A working holiday for Sox?
Cherington likely spending Thanksgiving week cooking up potential roster moves
BOSTON -- It has been seven years since Larry Lucchino, the de facto Red Sox GM with Theo Epstein on hiatus, interrupted his Thanksgiving dinner to engineer the trade with Florida for pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell, a transaction that was rewarded with a World Series title in 2007.
At the top of Lucchino's list for people he was thankful for that year were the late Bill Lajoie, the great old baseball man who collaborated with junior partner Craig Shipley to lay the groundwork for that deal.
Epstein two years earlier, in 2003, had established the template for Thanksgiving as a working holiday when he and assistant Jed Hoyer sat down at Shonda Schilling's dinner table in order to persuade her husband to give his blessing to a trade to the Red Sox, a transaction the pitcher memorably discussed that night with the Sons of Sam Horn chat board -- but not before, according to a couple of sources, placing a clandestine phone call to Yankees GM Brian Cashman.
Schilling's acquisition, of course, presaged Boston's first World Series title in 86 years, and, years later, a whole lot of hurt for the state of Rhode Island.
Since then, the last days of November have remained a time of relative inactivity for the Sox. On this day in 2007, they re-signed Lowell to a three-year contract extension, a deal that was wildly popular with the team's fan base but delivered limited returns because of Lowell's disintegrating hip.
And a year to the day later, in 2008, the Sox traded outfielder Coco Crisp, deemed expendable because of the emergence of Jacoby Ellsbury, to Kansas City for reliever Ramon Ramirez. The Sox flipped Ramirez in midseason 2010 to the Giants, where he won a World Series; Crisp would sign as a free agent with Oakland, where he went to the playoffs this fall and has stolen 120 bases in three seasons. Crisp's success rate of 88.2 percent, by the way, is the highest in baseball for any player averaging at least 20 stolen bases for the last three seasons.
The Crisp deal was the last of note executed by the Sox at this time of year, which customarily is used for filling out big-league coaching staffs and minor-league field staffs, and last year was occupied with the vetting of Bobby Valentine as manager, a process that lost something in translation between a celebratory introductory press conference and an unceremonious firing 11 months later.
GM Ben Cherington and Sox manager John Farrell are focused this week on filling out Farrell's coaching staff, with interviews scheduled with candidates for hitting coach, while laying the groundwork for what almost certainly will be an intense period of activity, starting with baseball's winter meetings in Nashville Dec. 3-6.
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Before that, however, Cherington will be faced with another round of decisions: Midnight, Nov. 30, is the deadline to tender rostered players a contract. Several players are potential nontenders, including outfielder Ryan Sweeney, who made a negligible impact after coming in the Josh Reddick/Andrew Bailey deal from Oakland, and relievers Scott Atchison and Rich Hill, both of whom have elbow issues that raise red flags. A possible scenario is that the Sox nontender both, then invite both to spring training on make-good contracts.
Also mentioned as a possible nontender candidate is pitcher Alfredo Aceves, who figures to at least double his salary in arbitration from $1.2 million despite a season awash in controversy, including a suspension resulting from a clubhouse confrontation with Valentine, who sparingly used the reliever in meaningful situations thereafter.
But the question the Red Sox need to address is this: Is Aceves a serial troublemaker, or did his problems begin and end with Valentine?
There have been reports that Aceves was a handful with his previous team, the Yankees, but that characterization was disputed by a Yankees executive who maintains that the only reason the club nontendered Aceves was because the team's medical staff recommended against keeping him because of back issues. The Yankees' enthusiasm to re-sign him after the 2010 season was further dampened that winter when he fractured his collarbone in a bicycle accident.
Public comments by new manager Farrell suggest that Aceves' skill set, highlighted by versatility that includes an ability to start, close and pitch daily out of the bullpen, is regarded as an asset worth keeping.
"I would like to get a little more understanding of the history over the last two years,'' Farrell said last month after his hiring. "I can tell you from across the field this is a very, very good pitcher. He's got some abilities about him, particularly resilience and how often he can pitch and to the extent he can pitch. Those are the things you just don't find."
Aceves also would seem to be a potential trade chip, which also argues against nontendering him.
David Ortiz, for one, hopes the Sox hold onto Aceves.
"Alfredo is a good guy," Ortiz said in an interview at the end of the season. "He has his issues, which I think they should sit down and talk to him about this offseason.
"Not everybody is the same. Everybody is different. That's why it's so hard to have a really good team all the way around because you've got 25 different minds, 25 different personalities, and not all of them are going to be lined up in the same way," said Ortiz.
"Aceves is a guy who is very emotional, he reacts in the moment, [that's] the way he is," Ortiz added. "But that's something that at some point you can control and just sit down and talk to him, let him know. He's one of the guys who works hard here, he's got the best stuff, and you got to take advantage of that. You have to sit down with him and say, 'I'm your boss, this is what you're going to do for me.' And I guarantee you, he'll do that.''
Does Aceves want to come back? This was his answer on the last day of the season. "Why not?"