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.

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.