Future of Key Red Sox Still in Question

While Patriots fans are still confused as to how a bear hug can be called pass interference, and then somehow waived off to end Monday Night Football, there are some other questions that need answers in Boston as well.

(Note: This is pass interference, kids)

Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, and Mike Napoli all declined a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Red Sox last week and will test the free-agent market.

While it’s not set in stone they will not return to the team next year, should they resign, the team would have to forfeit a first-round draft pick.

Boston can’t be too disappointed with Drew not accepting the offer. He was on a one-year $9.5 million deal last season, and certainly helped out defensively at short stop, but his bat is mediocre and his post-season performance certainly isn’t going to help his case to land a long-term deal. This past season was the ideal year to help Xander Bogaerts develop at short, where we can expect him and Will Middlebrooks to hold down the left side of the infield in the future. All signs point to Drew leaving Boston.

A fan favorite, Napoli has expressed interest to stay in Boston and could receive a two or three-year deal this offseason. Remember back before the season when Napoli “signed” with the team, but hiccups in the deal caused it to linger forever? That deal was originally supposed to be three-years, but a physical exposed a hip issue, knocking the deal back to one. With injury issues aside, Napoli’s power bat could provide a lot of help in protecting Ortiz in the lineup. If he doesn’t shave the beard, he could be tripping over it during home run trots, but those trots should be happening in Fenway for the next few seasons.

Ellsbury is without a doubt the second-most sought after free agent behind Robinson Cano (who is looking for $300 million, good luck). He can expect to pull in a deal worth over $100 million, and most likely won’t do that in Boston.

The Red Sox would ideally like to re-sign Ellsbury, he’s been part of the team’s core since the end of the 2007 season, and as two rings to show for it. Boston has reaped the benefits of his multi-tool skill set defensively in center, speed on the bases, and a solid bat at the top of the order. Those, however, are combined skills that are extremely valuable yet hard to come by in baseball today, which is why interest in him is so high.

A “comparable” contract deal that has been discussed is the seven-year, $142 million contract the Red Sox gave to Carl Crawford a few years back. That obviously did not pan out, but Boston can feel more confident giving that kind of money to Ellsbury, given his proven performance with Boston. His agent Scott Boras, however, calls that an “old contract” and that Ellsbury could expect to receive something more. It’s Boras’ job to drive the price up, but as we’ve seen in years past, there will always be a team who is willing to overpay for a marquee free agent.

That team could very well be the Seattle Mariners. Ellsbury has ties to the Pacific Northwest, growing up in Madras, Oregon, and attending Oregon State. While they have maybe the most exciting pitcher in all of baseball in Felix Hernandez, interest around the Mariners is low due to their lack of a franchise everyday player. Ellsbury could be the missing piece, and they could be willing to pay him handsomely for it.

Other teams who are rumored to be in the running for Ellsbury are the Tigers, Phillies, Giants and Yankees. Having Ellsbury pull a Johnny Damon certainly would not please Red Sox fans, but his success in the division and the Yankees ability to spend money could lure him to New York.

He will have to compete with Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, and Curtis Granderson this offseason as outfielders who could land deals. If teams are looking for shorter deals for less money, voids could be filled with those guys instead of Ellsbury, which may drive his stock down.

It seems the most the Red Sox are willing to offer him is somewhere in the 5-year, $100 million contract. Although nobody wants to see him in another uniform, I’ve really been pleased with the job Ben Cherington has done in not giving long contracts to aging players. We’ve seen all too often that the back end of these contracts really hurt teams, paying way too much for underperforming players at the end of their careers. Big picture, should Ellsbury elect to take more money and go to another team, Boston fans should not be disappointed.

Jackie Bradley Jr., who actually started for Boston on Opening Day, is the logical replacement for the 2014 season. While he still needs time to develop, he can eventually be an everyday speed-outfielder that can fill a leadoff role.

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