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Cherington sees Melancon as possible closer

Cherington sees Melancon as possible closer

Cherington sees Melancon as possible closer
BOSTON -- As bitterly as the 2011 season ended for the Red Sox, general manager Ben Cherington refuses to make knee-jerk reactions in response to one horrific month. In revamping his roster before Spring Training, Cherington is looking for subtlety over glamour.

In a two-day span earlier this week, Cherington acquired a late-inning reliever in Mark Melancon in a trade from the Astros, signed a prospect he once helped develop in catcher Kelly Shoppach and secured a highly respected veteran utility infielder from the free-agent market in Nick Punto.

There figure to be more moves in the coming days and weeks, most likely the addition of some more pitchers.

If Cherington doesn't go on a spending spree this winter, it could be more of a case of both what he already has on his roster and what is on the market rather than ownership tightening the checkbook.

"We have a budget, we've always had a budget," Cherington said. "There's different ways to fit what you need to do into that budget. Some winters, that means being involved in certain free agents. And some winters, it means being involved in trades. And some winters, it means both. This winter, it's really meant both. We're actively exploring ways to make the team better in free agency and through trades.

"As I said, the offseason certainly isn't over. We've got a lot of time between now and Spring Training, and we're going to continue to look for ways to upgrade the team. Ownership has always made a significant commitment. If baseball operations has an argument and can present a good argument that something is going to make us better, we've always been given the flexibility to do that.

"It's up to us to make those arguments wisely and do things that we think are in the best interest of the team presently and into the future, and we're going to continue to do that, continue to find ways to make the team better that fits for 2012 and looking forward."

Cherington took some time Thursday morning to discuss his recent moves in a conference call with the Boston media.

What intrigued him about Melancon?

"We really like his stuff and have liked the stuff back to his college days in Arizona," Cherington said. "We feel like in the second half of last season, he really developed a better feel for his cutter. He's always had a curveball. He's a really aggressive pitcher -- tough, confident. We think he has the intangibles to compete in the American League East. We just felt he was a really good upgrade."

Cherington isn't ready to commit to Melancon as his closer, but he didn't rule out the righty remaining in the role he performed fairly well in for the Astros in 2011.

"We believe he's definitely capable of closing and capable of pitching in the ninth inning for us," Cherington said. "But those are questions that [manager] Bobby [Valentine], with help from his pitching coach during Spring Training, will answer and figure out the right roles for everyone."

Perhaps Cherington will still bring in another closer candidate. Free agent Ryan Madson and Andrew Bailey, who has been dangled by the A's, have been the two candidates who keep surfacing on the rumor mill.

"We felt like we had some options even before this trade -- guys that could do it, guys that have done it in the past, guys that we think are ready to do it, perhaps," Cherington said. "Melancon certainly adds an important piece and a guy who has done it very recently, more recently than anyone else on our roster. We feel pretty good about the way that the back of the bullpen is shaping up. There's certainly time between now and Spring Training, and we're going to continue to look for ways to make the team better."

Utility infielder Jed Lowrie was one of the pieces traded to the Astros to reel in Melancon, which made Punto a natural signing. The veteran is fresh off helping the Cardinals win the World Series.

"Nick's a guy we've had interest in in the past," Cherington said. "The timing has never quite worked out to get him here. But he's a guy that plays really good defense. He's a smart baseball player -- puts together a good at-bat, is really good in the clubhouse and is just a smart, smart baseball player, and I think understands his role on a winning team. He certainly showed that this year and down the stretch in October with St. Louis.

"When the Lowrie-Weiland-Melancon deal was coming together, and even before that, [Punto] was a guy who we targeted as a guy who we'd like to bring into the team. Then, certainly when things sped up on the Houston trade, we sped up our efforts to go get him. We think he fits well into our team, into our mix, in the clubhouse. He can do a lot of things for us."

Then there is Shoppach, who was selected by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft and spent five years in Boston's farm system, the bulk of which Cherington was the team's director of player development. Shoppach was dealt to the Indians in January 2006 as part of the package that brought Coco Crisp to Boston. He has developed into a nice platoon catcher over the years.

"We obviously know Shop well, and as we went into the offseason, we felt like there were a couple of things that were important to us as far as the catching position," Cherington said. "One was to continue to find ways to help in the running game and help control the running game, which was an area of concern for us last year. Shop's been able to help the pitching staff control the running game I think pretty consistently throughout his career. He's also a guy that can consistently hit left-handed pitching, and that sort of fits in and makes him a good complement to [Jarrod Saltalamacchia]."

By bringing in Shoppach, two catchers figure to be impacted -- longtime captain Jason Varitek and prospect Ryan Lavarnway.

There no longer appears to be any type of fit on Boston's 2012 roster for Varitek, who is a free agent. However, with Varitek's knowledge and leadership, it's not hard to imagine he could take on a new role in Boston's organization once his playing days are over. There's been no word from Varitek's camp how vigorously he will try to explore playing for another team. He turns 40 in April.

"As far as 'Tek is concerned, we have incredible respect for 'Tek and I have incredible respect for 'Tek on a personal level," Cherington said. "We as an organization and ownership have incredible respect for him and the contributions he's made, and I think our hope is that 'Tek will always be a part of the Red Sox in some way. As far as what this means immediately, what we want to do is keep talking to 'Tek and not discuss that in a public forum, but have an opportunity to keep talking to 'Tek and [agent] Scott [Boras] and figure out what's best for the Red Sox, what's best for him, and we'll look forward to doing that."

Cherington had mentioned at the General Managers Meetings in November that Lavarnway could certainly compete for a spot on the team in Spring Training. But his chances of landing the backup job appear remote with Shoppach now in the fold and ready to split time with Saltalamacchia.

"We also felt in a perfect world, we would look to solidify the catching position by adding strength to that area and not necessarily counting on Lavarnway going into Spring Training," Cherington said. "That said, we really think highly of Ryan and think he's going to be a really good player for us in the future, so we just feel like Shop helps us strengthen the position overall and helps complement Salty."

The Red Sox also have three coaching vacancies to fill, and Cherington said that he and Valentine are making some headway there, but there's nothing to announce just yet.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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