While the Red Sox will have time to celebrate their third championship in the last decade, they will have another challenge to overcome during the offseason: free agency. It will be important for Boston to get their free agents taken care of early in the process so that they can begin to solidify the rest of their roster.
Five of Boston’s key players from the 2013 World Series run are free agents. This list consists of Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew.
Luckily for Boston, Lester has a $13 million club option that the Red Sox will likely exercise.
For their other key free agents, there are some difficult decisions to make.
Ellsbury will be one of the most sought after free agents on the market. At the age of 30, Ellsbury is in the prime of his career.
The Red Sox front office will want Ellsbury back, but they will have to pay a very high price. Ellsbury will likely demand a deal that has the longevity of around six years at the minimum, and will demand well over $100 million in guaranteed money. The only reason Boston could choose to let Ellsbury walk is because he will be 36 when the contract ends, and there are no guarantees that Ellsbury will still be contributing at a high level that late in his career.
Napoli, Boston’s starting first baseman, is 32 years old and regarded as one of the top players entering the free agent market this offseason. Napoli won’t demand a contract like Ellsbury’s, but he will still likely demand a long-term deal that will also have a high price tag attached.
Napoli was one of Boston’s top offensive threats all season, hitting 23 home runs and driving in 92 runners, which is a career high. He also had a .259 batting average with a .482 slugging percentage. Keeping Napoli in Boston will be another big priority for the Red Sox moving forward.
Starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has slowly become Boston’s franchise catcher, following in the footsteps of Jason Varitek.
This season, “Salty,” as he’s referred to by teammates and fans, hit 14 home runs and 65 RBI this season, while maintaining a .273 batting average. Multiple teams will pursue Saltalamacchia, but the Red Sox likely won’t let him walk. He is only 29 years old and his contract demands won’t be nearly as large as those of Ellsbury or Napoli.
The priority free agent on Boston’s roster is starting shortstop Stephen Drew. Drew’s situation is different from the other impending free agents.
Boston has young depth in the infield, which includes Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts. While both players are listed as third basemen, Bogaerts has worked his way through the minor leagues playing shortstop, and is considered by many to be Boston’s shortstop of the future, especially after his solid output in the world series (.238 batting average, one triple and two RBI).
Drew is 30 years old and still has a few good seasons left of good baseball. If he demands a large contract, Boston will likely let him walk and turn to Bogaerts to take over the shortstop position.
The Red Sox had a great 2013 season, but they will need to retain most of their upcoming free agents if they want to make another World Series run in 2014.
Luckily, Boston can exercise their club option on their top starting pitcher, Lester. There is a good chance Ellsbury will walk if offered a big contract elsewhere. The Red Sox shouldn’t have problems retaining Napoli, Saltalamacchia and Drew if they choose to offer Lester a contract.