

“I think the general philosophy will still lead us toward a lot of the same things we were looking for last year, but exactly how it plays out, we’ll just have to see. Again, the players that are free agents, we have interest in coming back. But we’ve got to keep a dialogue going with them and we’ve got to be prepared to pursue other alternatives, too.”

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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