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Red Sox offseason gains definition with likely multi-year deal with David Ortiz, deadline for qualifying offers

11.02.12 at 6:58 pm ET
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The murky picture of the offseason just gained a measure of definition.

The deadline for teams to extend one-year qualifying offers to their free agents came and went at 5 p.m. on Friday. The qualifying offer, which represents the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball (approximately $13.3 million), assures that should a free agent leave a team to sign with another club, his original club will receive a draft pick in the supplemental first-round as compensation. The club that signs a free agent who received a qualifying offer, by contrast, must forfeit its top draft pick outside of the top 10 picks in the draft (which are protected).

UPDATE: David Ortiz and the Sox have agreed to a two-year, $26 million deal with incentives that could push the value of the deal up to $30 million after receiving a qualifying offer from the Red Sox.)

More significant was what happened to a number of other free agents who are on the market.

Some players represented no-brainers to receive qualifying offers. Those included outfielder Josh Hamilton of the Rangers and Rafael Soriano of the Yankees, the former of whom will certainly receive an offer that exceeds the one-year, $13.3 million construct in both length and years, the latter of whom just opted out of whom just opted out of a contract that would have paid him a guaranteed $14 million in 2013. Some prominent free agents, meanwhile, were ineligible to receive qualifying offers because they changed teams mid-year (Anibel Sanchez of the Tigers, Zack Greinke of the Angels and Ryan Dempster of the Rangers all fell into this category).

However, several free agents who could address areas of need for the Sox were not necessarily locks to receive offers, given the uncertainty about whether or not a team would be willing to risk having the player accept the qualifying offer and thus come back on a one-year deal with a costly salary.

Here is a brief look at the players who received qualifying offers, and some who did not, and how that could impact the Sox’ offseason. One note: Because the Sox have the No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 draft, their first-round selection (as one of the top 10 picks) is protected. For them, signing a free agent who receives a qualifying offer would cost them a second-round pick rather than a first-rounder — a significant consideration that will give the Sox greater comfort about signing a free agent who receives a qualifying offer than if the team had to give up its first-round pick.

RECEIVED QUALIFYING OFFERS

Michael Bourn: Bourn, who turns 30 in December, is an excellent defensive center fielder who gets on base at a respectable clip (.348 OBP since 2009), impacts the game on the bases (average of 51 steals over the last five years) and typically stays on the field. Still, given the paucity of center fielders on the market, he’s likely to receive a deal that might run counter to the tenets of discipline that Sox GM Ben Cherington has preached. So, the fact that he received a qualifying offer is neither a terribly surprising nor a terribly impactful one for the Sox.

Josh Hamilton: Though the premier position player on the market, the Sox are unlikely to get involved in the Hamilton sweepstakes given concerns about his age, injury history and past issues with addiction.

Hiroki Kuroda: If there’s one move on which the Red Sox might most want a do-over from last offseason, it was likely the inability to sign Kuroda while letting him go to the Yankees. The team has long been bullish on the right-hander, having made him the club’s primary target at the 2011 trade deadline. However, in this case, the qualifying offer is likely irrelevant, since there seems an excellent likelihood that he’ll return to New York on a one-year deal. He has shown a preference to go year-to-year with his contracts in Major League Baseball, and he was outstanding with the Yankees in 2012, going 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA in 219 2/3 innings.

Adam LaRoche: The Nationals first baseman is coming off a huge year in which he hit .271/.343/.510/.853 with 33 homers and won a Gold Glove. In 2012, he had the most productive season of any corner infielder in his walk year, showing power and solid plate discipline while working pitch counts (he averaged 4.03 pitches per plate appearance). He’d address a number of deficiencies for the Sox, though the soon-to-be 33-year-old — who declined his side of a $10 million mutual option — will come at considerable cost, and now, he’d also require a pick.

Kyle Lohse: Lohse is coming off of two very good years in St. Louis, having gone 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA over the last two years in St. Louis. Still, he’s a pitch-to-contact guy who turned 34 last month. With the Sox trying to skew younger in their rotation, a long-term deal would represent the wrong sort of risk for them to take with him, thus meaning that the Cardinals’ decision to make him a qualifying offer likely has little effect.

Rafael Soriano: Again, little impact on the Sox. GM Ben Cherington noted on the Red Sox Hot Stove Show on Thursday that the team feels its bullpen is a strength; the Sox are typically leery of long-term, big-money deals for relievers given concerns about performance volatility and the fact that such investments are typically inefficient given how few innings closers work.

