Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 11/1/13
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington will take his victory lap this offseason, building a seemingly improbable World Series champion one year after finishing last in the AL East and overhauling his roster through trades and less expensive free agent signings. With most of the team set to return in 2014, Boston should be viewed as a favorite to repeat as champions. But a couple of key pieces could leave the team as free agents, creating openings Cherington has to fill. However, potential replacements also present the Red Sox with an opportunity to add impact players that could actually make the team even better next season, if they choose to spend big in free agency.  Needs How far will Cherington go to keep his championship club together? Bringing the same team back the following season didn't work so well for Giants GM Brian Sabean this year. But there's enough flexibility on the roster that the Red Sox could try to re-sign most everyone or the team could upgrade at certain positions. The priority will likely be re-signing Mike Napoli. He originally agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with Boston, but concerns over a hip condition resulted in a one-year, $5 million contract (that incentives could increase to $13 million). Napoli's performance in the regular season and postseason will surely compel the Red Sox to bring him back. But he will surely draw interest elsewhere with the market for first baseman being thin.  Boston would probably like to bring back Jacoby Ellsbury as well. But he and agent Scott Boras will look for a mega-deal in free agency, and since he's arguably the top position player available, he just might get it. The Red Sox have players to replace Ellsbury anyway, whether it's by moving Shane Victorino to center field or starting top prospect Jackie Bradley at that position.  Catcher will also be a position to address if Jarrod Saltalamacchia departs via free agency and the Red Sox feel Ryan Lavarnway isn't ready to be the starter next season. Could Boston start David Ross with Lavarnaway as the backup? It's possible, but not likely as Ross hasn't caught 60 games since 2007. The Red Sox might consider looking for a starting pitcher, with concerns about Clay Buchholz being able to pitch through a full season. But Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster are under contract for 2014, while Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales should also be in the mix. Pitching prospects Allen Webster and Matt Barnes could join the rotation at some point next season as well.  Possible Options Boston could make a big splash and arguably upgrade at catcher by pursuing free agent Brian McCann. McCann's left-handed bat would play well at Fenway Park and he'd fit nicely in the Red Sox batting order behind Napoli (if he returns). However, Cherington might not want to invest big money in McCann with cheaper options available.  A more likely scenario is the Red Sox signing a top setup reliever to join Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa at the back end of the bullpen. Either Jesse Crain, Joe Smith or Matt Albers could be a nice fit for that role.  With the starting pitching depth that the Red Sox have, an intriguing possibility could be taking a chance on someone coming back from injury like Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson or Colby Lewis. If either of those veterans stayed healthy and could contribute, that would obviously make next year's rotation stronger. That could also give Cherington an opportunity to trade some pitching to fill other holes on the roster later in the season.  The Red Sox may also be one of the teams that compete for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. This might help Boston in the longer term, as Tanaka could conceivably take one of the top spots in the rotation after Lackey, Dempster and Peavy likely move on.  Trade Options What kind of future does Will Middlebrooks have in Boston? Right now, he looks like the favorite to be the starting third baseman with Xander Bogaerts taking over at shortstop. But if the Red Sox decide they prefer Stephen Drew's defense, they could try to re-sign him, move Bogaerts to third and see what Middlebrooks could yield in a trade.  As mentioned above, Boston's pitching depth should give them some pieces to move, if necessary. Morales is probably expendable with Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller on the roster, and could be a nice fit for someone in need of a left-handed starter or reliever.  Another reliever that could be a big trade piece is Andrew Bailey. With Uehara's late season and playoff success, Bailey's days as the closer are over. (They were probably over before that, as Joel Hanrahan had beaten out Bailey for the closer job early this season.) Bailey has one season of arbitration eligbility remaining, but his injury history could make it difficult for Boston to get much in return for him.  Trade Targets With a stocked roster and virtually every position in the lineup spoken for, it doesn't seem likely that the Red Sox will make a big trade to acquire a starting-caliber player. Perhaps that's how Cherington will ultimately decide to fill in the potential hole at catcher, looking at Chris Iannetta or Hank Conger from the Angels, or even the Nationals' Wilson Ramos. Boston could also check in on the Nats' Drew Storen as a possible setup reliever or maybe even Adam LaRoche, if Napoli signs elsewhere. [follow]

This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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