By Sean McAdam
Even before the Red Sox begin to dabble in the free agent marketplace, open for business early next month, they must first address some free agents of their own.
Not counting those who might be non-tendered (Hideki Okajima, most obviously), the Sox have three potential free agents, a list which doesn't includes DH David Oritz. The Sox hold a 12.5 million team option on Ortiz for 2011, and if they don't elect to pick that up, Ortiz will join three others: Victor Martinez, Adrian Beltre and Jason Vartiek.
A look at the three, their prospects, chances of returning and potential landing spots.
2010 salary: 7.5 million
The skinny: Martinez endured a nightmarish first month in which he knocked in just four runs and looked positively inept trying to throw out would-be base stealers. He also missed about five weeks because of a broken thumb from late June until early August. Other than those two periods, Martinez was a workhorse -- he played every game after coming off the DL in early August until the final weekend of the season -- and led all catchers in RBI while tying for the home run lead among receivers.
Without an established No. 1 catcher under control -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia is largely untested and a number of prospects aren't ready to make the leap to the big leagues -- it's imperative that the Sox re-sign Martinez, who provides uncommon production for his position.
Contract expectations: Four years, 52 million.
Possible suitors: A number of American League clubs will pursue Martinez, including Chicago, Detroit and possibly Texas. Baltimore and Toronto could show some interest, too, though it's doubtful that Martinez would sign with a non-contender, especially clubs with highly-regarded catching prospects (Matt Wieters in Baltimore and J.P. Arencibia in Toronto).
Chances of returning: This may well come down to how long a contract the Sox are willing to commit to. Boston probably envisions Martinez as its top catcher for two more seasons, but will it be willing to pay for two additional seasons when Martinez may transition to a DHFirst baseman who catches only occasionally?
2010 salary: 10 million (9 million base, plus 1 million buyout)
The skinny: Beltre signed a one-year deal with the Sox with the hope of restoring his value for the upcoming offseason, and succeeded fully. After a slow start, Beltre was probably the Red Sox' MVP, providing run production and stellar defense. Having achieved his goal, Beltre will now look for a long-term deal commensurate with the one he signed with Seattle after the 2004 season.
He may find such a deal difficult to find, since some teams will be wary that he once again managed to have a superb season in another walk year (much like he did with the Dodgers in 2004). Beltre is only 31, but injuries have been a factor in his career, presenting another red flag.
Contract expecations: Five years, 60 million
Possible suitors: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are mentioned prominently as they could use another bat and an upgrade at third, but owner Arte Moreno has famously been feuding with agent Scott Boras since the Mark Teixeira negotiations took a sour turn. Detroit is another possible destination, though the team's renewed interest in Brandon Inge may preclude interest in Belte. Further, does Beltre really want to play in another pitcher-friendly ballpark again after escaping Seattle's Safeco Field? It's said Beltre prefers playing on the West Coast, but it's hard to find a fit there.
Chances of returning: Again, contract length will be the telling factor. After Mike Lowell, the Sox are wary of signing another 30-something third baseman only to have him break down physically. If the Sox could find a way to retain Beltre for, say, three seasons, they would likely be willing to overpay at least some. But Beltre will likely be looking for either four or five years guaranteed, and though the Sox don't have a logical replacement in-house -- short of shifting Kevin Youkilis back to third, thus opening another hole at first -- it's tough to envision them making that kind of commitment.
2010 salary: 3 million
The skinny: Varitek adjusted well to his backup role -- for the first half of the season. After breaking his foot in early July, Varitek missed a little more than a month, and when he returned, he seemed overmatched at the plate. That said, Varitek insisted in September that he felt better physically than he had in years and intended to keep playing for a number of seasons. He's come to terms with the fact that his days as a front-line catcher are probably over, but also realizes that dependable veteran catchers can, if they keep themselves in shape, continue playing into their early 40s. Questions about his offense, aside, Varitek has huge intangibles, from his leadership, legendary preparation and knowledge of the league.
Contract expectations: Varitek will likely have to settle for a one- or two-year deal with a low base, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 million or so, plus incentives.
Possible suitors: Toronto and Baltimore would be smart to have interest, where Varitek could mentor their young developing catchers without getting in the way of their development while also bringing knowledge of the division. A handful of other teams in either league could conceivably have interest in an experienced backup of this quality.
Chances of returning: Slim, frankly. Some have suggested that if Martinez leaves, Varitek could be brought back to pair with Saltalamacchia, but that seems unlikely.