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Thursday, October 31, 2013
Sox face flurry of free-agency decisions

By Gordon Edes

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli
Where will Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Napoli end up in free agency? Could all three return to Boston?
BOSTON -- The duck boats have yet to be gassed up for Saturday's celebratory parade, but some pressing business is already upon Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and his baseball operations staff.

Seven Red Sox players were among the 147 players who officially filed for free agency Thursday: catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, first baseman Mike Napoli, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, shortstop Stephen Drew, relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan, infielder John McDonald, and pitcher Alfredo Aceves, who was exiled to the minors last season.

Free agents can begin to sign with new teams beginning at 12:01 a.m. ET Tuesday. Until that time, they are not eligible to negotiate contract terms with a new team, although they and their representatives are allowed to talk with any team about a potential match. Teams retain exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents until that time.

But in the interim, the Sox must also decide whether they will extend a qualifying offer to their free agents, which determines whether they will receive draft-pick compensation if a free agent leaves.

Qualifying offers must be extended by 5 p.m. Monday. The value of a qualifying offer has been calculated by formula to be a one-year guarantee of $14.1 million for 2014. Any player accepting a qualifying offer is considered to be a signed player. A free agent has until 5 p.m. on Nov. 11 to accept a qualifying offer. If he declines a qualifying offer and signs with another big league team, his former team receives an amateur draft choice as compensation, while the signing team forfeits its highest available draft pick and the accompanying bonus pool money in the draft.

In addition, the Sox face a similar deadline on whether to trigger the options they hold on two players, pitchers Jon Lester and Matt Thornton. The Sox hold a $13 million option on Lester for 2014 and will exercise it, which does not preclude trying to negotiate a long-term extension this winter before Lester hits the free-agent market after the '14 season. They also hold a $6 million option on left-handed reliever Thornton, who was acquired from the White Sox before the July 31 trading deadline but was left off the postseason roster. They are not expected to exercise that option, though it will cost them $1 million not to do so; Thornton had a buyout clause in his contract.

The easy decisions on making qualifying offers include Ellsbury, who is expected to be one of the most highly sought free agents on the market, and Napoli, one of the few power bats available on the market. Neither is likely to accept a qualifying offer, given the certainty of receiving multi-year offers from multiple teams.

McDonald and Aceves, whose value falls far below the $14.1 million qualifying mark, will not receive qualifying offers. The Sox also will not tender a qualifying offer to Hanrahan, who said in October he had just begun throwing 60 feet and will not be ready for the start of the season after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery in May.

That leaves two players, shortstop Drew and catcher Saltalamacchia. First, Saltalamacchia: At 28, he is the youngest catcher on the free-agent list, and unless the Sox decide to go all-in on free agent Brian McCann, a qualifying offer makes sense, which would buy some time while prospects like Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez develop, yet spare them from a long-term commitment. It also would assure them of draft-pick compensation if Salty leaves. Drew is also one of the better options in a light shortstop market, and while the Sox have his replacement in the wings in Xander Bogaerts, there would seem to be little downside to extending a qualifying offer.

On Nov. 11, the general managers' meetings begin in Orlando, where talks about potential trades often percolate, with the winter meetings following a month later, also in Orlando.