BOSTON -- If you're looking for a reasonable deadline for the Boston Red Sox to conclude their managerial search, you could do worse than Election Day, which this year falls on Nov. 6.
There's no political advantage to be gained by doing so by then, but the day after the election, Major League Baseball's general managers will assemble in Indian Wells, Calif., for their annual meetings. By the end of last year's GM meetings in Milwaukee, there was only one big league team that did not have its manager in place: the Red Sox.
Bobby Valentine was hired two weeks later, which meant he was not party to the offseason planning sessions that took place before the GM meetings, when the Red Sox made decisions that had major repercussions for the 2012 season. Long before Valentine came on board, for example, the decision had been made to convert Daniel Bard to a starter, something Valentine privately made clear he would have resisted had he been part of the decision-making process.
GM Ben Cherington was handicapped last season by the fact that he had only been promoted to replace Theo Epstein less than 2½ weeks before the meetings. He actually took his No. 1 candidate, Dale Sveum, with him to Milwaukee to present to Sox owners, who were in town for their own meetings. Lunch did not go as planned, however -- bad sauerkraut? -- the owners did not rubber-stamp Sveum, and the next day he signed with the Chicago Cubs.
Time is on Cherington's side this fall. No playoffs to contend with -- for the third straight season -- and on Friday, the Sox are scheduled to conduct their first interview with a managerial candidate, Tim Wallach, a five-time All-Star third baseman and current third-base coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That interview will be followed early next week with a visit from Brad Ausmus, a New Englander (born in New Haven, Conn. and grew up in Cheshire), three-time Gold Glove catcher and an 18-year big league veteran currently serving as a special assistant with the San Diego Padres.
Wallach, 55, has previous managing experience on the Triple-A level; he was honored as the Pacific Coast League's manager of the year in 2010, in the first year of a two-year stint that ended with his promotion to the Dodgers as third-base coach. He previously had been on the big league staff as hitting coach.
Ausmus, 43, has not managed previously, but has long been identified as having the right skill set, much like fellow catcher Jason Varitek.
Hovering over these initial interviews -- and the Sox are almost certainly lining up others that have not yet been made public -- is the question of whether the Sox will be granted permission to interview Blue Jays manager John Farrell. As of Thursday, according to a baseball source, Farrell had not heard anything regarding a possible interview with the Sox, and as yet there is no indication that the Blue Jays intend to relax the policy they instituted last year of not allowing their employees to interview unless it's for a promotion.
Publicly, neither the Red Sox nor Blue Jays have acknowledged initiating those discussions, but it's worth noting that last week Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino called Paul Beeston, his counterpart in Toronto, "one of my best friends in baseball." Lucchino was scheduled to return Friday from a brief vacation in Europe, and it is safe to assume that just as he and principal owner John W. Henry played a substantial role in last August's megadeal with the Dodgers, negotiating directly with CEO Stan Kasten, Lucchino will be hands-on in dealings with the Blue Jays.
But the Red Sox are not allowing Farrell's status to hold their search hostage, especially given the possibility that even if the Jays grant permission, the sides might not come to an agreement on compensation.
So there will be more interviews. Blue Jays first-base coach Torey Lovullo, another potential candidate for the job left vacant when Valentine was fired last week, has not heard from the Red Sox, according to a league source. Nor has Chicago White Sox third-base coach Joe McEwing, who talked with the Sox about the vacancy last offseason. There are potential candidates currently working for playoff teams, which would essentially place them off-limits until their teams are eliminated.
In the meantime, Cherington will be proceeding on other fronts. He already has added a key new talent evaluator in Eddie Bane, and said he is looking to make at least one more scouting hire. He has signaled his intention to re-sign soon-to-be free agents David Ortiz and Cody Ross, and extensive discussions are ongoing about the course the Sox will take in what they have called a "reset" of the roster in the wake of shedding $262 million in salary in the Dodgers deal.
What is the likelihood of the Sox re-signing either Ortiz or Ross before they test free agency? Generally, when players are this close to testing the market, they do. But there are exceptions. Last Oct. 31, CC Sabathia elected not to opt out of his contract, instead signing an extension with the New York Yankees that added $30 million and one year to his existing deal, taking it through the 2016 season.
Both Ortiz and Ross have expressed their preference to remain here. But what is the timeline if they decide to become free agents?
File for free agency: They can begin to do so immediately after the end of the World Series.
Sign with another club: They can begin to do so six days after the end of the World Series.
Accept a qualifying offer from their current team: The deadline to do so is the 12th day after the end of the World Series.
The new collective bargaining agreement has drastically altered the landscape for free agents. The old system of identifying free agents as Type A and Type B free agents, with draft-pick compensation determined by what type they are, has been done away with.
In its place, teams now may make a qualifying offer to their free agents, based on the average salary of the top 125 players in MLB. That average is expected to be a tick over $13 million this year. If a player accepts the qualifying offer, he becomes a signed player. If he declines the qualifying offer and signs with another team, that team forfeits its No. 1 draft choice. But that pick will no longer go to the team losing the free agent; the signing team simply loses its pick. If the Sox make a qualifying offer to Ortiz and he denies it, the Sox will receive a first-round sandwich pick as compensation. A year ago, as a Type A free agent, the Sox would have gained two first-round picks -- one from the team that signed him, and a first-round sandwich pick.
The Sox could still sign a player who rejects a qualifying offer, but if they do so, they would forfeit a top pick. They won't lose a first-round pick, because the first-round picks of the first 10 teams drafting (based on reverse order of finish) are protected. The Sox will be picking seventh in 2013, their highest first-round pick since 1993.
The Red Sox have six players eligible for free agency this season: James Loney, Ortiz, Ross, Aaron Cook, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Vicente Padilla. Ortiz and Ross are the only players on that list expected to return. Ortiz is likely to be the only player given a qualifying offer, if it reaches that stage.
Last year, one of the first free agents to sign with another club was Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who signed with the Phillies on Nov. 14, barely two weeks after declaring free agency. The vast majority wait, usually until the winter meetings and beyond.
The trading season usually dovetails with the winter meetings as well, though there are exceptions. Early last November, for example, the Giants acquired outfielder Melky Cabrera from the Royals for two players; until he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, Cabrera was the linchpin to the Giants' offense.
The groundwork for trades often is laid at the GM meetings; the winter meetings this year begin Dec. 3 in Nashville. There is one other significant deadline just before the winter meetings: Teams must tender contracts to the players on their big league roster by Nov. 30. Players not tendered a contract by that date become free agents.
Last year, 29 players were nontendered. One was Pedro Ciriaco, who was nontendered by the Pirates and on the recommendation of Sox pro scouting director Jared Porter was signed by the Red Sox.