Breaking down Sox potential qualifying offers

Breaking down Sox potential qualifying offers
November 1, 2013, 4:15 pm
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Before a recent American League Championship Game in Detroit, two members of the Red Sox Baseball Operations department were musing over perhaps the lone pitfall of a team advancing deep into the post-season.
     
The two executives noted that, over the last three seasons, the Red Sox had had plenty of time to prepare for the business of the off-season, having failed to qualify for the playoffs.
     
October had been an empty month on the field in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but if there was one bright spot, it meant additional opportunities to formulate a plan for free agency and trades.
    
Now that the Red Sox were in the ALCS -- and, as we know now, would go to capture the World Series two weeks later -- there would be little time to look ahead.
     
The Baseball Ops staff was too busy with the matter at hand: preparing for the games at hand, and trying to enjoy them.
     
That would mean less time to get ready for the run-up to the off-season and the decisions that would be made. It was, of course, a trade both were only too happy to make.
     
But now that the World Series has been won, the Red Sox have little time to bask in their achievements. Free agents can be signed starting Tuesday, and by Monday afternoon, the Sox will have to make a determination on whether to present qualifying offers to four of their own free agents.
     
In other words: no rest for weary.

    
A brief primer on qualifying offers:
     
* Teams must decide by 4 p.m. Monday whether to present qualifying offers of $14.1 million to their own free agents. The $14.1 million figures represents the average of the top 20 percent of major league salaries from this past season.
     
* Players have seven days to accept or reject the qualifying offer. If a player accepts, he is bound to his original team for $14.1 million, though the player and team can continue to talk about a multi-year deal.
     
* If a player rejects the offer, he is free to sign anywhere. But having been presented with a qualifying offer, the player now comes with compensation attached.
     
* If a player rejects the offer and signs elsewhere, the signing team forfeits its first-round pick unless it finished with one of the ten worst records in baseball in the previous season. In the case of teams with a "protected pick" those teams would lose their second-round pick.
     
* The original team gains an extra first-round (or, in the case of one of the teams with the ten worst record, second-round) pick. That pick is not  the exact pick of the signing team, but rather, one tacked onto the end of corresponding round.
     
(Say for example, the Red Sox present a qualifying offer to Jacoby Ellsbury, as they surely plan to do. Should Ellsbury sign with, say, the Texas Rangers, the Red Sox would not get wherever the Rangers would have picked (approximately 19th), but instead, would get a pick after all 30 first-round picks have been executed).
     
     
Red Sox Free Agents:
     
JACOBY ELLSBURY: This is, as the old radio spot used to suggest, "the biggest no-brainer in the history of the world," for the Red Sox.
     
There is absolutely zero chance that Ellsbury will accept, since he will be one of the most sought-after free agents and could command a multi-year deal worth in excess of $100 million.
     
Thus, the Red Sox are, at the very least, guaranteed at least one extra first-round pick next June in the amateur draft.
     
That doesn't mean that the Sox have dismissed the idea of making a long-term offer to Ellsbury. But many in the game believe that there will be other teams willing to offer Ellsbury more years and more money than the Sox.
     
Boston was burned by a number of long-term deals in the recent past and managed to unload three of them in one big deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers 15 months ago.
     
Two of those burdensome deals were given to players who came from outside the organization: Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. In hindsight, neither player was well-suited for playing in a market like Boston.
     
The Red Sox, having scouted, drafted, signed and developed Ellsbury, know he can handle Boston, even if it might not be his ideal environment.
     
If the Sox fall short on re-signing Ellsbury, it won't be because they view him as a bad fit; it will be because they aren't willing to go as long (and as high) for a player whose productivity can be expected to slip significantly as he reaches his mid-30s.

     
MIKE NAPOLI: There's irony to a qualifying offer for the Red Sox first baseman. The $14.1 million figure will represent only a slight raise from the $13 million he made (counting incentives piled on top of his $5 million base salary).
     
Originally, the Red Sox had presented Napoli a three-year, $39 million contract, which they voided when tests revealed a degenerative hip condition.
     
So offering less than 10 percent more they paid him in 2013, or less than 10 percent more of the AAV of their original deal, represents no risk at all. The Sox would be ecstatic if Napoli accepted, though he certainly won't, given how well he played in 2013 and the demand for power on the market.
     
The next question is how much Napoli is going to want on the open marked, and just as important, how long.
     
Napoli didn't have any issues with the hip, thanks to season-long treatment and some medication. But at 32, there will be a limit to how long the Sox (or any other team) would be willing to commit.
     
Napoli enjoyed Boston, earned his first championship and, all things being (relatively) equal, would like to return.
     
It will be a matter of working out a deal that rewards Napoli while protecting the Sox. A three-year deal for something in the neighborhood of $40 million (or two-years, plus a vesting option for a third) would seem to make sense.

     
STEPHEN DREW: The Sox almost certainly will make a qualifying offer for Drew, even though he's not essential for the 2014 Red Sox.
     
The Sox believe Xander Bogaerts is ready to play every day, and that could come at shortstop or third.
     
Many believe that Drew would reject a qualifying offer, even though it would represent a nearly $4 million raise from his 2013 salary of 2013. Drew and his agent Scott Boras viewed the one-year deal as a sort of "pillow deal" for the infielder: a comfortable, short-term arrangement where he could rebuild his value, with a chance to go out this winter and capitalize with the security of a long-term deal.
     
That strategy may have taken a hit when Drew proved offensively inept on the post-season stage, going just 4-for-51 until his home run in the clinching Game 6.
     
Still, Drew is a plus defender at short and though streaky, capable of some run production -- something still valued from a middle-infielder.
     
There's talk of some interest from the Yankees, who need protection on the left side of the infield thanks to shortstop Derek Jeter's health questions and Alex Rodriguez's pending suspension.
     
Should the Sox make an offer, they have to be prepared that it will limit Drew's appeal, forcing him to take the value of the $14.1 million deal for 2014. While a team might be willing to forfeit a first-round pick for Ellsbury, it would be more difficult to justify for Drew.
     
As Theo Epstein was known to say, "there's no such thing as a bad one-year deal," and that's especially true for a big-market team with resources. Thus, in a "worst-case" scenario, the Sox would overpay by a few million to get a premium defender for year, allowing Bogaerts to break in at third.

     
JARROD SALTALAMACCHIA: This is the toughest call of the four for the Sox. If Drew's post-season hitting woes might give them -- or other teams -- pause, then Saltalamacchia's October issues are more troubling.
     
Saltalamacchia had difficulty making contact in the post-season, hitting just .188 (6-for-32) with an alarming 19 strikeouts. And unlike Drew, Saltalamacchia doesn't have his defensive game on which to fall back. While he's made strides in his game-calling and handling of the staff, he's, at best, an average
receiver and thrower.
     
The fact that Saltalamacchia was benched in favor of David Ross for the three most important games of the season (Game 4-5-6 of the Series) can't bode well for Saltalamacchia's future in Boston.
     
From an offensive standpoint, Saltalamacchia hit 40 doubles, a club record for catchers and has something to offer as a hitter, as long as a team can make peace with his streakiness at the plate.
     
But before the Sox make a qualifying offer, they have to consider that doing so might make Saltalamacchia less attractive to other teams, who might not surrender their pick for him.
     
A qualifying offer to Saltalamacchia, then, isn't so much protecting themselves with a compensation pick; it may be tantamount to overpaying Saltalamacchia, albeit just for one year.