Offseason officially begins

Tick. Tock.

The San Francisco Giants are World Series champions after dismissing the Texas Rangers in Game 5 Monday night at The Ballpark in Arlington, so that means the offseason has officially begun for Major League Baseball.

Significant changes were made to the offseason calendar this year, and that means the Boston Red Sox have until only Thursday to decide whether to pick up the $12.5 million team option on designated hitter David Ortiz.

The Red Sox are expected to pick up the option, but the 34-year-old slugger has said numerous times he would like a multiyear deal from general manager Theo Epstein. The sides are set to talk, and either way, Ortiz will know his future by Thursday.

Because of another date change, the Red Sox now have only five days of exclusive negotiating rights with possible departing free agents. That means Epstein figures to be busy talking with Victor Martinez’s representatives.

Epstein has said he would like to have the catcher/first baseman back in the mix, and Martinez has expressed similar sentiments. If the sides are able to come to an agreement, it’ll have to happen quickly because Martinez is considered one of the top free agent prizes this winter.

Another big free agent is third baseman Adrian Beltre, who successfully accomplished his goal of 2010 by showcasing his ability to compete at a high level. He resurrected his career and is looking for a lucrative long-term deal.

Even though Beltre is looking for a major payday, he’s also made it clear he wants to win a World Series, which could help Boston's chances in negotiations with Beltre and his agent, Scott Boras.

If Beltre is not in the Sox’s plans, the club also could consider going after slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez via trade and move Kevin Youkilis back to third base. Youkilis obviously can play the hot corner, but he’s also made is known how comfortable he is as the team’s everyday first baseman.

Once the exclusive grace period ends, it’s a safe bet Epstein (and most of the other 29 GMs) will target free agent outfielders Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth (also a Boras client).

It’s also no secret Boston’s bullpen struggled in 2010, and fixing that problem will be a priority. Lefty reliever Scott Downs, who has pitched for the Blue Jays for the last six seasons, was targeted by Epstein at the trade deadline and likely will be again this winter.

Epstein has proven in the past he’s not afraid to consider almost every possibility. He’ll have a lot of decisions to make this winter, and he’s now officially on the clock.