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Ben Cherington gets ready to dig in

MILWAUKEE -- The general managers meetings are mostly about talk. Two years ago, for example, agent Steve Hilliard approached Theo Epstein in Chicago and surprised the then-Boston Red Sox GM with the announcement that his client had great interest in pitching for the Sox.
Thus began the process that culminated about a month later with John Lackey signing a five-year, $82.5 million deal with Boston. Talk, clearly, is not always cheap. Nor fruitful.

New Red Sox GM Ben Cherington arrived in Milwaukee on Monday night for his first GMs meetings as an equal among peers, rather than as an assistant as he has been in the past, with an agenda more crowded than most.

He will be presenting Dale Sveum, who appears to be his No. 1 choice to manage the Red Sox, to the ownership group of John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino. Sveum is scheduled to arrive Tuesday. The owners will be here Wednesday for MLB ownership meetings.

Cherington is also scheduled to huddle with his former boss and good friend, Epstein, in an effort to reach some agreement on what compensation the Chicago Cubs owe the Red Sox for spiriting Epstein to become their president of baseball operations.

They do so on the home turf of commissioner Bud Selig, who has promised to settle the dispute if the sides can't come to terms. Selig has extended his soft deadline of Nov. 1, in part because both the Red Sox and Cubs are conducting managerial searches; Selig, for his part, has been preoccupied in wrapping up a new collective bargaining agreement, which is a bit more important than which Cubs minor leaguers may be coming to Boston.

Cherington has yet to announce changes he has made to his staff, in part because the compensation deal could involve the departure of one more front-office type to Chicago. Trainer Mike Reinold has been mentioned as a possibility; valued talent evaluator Dave Finley is another, although there is little question Cherington would like to retain his services.

On Monday, Epstein told reporters here that he conducted a telephone interview with Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale for the Cubs' managerial job. Epstein had interviewed Hale for the Sox managerial job before hiring Terry Francona for the 2004 season, but Cherington elected not to extend the same consideration to Hale, despite his broad experience both as a minor league manager and big league coach.

And for the next two days, Cherington also will begin to narrow his search for the additions he intends to make to the Red Sox for the 2012 season, exploring both the trade market and free agency for three primary needs:

• A closer to replace Jonathan Papelbon, and additional bullpen depth.

• Starting pitching to fill out the back end of the Sox rotation behind Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

• Outfield help, most likely a right-handed bat to complement either Josh Reddick or Ryan Kalish in right field.

Cherington has already indicated that the Sox have some internal solutions to their needs, with Alfredo Aceves told to come to camp in February prepared to start, while Daniel Bard will either be given a chance to seize Papelbon's closer job or transition to the rotation.

With the money the Sox elected not to spend on Papelbon, they could target a couple of free agents, such as Ryan Madson of the Phillies and Heath Bell of the Padres, or take their chances on guys who have had injury issues in recent years, such as Joe Nathan of the Twins or Brad Lidge of the Phillies. Cherington also will see what might be available in trade: Will Kansas City's Dayton Moore, for example, finally part with Joakim Soria, or will Brandon League, who saved 32 games for the Mariners, be on the market?

The paucity of quality starting pitchers available in free agency may dissuade the Sox from going after the likes of Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson or Hiroki Kuroda, especially when Cherington said the Sox are hopeful of duplicating the success they had with Aceves, who was nontendered by the New York Yankees and came at a cut rate. Affordable pitchers such as Chris Capuano (Mets) or Bruce Chen (Royals) are the types likely to find their way onto the Sox's radar.

The Sox have been mentioned as having interest in free agent outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Grady Sizemore, but it may be more likely that Cherington will explore cheaper alternatives, such as right-handed hitting outfielders who are arbitration eligible and whose current teams may be unwilling or unable to absorb an increase in their salaries. For one, the Red Sox have had interest in White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin in the past.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.