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BOSTON -- Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington left Tuesday for Palm Springs and the general managers' meetings, where the groundwork often is laid for trades and free-agent signings.
Cherington has his own list of prospective acquisitions, but here is our list of five players we'd like to see the Red Sox target in potential trades. We passed on guys such as Seattle's Felix Hernandez, since he and GM Jack Zduriencik are joined at the hip, and Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, whose owner is on record saying Upton isn't going anywhere.
Our choices have at least some degree of feasibility that their teams would listen to offers. We'll let Cherington figure out the details.
1. Alex Gordon, Royals, LF
Here's what we like about Gordon compared to some of the stopgap measures Cherington could pursue in free agency (Torii Hunter, Melky Cabrera):
The left-handed-hitting Gordon is young (he turns 29 in February), he is affordable (he has three years remaining on a contract that pays him an average of $10.5 million per season, with a $12.5 million option in 2016), he's an excellent defender and he has had back-to-back seasons of above-average production, including a league-leading 51 doubles in 2012. He projects to be an even better hitter in a good lineup.
The Royals need pitching, so any deal would cost the Sox at least one good young arm, which they're loathe to move, but Gordon could fill a need for the foreseeable future instead of just one season.
2. Michael Morse, Nationals, 1B/LF
Morse, who turns 31 next March, is only a season removed from hitting 31 home runs for the Nats. He missed 50 games with a shoulder injury at the start of the 2012 season, so his power numbers were down, but the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder would give the Red Sox a potentially potent right-handed bat in the middle of the lineup. He's signed for a modest $6.75 million for 2013, then is eligible for free agency, so it shouldn't take a great deal to get him, especially if Nats GM Mike Rizzo re-signs Adam LaRoche and acquires a center fielder, moving Bryce Harper to left and leaving Morse as odd man out.
3. Derek Holland, Rangers, LHP
The Rangers have told reliever Alexi Ogando he's coming to camp as a starter, and with Texas potentially in the running for free agent Zack Greinke, they might be coaxed into moving Holland. The left-hander just turned 26, and while he didn't come close to duplicating his 16-5 record (including four shutouts) and 3.95 ERA from 2011, he gave the Rangers 27 starts and maintained his strikeouts per nine innings (7.4) and walks per nine innings (2.7) numbers. He's also locked up for just $26 million over the next four years. He'd offer excellent back-of-the-rotation depth.
4. Josh Johnson, Marlins, RHP
Johnson's history of shoulder and elbow problems give you pause, but after missing 122 games in 2011 with a bad shoulder, Johnson made 31 starts last season for the Marlins. While he was not the dominant pitcher he was in 2010, when he was one of the elite right-handers in the game, Johnson made 22 quality starts and could benefit from a change of scenery. He is owed $13.75 million in 2013, but then becomes a free agent. With the Marlins likely in rebuilding mode again, it would appear he could be had for a reasonable return.
5. Cliff Lee, Phillies, LHP
OK, this one could be a reach. With Roy Halladay a question mark going forward, the Phillies would seem disinclined to part with Lee, whose won-loss record (6-9) was deceptive in 2012 because all of his other numbers were terrific, including a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 7.39 that was the best in the league.
Lee is 34 and owed $25 million in each of the next three seasons, which would seem to be exactly the kind of contract the Red Sox don't want to be inheriting. But it's of short duration, which makes it more palatable, and John Farrell would suddenly have one of the more formidable rotations in the league if he could add Lee to Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and John Lackey.
How do the Sox make this deal happen? The Phillies need a center fielder, and while Jacoby Ellsbury is just a year away from free agency, if Phillies GM Ruben Amaro decides to kick into win-now mode, maybe he would consider a package of Ellsbury and a couple of Grade B prospects, then turn around and use the money saved on Lee to sign a Zack Greinke.
A long shot? Absolutely. Worth asking about? That's what the hot stove is for, isn't it?