Red Sox run rampant in early rumors

Boston Red Sox linked to Carlos Beltran, Tim Hudson, Carlos Ruiz early in free-agency

Early in free agency, one agent says, “every team is interested in every player.” While that is an over-statement, most clubs generally cast a wide net, and their interest in some free agents is greater than their interest in others.

Reports link the Red Sox to outfielder Carlos Beltran, right-hander Tim Hudson and catcher Carlos Ruiz, among others. In addition, sources say, the Sox also are scouring the market for relievers.

What’s real? What isn’t? An early look:

*Beltran: His addition would make little sense if the Sox plan to play him in right field and move Shane Victorino to center. Victorino is best in right. Jackie Bradley Jr. would be best in center. And Beltran would not be suited to play the big right field at Fenway Park at age 37 – and beyond, as long as David Ortiz remains DH.

As explained by John Tomase of the Boston Herald, Beltran in left would be more realistic, but only if the Sox lose first baseman Mike Napoli. Outfielder Daniel Nava then could move to first, where Boston also has Mike Carp. Jonny Gomes, though, would be displaced in left, creating other issues.

Put it this way: The Sox’s privately acknowledged interest in Beltran doesn’t hurt their leverage with Napoli. In theory, it also could drive up on the price on Beltran for the Yankees, whose interest in the outfielder may be more sincere.

The Red Sox like Beltran. Every team likes Beltran. But it would be a surprise to see Beltran in Boston next season, especially if – as some in the industry expect – he lands a three-year deal.

*Hudson: Wait, don’t the Sox already have six potential starters for next season, with other options in the minors? Yes, but Hudson is a logical target if club officials view him as better than Jake Peavy or Ryan Dempster – or if it wants to act boldly and trade John Lackey when his value is high.

The beauty of the Sox’s position is that Peavy and Dempster both are entering the final year of their contract, Peavy at $14.5 million, Dempster $13.25 million. Lackey essentially has two years left at about $16 million; the second year is a club option at the minimum salary because Lackey missed all of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery for a pre-existing elbow injury.

In other words, the Sox could sign Hudson and move any of those pitchers. The contracts of all three will become more attractive if, as expected, free-agent deals start to skyrocket. And Lackey, at 35, would be an outright steal.

*Ruiz: Keep your eye on this one. The Sox are one of the teams reportedly interested in Brian McCann but already are wary about the dollars and length of contract he is likely to command, sources say.

Ruiz, who will play next season at 35, would fit the mold of the free agents the Sox signed last offseason, taking a short, high-dollar deal. He excels at game-calling and reading hitters, is well-liked by teammates and had a .741 OPS after the All-Star break, easing concerns raised by his 25-game suspension for using an amphetamine.

Ruiz would be a defensive upgrade over Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a bargain compared to McCann. The Sox, though, would be left with two older catchers – David Ross will play next season at 37 – with Ryan Lavarnway in reserve.

*Bullpen: Don’t expect the Sox to do anything splashy here – they’ve learned their lesson in that regard, going back to Eric Gagne.

On the other hand, closer Koji Uehara will turn 39 shortly after Opening Day. The Sox, fearing injury, handled him with great care last season. And Uehara wound up throwing 88 innings, including playoffs – by far his most since coming to the majors in 2009.

The Brian Wilsons of the world might prove too expensive for the Sox, but the team currently is looking at the best relievers available, then trying to determine if the cost and fit make sense.

The ideal option would be a buy-low candidate similar to Uehara, who signed a one-year, $4.25 million free-agent contract last offseason with a $4.25 million vesting option for 2014. The option vested when he made 55 appearances; he finished with 73.

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