Red Sox expect to be in thick of talks at Meetings

Boston out to bolster rotation after improving offense with Panda, Hanley

Red Sox expect to be in thick of talks at Meetings

After already making two major moves to upgrade the offense, the Red Sox still figure to be one of the most active teams at the Winter Meetings, which start on Monday in San Diego.

General manager Ben Cherington and his slew of assistants will likely be meeting with a plethora of teams and agents in the ongoing process of retooling the roster.

With Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez now in the fold, the offense is largely set. However, the pitching staff remains a major work in progress. Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly are the two starters who are penciled into the rotation. But that leaves three openings, and lot of potential activity for Cherington and his staff.

Hanley returns to the Red Sox

"We're looking to add to the rotation," said Cherington. "We're still working on that. We're confident we'll be able to. We don't know yet what form that will take, but certainly, I think, we're now probably more focused on that side of the ball than we are on the position player side of the ball, so we'll see what comes to us."

Lefty Jon Lester, who had spent his entire career with the Red Sox before being dealt to the Athletics back in July for Yoenis Cespedes, could certainly return. There was already one meeting between the free-agent lefty and the Sox that also included team owner John Henry.

Leading the League: Jon Lester

But as you'd expect, there's a lot of interest in Lester. The Cubs, Giants, Blue Jays and Braves are teams that have been in pursuit.

The Red Sox hope their history with Lester can help put them over the top.

"There's never been a problem between Jon and the organization either way," said Henry. "He's been a huge part of what we've accomplished here and I think when we went to see him, a large part of our presentation was finishing that legacy. We're hopeful he can do that."

If Boston isn't successful in bringing Lester home, it will be interesting to see how aggressive the club is with the two other premier pitching targets on the market -- Max Scherzer and James Shields.

And there is also the possibility of trading for a stud pitcher, something the Red Sox might be far more equipped to do than many other teams, given their financial resources and depth of both Major League and Minor League talent.

Though the Sox have maintained they'd like to keep Cespedes in the middle of the order and move him to either center or right field, the right-handed slugger could serve as a necessary chip to bring back the type of pitcher Boston needs. Cespedes has one year left on his contract.

Hanley, Panda on Big Papi

Clearly, Cherington has an outfielder or two he could spare. The Red Sox have Ramirez, Cespedes, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Shane Victorino, Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig and Brock Holt jockeying for position.

"We've had a lot of interest in our guys already," said Cherington. "We'll see what comes now that these moves have been made. We know we have to add to the rotation. I think we have to be open-minded in how we do that. We have to be willing to look at all sorts of different options, trade or free agency."

After a last-place finish in 2014, the second the Red Sox have had in the last three seasons, ownership has made it clear they'll support Cherington with the finances he needs. Henry is open to going past the $189-million luxury tax, something Boston has not done since 2011.

Though the big-ticket items the Red Sox are pursuing are a focal point, there are some subtle areas of the team that still need to be filled. Lefty arms in the bullpen remain a priority. Boston also needs a backup catcher to pair with likely starter Christian Vazquez.

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.