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Red Sox saving bullets for another deal?

12/23/2011

Just before the Washington Nationals' trade for Gio Gonzalez was consummated, a Red Sox source told ESPNBoston.com he would be surprised if Ben Cherington ultimately pulled the trigger on a deal for Gonzalez. The source didn't think the GM would be willing to give up the organization's top prospects, which is what it would have taken to land the prized lefty.

The Nats parted with four promising youngsters in right-hander Brad Peacock, catcher Derek Norris, left-hander Tommy Milone and right-hander A.J. Cole in exchange for the 26-year-old Gonzalez -- who had been Boston's top target, multiple Sox sources had told ESPNBoston.com on Thursday.

In fact, ESPN MLB Insider Jim Bowden says the Red Sox came on very strong at the end on Gonzalez. Boston's offer was more position-player heavy and ultimately fell short of what Washington was offering.

Gonzalez, who went 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA in 2011, is in his first year of arbitration eligibility and is expected to command a salary in the $4 million range for 2012. That makes Gonzalez a terrific bargain, in addition to the type of the arm that the Red Sox felt, according to a source, would have given them one of the top rotations in the American League, top to bottom: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Gonzalez and Daniel Bard, who is being converted from reliever.

But that Christmas wish won't be coming true this December. And so it seems the Red Sox are saving their bullets -- including their top prospect, third baseman Will Middlebrooks -- for the time being, although they remain very much interested in bolstering their pitching staff.

"We're actively engaged in trying to acquire pitching of all shapes and sizes," one source said. "We expect that to continue into January."

As for fallback plans, the Sox are still engaged with the Chicago White Sox in talks for Gavin Floyd, who is signed for $7 million next season (team option of $9.5 million in 2013), according to a team source. They also are in on free agent Roy Oswalt, whose agent this week signaled his willingness to take a one-year deal.

With infield prospect Xander Bogaerts in the pipeline -- he played short at Class A Greenville but could move to third -- the Sox probably believe they could absorb the potential loss of Middlebrooks, who is coming off a terrific season and is unlikely to have more value than he has now.

One player who is not going anywhere is catcher Ryan Lavarnway, even though the Sox's signing of Kelly Shoppach means Lavarnway will likely spend another season in Triple-A. The Red Sox see Lavarnway as a key piece in 2013, as a backup catcher and right-handed DH.

The thinking at this stage is the Red Sox will acquire at least two pitchers, perhaps more. While closer Ryan Madson would be an attractive fit, the price remains higher than what the Sox are willing to pay, and the team has only limited interest in the next-best free-agent option, Francisco Cordero, according to the source. As has been reported, they have inquired on a number of trade options for a closer, including Oakland's Andrew Bailey, the Seattle Mariners' Brandon League, and the Kansas City Royals' Joakim Soria.

But one option that is being discussed internally is looking at holdover Alfredo Aceves as a potential closer. For now, the plan is for Aceves to come to camp as a starter, but that could change depending upon the caliber of starter the Sox are able to acquire.

At this stage, as one team source said, "anything that would cost a lot of money is a bad option." That would increase the chances of the Sox being outbid for free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran. Whether they try to add a complementary outfielder like Cody Ross could depend on whether the Sox can induce David Ortiz to sign a two-year deal for a smaller average annual value than the $14-15 million they would have to pay him in arbitration.

The Red Sox have interest in Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, but may have even more in another Cuban outfielder, 19-year-old Jorge Soler, who also has a very high ceiling, the difference being Cespedes may be major league ready and Soler will need several years.