ORLANDO -- No, Ben Cherington said, the Red Sox's World Series title didn’t translate into him running a gauntlet of back-slappers at the general managers’ dinner Monday night.
“I think by now everyone’s forgotten the World Series, and it’s on to the offseason work,” Cherington said just 12 days after the Sox were celebrating winning the Series at Fenway Park for the first time in 95 years. “That’s the conversation.”
The work, Cherington said, actually began in earnest the morning after the Sox triumph, he and members of his baseball operations staff already making calls and gathering information on prospective free agent signings and trades. The pace picks up here at the general managers’ meetings, where Cherington and top aides Mike Hazen and Brian O’Halloran will have the chance to engage their counterparts, as well as player agents, in direct conversations. Cherington said he does not expect any deals to be struck this week.
Monday was the deadline for free agents to accept the one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offers that were extended to them by their former teams. None of the 13 major leaguers who were extended offers accepted them, including all three Sox players -- outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, first baseman Mike Napoli and shortstop Stephen Drew. What that means is that if any of the three sign with another team, the Sox will receive a first-round draft pick as compensation, and the signing teams will forfeit their picks.
The players’ rejection of the qualifying offers should not be interpreted as a barometer of their interest in re-signing with the Sox, only that they all are confident they will be able to do better than the one-year contract on the open market.
Cherington said the Sox continue to talk with all three free agents, as well as catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was not extended a qualifying offer. He even said the club retains some interest in free agent pitcher Joel Hanrahan, who won’t be ready for the start of the season after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery in May, and utility infielder John McDonald, who was left off the postseason roster.
“There’s real interest in, at different levels, all six of our free agents,” Cherington said. “We keep talking about four -- I guess Hanrahan and John McDonald are in a slightly different category -- but of the four guys who were active players on our team in the playoffs, we continue to have dialogue with all four.”
Cherington hedged when asked if any of the four had offers on the table from the Red Sox.
“I’d rather not get into specifics of the conversations,” he said. “We have real interest in all of them. We’ve shared information on what we’d be willing to do and gotten feedback from them.”
Of the four, Ellsbury projects as most problematic to keep. The center fielder is expected to command one of the highest salaries on this winter’s free-agent market, with Seattle prominently mentioned as a possible landing place.
Napoli figures to be the player the Sox are keenest on keeping, and he has made little secret of his desire to return. While Cherington would not go into specifics regarding the results of the MRI Napoli underwent last week to check on his degenerative hip condition, it was clear that he did not view the hip as an obstacle to Napoli’s return.
“We’ve had a very good relationship with Mike on a number of levels, including about his health, since the original determination last winter,’’ Cherington said. “Mike and his agent [Brian Grieper] always have been really transparent about what’s going on; we appreciate that. The most important thing, I think, is he played the whole year and had no issues.
“We don’t have any reason to have any more concern than we did last winter. As I’ve said before, we absolutely have interest in having him back and we keep talking to him.”
The Sox have options at short, with rookie Xander Bogaerts primed to become an everyday player next season, and Drew figures to land a contract elsewhere for more years than the Sox would be comfortable giving him.
Saltalamacchia is the wild card in the equation. He had his best season in Boston in 2013 but was relegated to the bench during the World Series, though it remains to be seen whether that is enough to cool the ardor of the teams in the market for catching help.
The Sox, however, sound open to looking for a tandem partner for veteran David Ross, which could mean a veteran such as Carlos Ruiz, though it’s possible the Sox could jump in with both feet for Brian McCann, who will be at the high end of the market for catching help.
“There are a bunch of teams that seemingly have a need or potential need,” Cherington said of the catching position, “and a bunch of guys out there. It should be one of the more interesting positions to watch. There’s likely to be activity -- potentially some trades too, not just free agents. Obviously it’s a position we’re going to keep talking to all available options and see what comes our way.”