By Sean McAdam
Even before the Red Sox make any free-agent signings, or, for that matter, potentially lose any of their own free agents to other teams, they have some decisions to make by Tuesday midnight.
One decision was made for them Tuesday, when one of their free agents -- catcher Victor Martinez -- agreed to a four-year contract with the Tigers. Now they have until midnight to decide whether or not to offer salary arbitration to the other three: third baseman Adrian Beltre; catcher Jason Varitek; and infielder Felipe Lopez.
There are three different scenarios in play:
If the Sox offer arbitration to a player, and the player accepts -- the deadline for that is Nov. 28 -- that player is bound to the Red Sox for at least the 2011 season.
If the Sox offer arbitration to a player, and the player declines, the Red Sox will get draft picks as compenstion if the player signs elsewhere.
Finally, if the Red Sox don't offer arbitration to a player, they stand to receive no compensation if the player signs elsewhere.
For one, the answer is obvious: the Sox will offer arbitration to Beltre, assuring themselves of two draft picks -- a team's first or second round pick, depending on other variables, along with a sandwich pick. They've already received that from Detroit for Martinez.
There's little risk for the Red Sox in offering arbitration to Beltre, who is in high demand on the free agent market and almost certainly will not accept the offer of arbitration.
In the incredibly unlikely choice that he did, the Sox would gladly retain him -- either on a one-year deal, or through a negotiated long-term deal.
Otherwise, the Sox will reap a harvest of additional draft picks next June, which features one of the deepest talent pools in several years.
Using the same measuring stick, it's hard to see the Sox offering arbitration to Varitek, who, at 37, no longer is viewed as a No. 1 catcher by most teams.
Though the Sox have had internal discussions about bringing back Varitek as a backup to Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- an option that became more attractive now that Martinez is gone -- offering him arbitration would bind them to a more costly process.
Varitek made 5 million in 2010 as part of a two-year deal negotiated by the catcher and the club after the 2008 season and that base salary would be a factor in determining Varitek's 2011 salary through arbitration.
On the other hand, if the Sox don't offer arbitration, they could still negotiate a one-year deal without being bound by the arbitration guidelines. That way, the Sox could bring Varitek back at, say 1.5-2 million rather than a far higher figure determined by an arbitrator.
Quite simply, the reward of a sandwich pick -- Varitek and Lopez are Class B free agents -- is too high when measured against the risk of having to pay Varitek 3 million or more in an arbitration process.
Finally, there's Lopez, who joined the Red Sox in the final week of the season in a strangely-timed acquisition. When Lopez joined the Sox, the supposition was that the Sox were obtaining for the express purpose of getting compensation for him over the winter.
That, of course, would require the Sox to offer his arbitration first. Lopez made 1 million with St. Louis last year and had a poor year, losing his regular spot in the lineup.
The guess here is that the Sox will end up offering Lopez arbitration. In a worst-case scenario, even if he accept the offer and they lose an arbitration hearing, or arrive at a settled salary figure, the Sox could always release him in spring training and owe him only a portion of his salary.
Should the Sox offer arbitration and Lopez signs elsewhere, the Sox will gain a sandwich-round pick as compensation.
Beyond their own free agents, the Sox will be interested to see which other free agents are offered arbitration by other teams. Outfielders Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, both of whom interest the Sox, are guaranteed to be offered arbitration by their present teams for the same reason the Sox are sure to offer arbitration to Beltre and Martinez -- the risk is almost negligible and the payoff considerable in the form of draft picks.
The Red Sox will also be especially interested to see if some of the set-up relievers are offered arbitration, since that could impact their degree of interest in signing one or more.
It seems certain, for example, that Toronto will offer arbitration to Scott Downs, one of the better relievers on the market. Last July, when the Red Sox -- and a handful of other teams -- were interested in dealing for Downs, the Blue Jays set the asking price high: two top prospects.
They did so knowing that, if Downs reached free agency and didn't re-sign with the Jays, as a Type A free agent, he would fetch them both a first-round and sandwich pick.
If some set-up relievers cost compensation and others don't, the Sox might be more willing to go with those who don't require forfeiting a pick.