Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell would like to keep the World Series champions together for another run at a title. And yet he knows that's unlikely to happen.
"That was felt when we got off the duck boats, knowing this was one last chance to celebrate with a million people in the city," Farrell said Monday, two days after the team's victory parade and hours before the deadline to make qualifying offers to four free agents who were key to the team's title. "Hopefully we'll be able to retain all of them. The reality is that might not work out."
One year after a midseason and off-season overhaul that turned a last-place team into World Series champs, the Red Sox off-season began in earnest on Monday with $14.1 million qualifying offers to free agents Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew. General manager Ben Cherington said the team decided not to make an offer to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, though he would like to re-sign the catcher.
"There's interest in every one of them," Cherington said. "I also think it's unlikely that every one of them will be back. ... We're going to keep the conversation going with all of them, and also with alternatives, and see where the market shapes up. In a vacuum we'd like to have all of them back."
The Red Sox went from worst to first a year after dumping three of their biggest contracts — Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford — on the Los Angeles Dodgers at a savings of about $261.7 million. Instead of making a big splash in free agency last winter, they signed mid-market players like Napoli, Drew, Shane Victorino and Koji Uehara.
Cherington said the lessons learned from their successes and failures won't be forgotten.
"I think we have to go into this off-season with the same general mindset: to build a roster as deep as we can," he said. "The general philosophy would lead us toward a lot of the same things we were looking for last year."
The oft-injured Ellsbury is expected to seek a long-term deal worth $20 million or more per year. Napoli and Drew might accept the qualifying offer or use it as the basis for negotiations on a multiyear contract. Saltalamacchia, who made $4.5 million this year, could still re-sign with the team at a lower salary.
The Red Sox declined to make qualifying offers to infielder John McDonald and reliever Joel Hanrahan, who were not on the World Series roster.
Complicating Napoli's negotiations is a hip condition that prompted the team to back out of a $39 million, three-year deal that had been tentatively agreed to and instead sign him to a one-year contract for a guaranteed $5 million with performance bonuses — which he eventually earned — that brought him back to $13 million.
"Mike Napoli played a lot this year and was a huge part of our team," Cherington said. "We're making a qualifying offer to him, so we obviously have interest in him returning on a one-year deal for $14.1 million. He'll have an opportunity to consider that."