Commentary

New rules free Red Sox to go shopping

Compensation changes make decision to let Jonathan Papelbon walk look better

Updated: December 7, 2011, 8:39 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- So now we know with certainty the choice Ben Cherington had to make when faced with the prospect of losing Jonathan Papelbon:

1) Overspend for the best closer on the market.

2) Let Papelbon walk, collect two first-round draft picks, then sign a Heath Bell, Ryan Madson or Francisco Rodriguez without losing a pick or elect to go with in-house option Daniel Bard, and save anywhere from $10 million to $40-plus million.

Given those options, does it become perfectly clear why Cherington and the Boston Red Sox let Papelbon go?

Major league baseball owners and players on Tuesday announced their new collective bargaining agreement, and the deal includes the revamping of compensation for some Type-A free agents this signing season, in advance of an entirely new system being set in place next year.

The great news for the Red Sox was set out in a press release from Major League Baseball following the announcement of the new CBA, stating that six Type-A players, including relievers Bell, Madson and Rodriguez, would not require compensation from the signing teams.

So now the Red Sox can sign Bell, Madson or K-Rod without having to surrender their first-round pick to the San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies or Milwaukee Brewers. Meanwhile, the Phillies already surrendered their first-round pick to the Red Sox for signing Papelbon, and the Sox also collected a supplemental "sandwich" pick for losing Papelbon.

Wednesday at midnight is the deadline for the Red Sox to offer salary arbitration to their own free agents, and it's a no-brainer that they will do so with David Ortiz, the DH who is closing in on signing a new deal with the Sox. Don't be surprised if the Sox announce they've come to terms with Big Papi before his charity golf tournament in the Dominican Republic and just prior to the winter meetings, which begin Dec. 5.

[+] EnlargeGio Gonzalez
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillOakland left-hander Gio Gonzalez is a favorite of the Red Sox, but would they be willing to part with the prospects to get him?

A quick primer on the players the Sox have collected in the last seven drafts with compensation picks culled from other teams: Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Bard and four first-rounders in last June's draft, including highly regarded catching prospect Blake Swihart.

Stockpiling the extra picks also frees up the Sox to sign Type-A free agents -- as they did Carl Crawford last winter -- and cushion the sting of losing their own picks.

Two closers -- Papelbon and Joe Nathan -- already are off the market, Papelbon signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies, and Nathan on Monday coming to terms on a two-year, $14.5 million contract with Texas that includes a $500,000 buyout.

Bell, Madson and Rodriguez all are expected to fall somewhere in between those deals, and there are other relievers, such as Brad Lidge and Octavio Dotel, who also could be on the Sox's radar, especially if they decide to go with Bard as their closer.

That decision may also depend on how the Sox fare in their search for starting pitching.

Cherington has acknowledged the Sox aren't expected to enter the bidding for high-end free-agent starters C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle, but they are known to be extremely high on Oakland left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who would command a top package of prospects comparable to the one the Chicago Cubs surrendered when they acquired Matt Garza from the Tampa Bay Rays last winter.

Having given up pitcher Casey Kelly and first baseman Anthony Rizzo last December for Adrian Gonzalez, the Sox are likely to proceed cautiously before parting with their best prospects in another deal. But make no mistake, Gio Gonzalez has been a name widely discussed internally by the team.

Which closer is most appealing to the Sox, should they go outside? Bell repeatedly has said that he would like to stay in San Diego, but at 34, he is hoping to land a three-year deal and the Padres so far have offered only two, and it's hard to imagine they'll tack on another.

Cherington would like to keep the length of any deal as short as possible, but hasn't ruled out giving a closer a three-year deal, which could mean Bell will follow good friend Adrian Gonzalez to Boston. But it's unlikely the Sox will be rushed into a decision.

Who knows? They may even have a new manager and pitching coach before they add a closer.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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