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A look at which Red Sox might be getting qualifying offers next time around

01.24.13 at 12:35 am ET

The first year of going through this ‘Qualifying Offer Era’ has shed some light on what awaits potential free agents following the 2013 season. Nine players were offered qualifying offers, with all but one, David Ortiz, declining the chance to make $13.3 million for the 2013 season. (Ortiz signed with the Red Sox before hitting the free agent market.) Here are the results for the other eight:

Josh Hamilton: Angels, five years, $125 million.

B.J. Upton: Braves, five years, $75 million.

Nick Swisher: Indians, four years, $56 million.

Rafael Soriano: Nationals, two years, $28 million (with enough deferred money to push the present-day value of the deal to about $11 million per season).

Adam LaRoche: Nationals (his previous team), two years, $24 million.

Hiroki Kuroda: Yankees (his previous team), one year, $15 million.

Kyle Lohse: Not signed.

Michael Bourn: Not signed.

Of course, the reason a qualifying offer was presented to these players was to siphon a draft pick if they sign with another team. (The signing team — if not the one previously employing the free agent — would have to surrender a draft pick.) The risk of extending the offer is that the player accepts the chance to make $13.3 million, a cost that might put a short-term strain on some payrolls.

It all opens up an interesting conversation regarding what might transpire for a collection of Red Sox players following the ’13 season.

There are five players currently on the Red Sox’ roster — Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalmacchia, Joel Hanrahan and Stephen Drew — who have legitimate chances to be offered qualifying offers. For most, it would require near-career years for such an opportunity to be presented, while Ellsbury could be just pretty good and still get the star treatment.

Here is a look at whether those players might be in line for qualifying offers, in order of likelihood of getting the one-year offer of what figures to be more than this year’s $13.3 million level:

1. Ellsbury. Barring a season like ’12, the center fielder will almost certainly be getting a qualifying offer. And even if there is a second straight disappointing campaign he still might get the one-year handshake since agent Scott Boras would confidently send his client into the market riding the potential born from ’11. The Red Sox would also be open to paying top dollar for the one year with the continued hope that Ellsbury finds his way. Chance of a qualifying offer: A virtual lock.

2. Drew. Another Boras client, the shortstop is following the lead of players such as Adrian Beltre, hoping to use the stage of Boston to springboard his way to a multi-year deal. With good health and a good year (along the lines of his ’10 season in which he hit .278 with 15 homers and an .810 OPS), the 30-year-old Drew would certainly be in line for a multi-year deal given the scarcity of shortstops who can hit (from 2008-10, he ranked among the top few offensive players at his position in the game). If Drew performs well this coming year, the Red Sox would also have no fear of him accepting, blocking the likes of Xander Boegarts. If Drew ends up with an average year, there will still be a temptation to offer the qualifying offer considering Boras’ desire to take advantage of Drew’s prime years. Chance of a qualifying offer: If Drew remains healthy and posts numbers in line with his career norms, a very good chance.

3. Napoli. If the 31-year-old has a monster year — which, playing his home games at Fenway Park while healthy, is a possibility — extending a qualifying offer would be a no-brainer. Except … his recently diagnosed avascular necrosis in his hips raises considerable questions about his long-term ability to stay on the field. That, in turn, could make it impossible for a team to give him a multi-year deal under any circumstances, let alone with the possibility of having to give up a draft pick in order to sign him. Even if Napoli gets through ’13 injury-free, the uncertainty of his ailment might make the prospect of a one-year deal in excess of, say, $14 million his best option. And, from the Red Sox’ perspective, the risk of injury might cause some hesitation in allocating that much money, even for one year. (See the Rangers’ approach toward offering Napoli the qualifying offer after ’12, and the fact that the Sox ended up restructuring their agreement with the free agent to offer him just a $5 million guarantee.) Chance of a qualifying offer: If Napoli produces, it will largely depend on how teams view his hips after a full season at first base, still leaving it as a 50-50 proposition.

4. Hanrahan. The closer would have to have a lights-out season for the Red Sox to extend a qualifying offer, and even then there would be no certainty he would get such treatment. After witnessing the uncertainty experienced by Soriano — who had to eventually lean on an extremely creative contract that pushed its value per season below that of a qualifying offer — there would be a very good chance Hanrahan would accept the one-year deal, given that it would make him one of the best paid relievers in big league history. It would be interesting to see if the Red Sox, who don’t seem too keen on investing a heavy annual average value for any closer, feel comfortable taking the chance on paying Hanrahan such a rate. Chance of a qualifying offer: Because of the likelihood he would accept, less than 50 percent.

5. Saltalamacchia. The catcher would have to have a huge uptick in production — specifically, in his batting average and on-base percentage — and become one of the best offensive catchers in baseball, for a qualifying offer to be considered. But if he does have that sort of season, considering his age (27), Saltalamacchia would be eying a career-type of contract, making even the chance to become the third-highest catcher in baseball history on a one-year deal less appetizing with multi-year security waiting. But, again, it would require a big, big season, the kind of which might be difficult while playing what right now figures to be about two-thirds of the time. Chance of a qualifying offer: Possible, but not likely.

Read More: Jacoby Ellsbury, jarrod saltalamacchia, joel hanrahan, mike napoli
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