Sox get ball rolling on offseason with qualifying offers

Sox get ball rolling on offseason with qualifying offers
November 4, 2013, 9:15 pm
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Taking their first steps into the busy off-season, the Red Sox Monday extended qualifying offers to three of their own free agents - Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Mike Napoli -- while declining to extend an offer to Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
      
John McDonald and Joel Hanrahan, the club's other two free agents, also were not made offers.
      
Ellsbury, Drew and Napoli have until next Monday, Nov. 11 at 5 p.m. to accept the qualifying offers, each worth $14.1 million. If they do so, they are bound to the Red Sox for 2014 and are no longer free agents. The two sides can continue talks about a multi-year deal thereafter if they wish.
      
If Ellsbury, Drew and Napoli decline the offers, they are not precluded from continuing to negotiate with the Red Sox. But the Sox are no longer tied to the $14.1 million figure for 2014 and can discuss contracts -- one year and beyond -- as they see fit.
      
Should either Ellsbury, Drew or Napoli sign elsewhere after declining the offers, the Red Sox will be rewarded with compensatory draft picks next June. Those would be either a pick at the end of the first round or at the end of the second, depending how the signing teams finished in 2013.
      
Additionally, just because Saltalamacchia (and McDonald and Hanrahan) were not given qualifying offers doesn't mean they can't return to the Sox. Should they sign elsewhere, however, the Red Sox will not receive any compensation in the form of draft picks.
      
"Really, with all of our free agents," said GM Ben Cherington, "there's interest in every one of them. I also think it's unlikely that every one of them will be back just because of the nature of the game; it's difficult to do that. So, in between there, there's all sort of permutations and combinations that could work. We're going to have to, again, keep a conversation going with all of them and also with alternatives and see how the market shapes up for them and ultimately, what shapes up for us.
      
"In a a vacuum, we'd like to have all of them back. But we'll just have to see how it goes. We'll continue to talk to all of them and see how the market shapes up."
      
It's a given that Ellsbury, who could stand to land a nine-figure deal on the open market, will turn down the offer. Napoli and Drew are less certain, because while each may like to return, they could seek the security of a longer deal elsewhere.
      
For Napoli and Drew, they may find that having compensation attached acts as a drag on the market, with teams unwilling to sacrifice a first- or second-round pick as the cost of signing them.
      
Either way, the Sox are prepared.
      
"Part of the analysis in making a qualifying offer," noted Cherington, "is assuming the possibility that it's accepted. So we didn't make any qualifying offer that we weren't comfortable being accepted. So if any of them are accepted, we'd be happy with that outcome."
      
Ellsbury clearly will be the most costly, and because he's represented by Scott Boras, the chances are good that Ellsbury won't sign until mid-December -- if not later.
      
That means the Sox have to explore other internal options, one of which would be turning to Jackie Bradley Jr. to take over the position in 2014.
      
"I think defensively, he's an everyday major leaguer now," said manager John Farrell. "The first year for most position players, there's a transition he's going to go through and along the way, some bumps in the road and I think Jackie went through those. The one thing we did see is when pitchers attacked him a certain way, it wasn't as evident as it was when he first came up. He's a better player today for what he went through this year."
      
"The overall evaluation of him hasn't changed since the time he entered the organization; we just know that this is a kind of a natural progression he has to go through and we feel he's very capable of being an everyday guy."
      
Yet another route in center would be shifting Shane Victorino, a natural center fielder, to center while seeking a corner outfielder to take over in right.
      
"It's certainly one possibility as we look at alternatives in the outfield," said Cherington. "We have to be open-minded and that would be one possibility. I think I speak for John that we both recognize just how good he was in right field this year and how valuable his defense was in right field. So to move him, it would have to be a compelling opportunity. But we can't rule it out; he's capable of doing it."
     
Napoli, who was second in homers and RBI, and would seem to be the most eager to return. But Napoli put up big power numbers and would like to be rewarded with a multi-year deal.
      
The Sox, meanwhile, must consider the risks, given that Napoli suffers from a degenerative hip condition, the discovery of which resulted in the Sox pulling their original three-year, $39 million deal off the table and re-working a one-year contract with a $5 million base. Napoli eventually earned another $8 million in incentives, paying him $13 million for the season, or the average annual value of the original contract.
      
Napoli recently underwent an exit physical, which might impact how far the Sox would be willing to extend themselves.
      
"Of course," said Cherington, "I'm not in a position to share detail on that, but Mike played a lot this year and was a huge part of our team. As I said, we're making a qualifying offer for him, so we obviously have interest in him returning and we're certainly comfortable on a one-year deal for $14.1 million and he'll have an opportunity to consider that."
      
Drew, like Ellsbury a Boras client, may also seek a longer commitment elsewhere after coming off a strong season. The New York Yankees, uncertain about the health of Derek Jeter and the availability of Alex Rodriguez, are a likely interested team.
      
If Drew returns, that could potentially squeeze out Will Middlebrooks, as the Sox want find a play for Xander Bogaerts to play every day.
      
Finally, there's Saltalamacchia, who lost playing time to David Ross in the final three games of the World Series. Ross is the far superior defender and control the running game better than Saltalamacchia, who's known as an offensive catcher.
      
Could the Sox let Saltalamacchia walk, and bring in someone else to partner with Ross?
      
"I think going back to this time last year," said Farrell, "when we signed David, it was the thought that he was a 60-70 games (player). That's not to put a ceiling on him. But I think we're probably in that it's a tandem position. I think that's the way we view the position here for a number of years and David, from a physical standpoint, would clearly be able to handle his side of the tandem."