Nick Swisher: Swisher, who turns 32 this month, could address Sox needs either at first or a corner outfield spot, he’s demonstrated an ability to perform well while playing in a big market, and his ability to work deep counts and elicit plenty of walks plays into an area of 2012 deficiency for the Sox. Though he had a poor postseason (5-for-30), he hit .272/.364/.473/.837 with 24 homers during the regular season, numbers that compare favorably to those posted by Cody Ross, and that were in line with his career averages (.256/.361/.467/.828). Given their needs, he seems almost certain to be a player of interest to the Sox this winter, though again, the idea of giving up a pick for a player whose prime years are likely behind him represents a suboptimal outcome.

B.J. Upton: The Sox need at least one, more likely two and possibly as many as three outfielders this offseason, depending on whether they decide to trade or keep Jacoby Ellsbury and whether they think Ryan Kalish can be an everyday big leaguer at the start of 2013 after two years that were lost to injuries. Upton represents a player who combines power, speed and above-average defense, and he’s also young (he turned 28 near the end of the season). In many respects, his numbers over the last five years compare closely with those of Ellsbury. He’d require a long-term deal and the sacrifice of a pick, and he’s long been viewed as an underachiever based on his incredible five-tool potential, but he’s still been a valuable player, and unlike Bourn, he could offer value as a corner outfielder as well.

NOTABLES WHO DID NOT RECEIVE QUALIFYING OFFERS (CLARIFICATION: THIS IS ONLY A LIST OF PLAYERS WHO WERE CONSIDERED POSSIBILITIES TO RECEIVE QUALIFYING OFFERS; THE SOX WILL HAVE INTEREST IN ADDITIONAL FREE AGENTS WHO WERE NOT EXPECTED TO RECEIVE QUALIFYING OFFERS)

Torii Hunter: The 37-year-old has remained productive into his late-30s. While the Angels likely viewed him as a potential overpay candidate at a one-year, $13.3 million deal, his track record is one of impressive consistency. The 2012 season marked the sixth time in the last seven years that he’s posted an .800-plus OPS, and while part of that reflected a high batting average on balls in play, the fact that he’ll be on the market, can be signed without giving up a pick and likely in line for a deal of no more than a couple of years might make him an appealing target as a potential “bridge” (ah, that word) to some of the team’s outfield prospects such as Kalish, Bryce Brentz and Jackie Bradley Jr.

Edwin Jackson: Jackson is young for a free agent (he turned 29 in September) and has been durable, with six straight seasons of 30-plus starts and five straight of at least 180 innings. The Sox were interested in him on a one-year deal last winter (when he did not cost a draft pick), but at a time when they had limited financial flexibility, they were out-bid for him by the Nationals, for whom he was 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA (roughly in line with league average). As a younger pitcher, he did prove a solid member of the Rays rotation in 2008, and he shows swing-and-miss stuff (8.0 strikeouts per nine innings in 2012). His inclusion on this list is a surprise — multiple major league sources expected him to receive a qualifying offer. He didn’t, which makes him even more appealing.

Russell Martin: The 29-year-old catcher hit for power (21 homers) but otherwise struggled (.211 average, .311 OBP, .713 OPS) in 2012 with the Yankees. He seems an unlikely match for the Sox, but his availability without a draft pick has implications for the Napoli market and, potentially, for the trade value of the Sox’ stock of catchers.

Mike Napoli had a career-low .227 average in 2012, unfortunate timing for a player coming off of a monster 2011 campaign (.320/.414/.631/1.046, 30 homers). Still, he draws a ton of walks, resulting in a solid .343 OBP, and with 24 homers, he still ended the year with a .469 slugging mark and .812 OPS. He would give the Sox a needed power-hitting presence and a player who delivers grinding at-bats. The team could use him as a first baseman or have him work with either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway as a catcher/first baseman. He’s not considered defensively elite, though its worth noting that in 2011, he led the AL in catchers’ ERA. Because of his 2012 struggles, he might also be open to a short-term deal in a favorable ballpark — likely part of the reason why the Rangers didn’t extend a qualifying offer to him. As a career .306/.397/.710/1.107 hitter with seven homers in 19 games at Fenway, he could be a good fit for the Sox lineup — particularly now that the team wouldn’t have to give up a draft pick to get him.

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