- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox have been relatively quiet this offseason, but general manager Ben Cherington completed a handful of transactions the last few days that fill some voids in the lineup and saves the club money at the same time.
So far the Red Sox have acquired no major names, and the cost for those they have acquired has been relatively inexpensive.
Designated hitter David Ortiz will return for at least 2012 after he accepted arbitration, but the sides continue to talk about a two-year deal. If an arbitrator is needed to determine Ortiz's salary for this season, he will receive a raise from the $12.5 million he earned last year.
On Wednesday, Cherington acquired reliever Mark Melancon from the Houston Astros in exchange for infielder Jed Lowrie and pitching prospect Kyle Weiland. Boston also signed veteran free-agent infielder Nick Punto to a two-year deal worth $3 million.
Punto, 34, adds a veteran presence off the bench and essentially replaces Lowrie as the utility infielder. Punto is solid defensively and will improve the left side of the infield. Plus, he's a character guy and will add leadership to the clubhouse.
In an attempt to shore up the club's bullpen needs, Cherington made the trade for Melancon.
The 26-year-old right-hander recorded 20 saves in 25 opportunities with a 2.78 ERA in 71 relief appearances for the Astros in 2011. He struck out 66 batters and walked only 26 (six intentionally) in 74 1/3 innings, holding opponents to a .234 average.
In 106 career games, Melancon is 10-5 with a 3.21 ERA. He was originally selected by the Yankees in the ninth round of the 2006 draft and appeared in 15 games with New York before he was traded to Houston at the trading deadline in 2010.
"He has a plus fastball and curveball and is a guy who gets a ton of ground balls," a top National League evaluator said. "He can pitch in the late-inning role. The stuff says he can [pitch in Boston]."
The Red Sox get a strong, young pitcher who is under the team's control for the next four years, while surrendering a broken-down infielder and a deer-in-the-headlights pitching prospect.
In the past year, many teams have shown interest in Weiland and believe he will develop into a fully serviceable big league starter at some point. Maybe a move to the National League will help him hone those skills, although the Astros will move to the AL in 2013. In seven appearances (five starts) with the Red Sox, he was 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA, allowing 29 hits (five home runs) and 12 walks in 24 2/3 innings.
Lowrie simply hasn't been able to stay healthy for a variety of reasons, including a lingering wrist issue. He had career highs of 88 games and 309 at-bats in 2011. His range at shortstop, his primary position, is limited and he's a career .252 hitter.
The Red Sox definitely made out in this deal.
Melancon is a solid late-inning guy with a ton of upside no matter what role Cherington and manager Bobby Valentine decide is best for the club.
The deal may not wow the masses of Red Sox Nation, but it's a strong step in improving the bullpen.
But there's still plenty of work ahead for Cherington & Co.
But the big need is more pitching.
Boston, along with pretty much every other potential contender, is interested in the services of Oakland Athletics lefty Gio Gonzalez. No doubt he would fit nicely in the Sox's starting rotation, but if Cherington can't pull off a trade for Gonzalez, the Sox could make a play for Chicago White Sox left-hander John Danks.
Danks is arbitration eligible and will become a free agent in 2013, so the 26-year-old would be motivated to perform in 2012. He won 12 or more games in three consecutive seasons from 2008 to 2010, but dipped last season with an 8-12 record and a 4.33 ERA in 27 starts. He earned $6 million in 2011.
The Red Sox's offseason resembles a department store's January basement sale, but that's been the blueprint for Cherington so far. He knew the organization wouldn't be a major player in the free-agent market because of the money it spent recently on big-name players Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.