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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Boston Red Sox Hot Stove: Initial Thoughts

It's hard to believe that the 2013 baseball season is over. Even though the celebrating of the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series has ended, it seems hardly a soul has stopped basking in the glory of their unexpected and vastly entertaining campaign.

There really is no down-time in baseball, and naturally the Red Sox are already hard at work planning their strategy for 2014. 

Here are some initial thoughts on their early movement in the opening days of the hot stove season:

Qualifying offers were extended to new free agents, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Mike Napoli. Those are all sound decisions, as it's important to either have those players back or get the draft pick compensation that is now attached to them if they are signed by another team.

It will be a huge surprise if Ellsbury returns. He finally proved himself to be healthy this year and responded with a huge season. It's likely he will be able to get a deal that meets or exceeds five years/$100 million on the open market, which seems to be well outside of the more frugal deals Boston favored last offseason that paid off so well.

Ellsbury is also 30. His next contract will be more about rewarding him for what he has done in the past than what he will likely do in the future. If he is able to remain healthy moving forward, it's unlikely that he has more than two-three peak seasons left.

The $14.1 million, one-year qualifying offers were also shrewd moves to start with Napoli and Drew. It's doubtful Boston wants the shortstop for more than another year, with uber prospect Xander Bogaerts waiting in the wings. However, the veteran's steady defense and solid all-around play could be a help as the youngster is broken in in 2014.

With such a thin first baseman market out there, bringing back Napoli is a near must. The bearded slugger ran red hot and ice cold during various stretches of the season, but was a great defender, a perfect fit for Boston, and had more than enough production to warrant his return. The team must just make sure to not over-extend themselves financially because of sentiment or desperation to keep him around for team balance.

The one free agent who didn't receive a qualifying offer was catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Although he has really come on during his time in Boston, he still remains a very flawed player who struggles to make contact at the plate and is at best a mediocre receiver. The danger with giving him an offer was the slight possibility he may have accepted it. With David Ross expected to get a good share of at-bats next season, the $14.1 million would have been way too pricey for a not-quite full-time player with holes in his game.

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