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.

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.