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Assistant GM Mike Hazen suggests Red Sox might be in different place for free agents with qualifying offers

11.08.13 at 11:35 am ET
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Catcher Brian McCann is one of the potential free agent targets for the Red Sox who received a qualifying offer. (AP)

Catcher Brian McCann is one of the potential free agent targets for the Red Sox who received a qualifying offer. (AP)

A year ago, the Red Sox’ top draft pick — No. 7 overall — was protected, meaning the team could not lose it even for signing a free agent who had received a qualifying offer from his former team. The team would instead have to sacrifice its second-round selection for signing one of the nine free agents who received such an offer from the club with whom he spent the entire 2012 season.

But the team still viewed that as a cost of business to be avoided. The club signed seven free agents to major league deals — David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara, Stephen Drew, Mike Napoli — but none of those players had received a qualifying offer that required the Sox to give up their second-round selection.

This year, the Sox don’t have a protected first rounder. They’ll have to give up their first-round pick (No. 30 overall) if they sign a player who received a qualifying offer. Yet the team seems more inclined at least to explore that possibility than it was a year ago.

A little more than a week into free agency, however, the Red Sox have already been connected to a couple of free agents who did receive draft pick compensation. Both catcher Brian McCann and right fielder Carlos Beltran — who received one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offers from the Braves and Cardinals, respectively — have been connected to the Sox as potential replacements for Boston’s own free agents (catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury). Yet the team is in position this year to approach free agents with qualifying offers somewhat differently than it did last winter.
The reason for the potential change in comfort related to parting with a pick — and, perhaps more importantly, the available bonus pool money teams are permitted to use without incurring financial and draft pick penalties for exceeding Major League Baseball’s recommended slot bonus allowances — reflects the fact that the Sox, unlike a year ago, expect to receive some compensatory draft picks for the departures of one or more free agents. The team extended qualifying offers to Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Mike Napoli. If any of them signs with another club, the team will receive a compensation pick between the first and second rounds that likely would be just five to 10 picks further down in the draft than the first-rounder that the team would sacrifice to sign a player who received a qualifying offer.

“I think the tradeoff of those draft picks would certainly be a different dynamic than what we were looking at last year. I don’t think we had any thought that we weren’t going to sign David Ortiz last year,” said assistant GM Mike Hazen on the WEEI Hot Stove Show on Thursday night, referring to the fact that Ortiz was the only player to whom the Red Sox extended a qualifying offer. “That was a different dynamic than what we have now. We have three (qualifying offers) out there now. To trade off our first-round pick for getting, in return, a pick that wouldn’t be that much different than we are now, I don’t think it would be as significant (as simply giving up a pick without getting a compensatory selection in return last year).”

Still, while that potential tradeoff of picks might make it slightly more palatable for the Sox to give up a pick, Hazen suggested that the Sox wouldn’t do so lightly. After all, hoarding picks likely offers the team its best opportunity for a healthy long-term view.

“I still think we value those picks fairly highly, no matter what position we’re in relative to the industry. Certainly this season has come a lot quicker than we expected it to come. We are where we are now. I don’t know that it changes our viewpoint of the draft. It’s still a crucial piece of what we’re trying to do here for the long term,” said Hazen. “Trying to build that next great Red Sox team, it’s not a one-year and done. That’s hopefully a multiple teams that make runs through the playoffs. That’s going to take continued drafting and development. … We need those picks, the money attached to those picks, to sign those players.”

Of course, any team would be more inclined to sign an elite free agent and give up a pick if that player represented the potential difference between contention and struggle. But just as they did a year ago, the Sox hope to avoid a model in which they focus their offseason around a single player or need rather than building the best overall roster possible.

“I don’t really know what model everyone is talking about. I think we signed a bunch of good baseball players because we had a number of different holes to fill. We couldn’t really take the approach of signing big guys because we had seven or eight spots to fill. If we had signed a big-dollar deal last year, we would have gotten in a situation where we were going with six-year minor league free agents, young players who weren’t ready yet, on other positions on the field. Part of what we wanted to do was build in depth, build in quality major league players at every position plus backups.

“I think (the offseason is) going to operate more on what specific teams need and how motivated are they to go after it. Where are they in terms of getting ready to contend? Are they a younger team trying to make a leap? Are they an older team trying for one more year? Those are the scenarios under which teams will operate aggressively and say, ‘Hey, we need this guy because 2014 is the end-all, be-all,’ ” said Hazen. “We hope to not operate that way. I do think we’ve done that in the past at times, sometimes right, sometimes wrong.

“I don’t think we want to get into that situation. I think the World Series helps a little bit. I think having players like [Xander] Bogaerts, young players starting to fill in the gaps, [Jackie Bradley Jr.], Bogaerts, the catchers, the pitchers like [Allen] Webster, [Anthony] Ranaudo, those guys, Henry Owens who are in Double-A and Triple-A, Matt Barnes, I think having those guys helps you to steer away from some of those decisions.”

To hear the complete interview with Hazen, click here. Some additional highlights:

– On whether teams will try to copy the Red Sox’ offseason model of last year, in which the team focused on second-tier free agents while eschewing longer-term deals of more than three years: “I don’t really know what model everyone is talking about. I think we signed a bunch of good baseball players because we had a number of different holes to fill. We couldn’t really take the approach of signing big guys because we had seven or eight spots to fill. If we had signed a big-dollar deal last year, we would have gotten in a situation where we were going with six-year minor league free agents, young players who weren’t ready yet, on other positions on the field. Part of what we wanted to do was build in depth, build in quality major league players at every position plus backups.”

– On whether, given manager John Farrell‘s suggestion that David Ross represents an option for about 60-70 games, the team has internal options to cover the remaining 90-100 games at a time when 2013 starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a free agent: “There’s multiple scenarios there. Certainly we’re exploring the free agent market. Certainly Salty is one of those catchers that had a phenomenal season for us this year. Those haven’t developed yet, those are developing.

“From an internal perspective, if we didn’t sign a free agent, there are two scenarios. One is the trade market, which has yet to develop,” said Hazen. “Then the internal, I think we have three guys at the upper levels (Ryan Lavarnway, Dan Butler, Christian Vazquez) we feel pretty strongly about. To what degree they’re ready I think is more of a question. All three have options, which certainly provides you flexibility where if one guy gets off to a pretty good start or has a pretty good spring training, you go with that guy. He starts to tail off a little, league starts to catch up with him a little bit and he’s struggling for whatever reason, and another guy is doing well in Pawtucket, you can get that guy while he’s hot. Certainly, the dangerous part of that scenario given the position that’s there is the rapport with the pitcher, the game-calling, getting into the rhythm of the advance reports, the opponents, and learning the guys you’re working with. That would take a hit in that scenario, so you do want to find stability. It’s not the ideal thing. But there is a scenario — I don’t know how likely it is — but that is the internal scenario. We like all three guys that are all in the upper levels. They all have options. They’re all on the roster. … We haven’t covered the free agent market and the trade market.  … We have multiple plans in place. We’re going to have to see which one we go with.”

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