BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox officially extended qualifying offers of $14.1 million for one year to free agents center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Mike Napoli, general manager Ben Cherington said Monday afternoon, hours before the deadline for such actions.
Each player can choose to accept the offer and play 2014 with the one-year deal, or test free agency. If they choose free agency and sign with another team, that team forfeits a top pick (the first 11 picks are protected, so those teams would then give up a second-round selection) and the Red Sox receive a compensatory pick in next season's first-year player draft.
Notably, the Red Sox did not make a qualifying offer to free-agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, which means a team can sign him without paying the price of a draft pick.
The remarkable coming together of the 2013 squad has left Cherington wanting to keep as much in place as possible.
"With all of our free agents there's interest in every one of them," he said. "I also think it's unlikely that every one of them will be back just because of the nature of the game, it's difficult to do that."
The offer to Ellsbury was expected, as he will most certainly jump into the free agent waters and net the organization a pick if he moves on to another city. The homegrown speedster is widely considered the best free agent on the market behind New York's Robinson Cano.
The Red Sox and Ellsbury did not see eye to eye in two attempts to strike a long-term deal in seasons past, sources told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney last month.
"Jacoby's a terrific player, as everyone knows, and of course we know we're a better team when he's on the field than when he's not," Cherington said. "But that's about all there is to say at this point. We'll just keep talking."
Drew, who played 2013 on a one-year deal, would have to balance what he can get on a weak shortstop market with the opportunity to go for a repeat title for a one-year sum beyond what he could merit on an annual basis elsewhere.
Napoli, who also played this season with a one-year pact after hip issues caused a three-year agreement to fall apart last offseason, has expressed his desire to return. If and when the medical reports on the hip return clean, the organization may see an opportunity to lock up the man who ranked second on the team in home runs and RBIs for an extended period of time.
Cherington said he is still waiting for those reports to be finalized.
Saltalamacchia set career highs in average (.273), RBIs (65), doubles (40) and several other categories as the primary catcher for a rejuvenated rotation. He will be among the top free-agent targets at the position, along with the Braves' Brian McCann.
Saltalamacchia told ESPNBoston.com before Game 6 of the World Series that he had wondered if he was spending his final days in Boston. Cherington understands the reality of the situation for players that earn the right to test the waters.
"All sorts of permutations and combinations that could work," Cherington added. "We're going to have to keep a conversation going with all of them and alternatives, see how the market shapes out."
The presence of outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and shortstop/third baseman Xander Bogaerts would help the organization better handle the departures of Ellsbury and Drew with young, homegrown talent. Cherington said he is pleased with the in-house options at those positions, as well as some that can fill in if Saltalamacchia and Napoli leave, but said Monday he is wary of having too much unproven youth in the lineup all at once to start the season next April.
Because of the market at his position, Drew has played himself into a spot where he can net multiple years at or maybe more than the $9.5 million he earned in 2013. However, he was comfortable playing on a one-year deal in 2013 and is coming off a season pretty much in line with career norms, even below those averages in some categories. Perhaps, if Drew's representation learns that the cost of a top pick is too much for teams even with a need at shortstop to make a satisfactory offer, he might be inclined to stay aboard in Boston for another year and then aim for a big splash after 2014.
Drew, and all others, have until Nov. 11 to accept the qualifying offers. If they reject them, they can still negotiate with their teams.