Boston Red Sox fans who prefer the commitment to developing homegrown players instead of opening the vault to high-priced free agents embrace the team’s new strategy this offseason. Ben Cherington, who is Boston’s executive vice president and general manager, has resisted doling out costly long-term deals to candidates like Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke in favor of keeping draft picks.
He has refrained making a blockbuster trade – like the 10-player deal between the Blue Jays and Marlins and today’s transaction between the Diamondbacks and Braves that shipped Justin Upton to Atlanta – because the club is high on top prospects like Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, and they are considered the cornerstone of future Red Sox teams, joining 24-year-old Will Middlebrooks, veteran second baseman Dustin Pedroia, 25-year-old left-hander Felix Doubront and 28-year-old right-hander Clay Buchholz.
Boston’s commitment to developing the next great Red Sox team through its farm system was further illustrated by the free agents who were signed this offseason to fill lineup spots in 2013. Outfielders Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes, first baseman Mike Napoli, shortstop Stephen Drew, catcher David Ross, right-handed starting pitcher Ryan Dempster and right-handed reliever Koji Uehara were inked to short-term deals and did not require the team to surrender draft pick compensation.
The Red Sox own the No. 7 pick in this summer’s draft. That is a protected pick. However, if they would have signed a free agent who received and declined a qualifying offer from his 2012 team, the Sox would have given away their second round selection, which will be in the low 40s – a spot where potential difference makers will be available.
Not only did Cherington stay away from premium free agents like Hamilton and Greinke because they would cost that second round pick, but he also opted not to seriously pursue names like first baseman Adam LaRoche and outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher for the same reason.
WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford authored a piece today speculating which Red Sox players will receive qualifying offers next offseason.
The candidates include Jacoby Ellsbury (who can become a free agent after the 2013 campaign), Drew (who is signed to a one-year deal), Napoli (who just inked an incentive-rich one-year contract), catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who will be eligible for free agency) and closer Joel Hanrahan (a potential free agent).
With the presence of Bradley – who is a super defensive center fielder, projects as an impact leadoff hitter and could make his Major League debut as early as the second half of this season – the Red Sox will likely extend a qualifying offer to Ellsbury and gladly accept the draft pick compensation when he declines and signs elsewhere.
Even if Napoli delivers a performance similar to 2011 – when he belted 30 home runs, hit .320 and produced a 1.046 OPS – the Red Sox are unlikely to make the veteran a qualifying offer because of the discovery that in both hips he has Avascular Necrosis (AVN), a condition that results in bone cell death because of decreased blood supply to the bone. Napoli reportedly has yet to display symptoms of AVN, but the qualifying offer amount next offseason will be higher than this offseason’s $13.3 million figure. Since the Red Sox signed the right-handed slugger to a $5 million contract this year with incentives that could increase his earnings to $13 million, it makes sense that they would refrain from giving him a guarantee of at least $13.3 million next offseason.
Bradford speculates that, if Drew has a career year at the plate and stays healthy, the Red Sox would have no fear of him accepting a qualifying offer. However, like Napoli, it is extremely unlikely that the Red Sox will extend that offer to Drew regardless of how productive he is in 2013. The 20-year-old Bogaerts, who projects as a middle of the order bat in the majors, is No. 7 on the Baseball News Source Top 10 Prospects List for 2013, and he is expected to be Major League ready next year.
Also, 22-year-old defensive whiz Jose Iglesias has apparently worked hard this offseason to build strength and improve his performance at the plate. If Iglesias enhances his bat, the Red Sox could move Bogaerts to another position and insert Iglesias as the starting shortstop in 2014, which would leave Drew without a position.
Hanrahan could get a qualifying offer if he replicates Jonathan Papelbon‘s best years in Boston, and chances are the right-hander would accept. Though Saltalamacchia is just 27 and ripped 25 home runs last season, even if he eclipses 30 home runs in 2013, Boston is not likely to give him a qualifying offer since his defense and game-calling abilities are questionable, and he is prone to striking out. Also, the Red Sox have Ross as a proficient backup and they are high on Ryan Lavarnway and Christian Vazquez, who is a plus defensive catcher and signal caller with some pop at the plate.
When next offseason reaches an end, likely only Ellsbury will receive and decline a qualifying offer. And since prospects like Bogaerts, Bradley, De La Rosa, Webster, Barnes and right fielder Bryce Brentz could be Major League ready, the Red Sox will be further encouraged to remain on track for avoiding costly free agents in favor of developing homegrown players because of the these high-ceiling prospects’ potential impact.