Looking at Boston's free agents to be

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Looking at Boston's free agents to be

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

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.

VICTOR MARTINEZ
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?

ADRIAN BELTRE
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.

JASON VARITEK
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.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam.

As expected, Red Sox send Swihart to Pawtucket

As expected, Red Sox send Swihart to Pawtucket

Blake Swihart wasn't going to win a job. Monday merely made that official.

Swihart was optioned out as the Red Sox made further cuts, sending a player who could still be the Red Sox catcher of the future -- well, one of them anyway -- to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he's expected to work on his receiving.

Swihart hit .325 in 40 Grapefruit League at-bats.

"Had a very strong camp and showed improvements defensively. Swung the bat very well," manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida.  "For the player that he is and the person that he is, you love him as a person. He's a hell of a talented player.

"He made some subtle adjustments with his setup [defensively]. That gave him a different look to pitchers on the mound. Pitchers talked positively about the look that they got from him behind the plate. I think it softened his hands somewhat to receive the ball better. And there were a number of occasions where he was able to get a pitchers' pitch called for a strike, so the presentation of the umpire was a little bit more subtle and consistent then maybe years' past."

Sandy Leon's hot hitting in 2016 earned him an automatic crack at the lead catching spot for this year. Combined with the fact that Christian Vazquez looks great defensively, went deep on Sunday and is out of options, Swihart was the obvious odd man out.

He had options, the others didn't.

Deven Marrero was also optioned to Pawtucket. Sam Travis -- who, like Swihart, could break camp with the 2018 team -- was reassigned to minor-league camp, as was catcher Dan Butler.

The Sox have 38 players left in camp, 32 from the 40-man roster.

Red Sox reliever Tyler Thornburg likely headed to disabled list

Red Sox reliever Tyler Thornburg likely headed to disabled list

Righty Tyler Thornburg seems a guarantee to join David Price on the disabled list to start the season.

Thornburg, the biggest acquisition Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made for the bullpen this winter, was scratched Monday because of a spasm in his upper right trapezius — not a great sign for a pitcher who already had throwing shoulder issues this spring.

Sox manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida the spasm was “not shoulder related.”  But the trap, a large muscle along the neck and back, does extend to the shoulder blade.

Dombrowski told reporters it is most likely that Thornburg starts the year on the disabled list. More is expected to be known Tuesday, possibly after an MRI.

Robby Scott could be a replacement for Thornburg. If so, the Sox would likely have three lefties in the bullpen, along with Fernando Abad and Robbie Ross Jr.

"Possibly. Possibly," Dombrowski said of Scott. “We still have to make those decisions. But possibly.”

Dombrowski didn’t indicate a desire to go outside the organization for now.

Thornburg had barely enough time to get ready for Opening Day prior to Monday’s setback. If he indeed starts the season on the DL, Joe Kelly would be the eighth-inning reliever for the Sox — a role Kelly was headed for anyway given Thornburg’s shaky spring.

Thornburg, 28, had a 2.15 ERA last season for the Brewers. The Sox picked him up at the winter meetings in a deal that sent Travis Shaw and prospects to the Milwaukee Brewers.