The Red Sox may be inclined to part ways with Jacoby Ellsbury.
The 2013 World Series has come and gone, and the Boston Red Sox are plenty busy with all the pomp and celebration that takes place in the wake of a championship.
Soon however, all of that will be over, and plans will be put in motion to prepare the franchise for next year.
The Red Sox, like any team, will have to make plenty of decisions between now and opening day in 2014. There are pending departures of roster players via free agency. Trade possibilities loom. Prospects are waiting to showcase their talents.
How will the Red Sox go about the offseason? What changes will fans see after such an exhilarating 2013 season?
Rest assured, there will be some noteworthy moments before spring training commences next year.
Let us take a look at a few things Boston needs to address this offseason and the best possible ways they can go about their continued success.
The Pitching Rotation
Comprised of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront, the Red Sox have already established one of the better starting rotations in the American League.
If you counted correctly though, you will notice there are six starters on the aforementioned list. Does that mean one of those guys is axed from the rotation?
Boston has picked up Lester's $13 million option for next season, which was the right thing to do. He will continue to be the ace in the rotation. Aside from Doubront, the rest are signed through at least 2015.
It is a good thing to have the rotation intact.
Doubront's one-year, $518,500 contract is up now and the 26-year-old missed the cutoff for arbitration.
Championship-caliber teams can never have too much pitching, and the same could be said for Boston. Yet as positive as it may seem to have an extra arm potentially in the rotation, the Red Sox would be better off by sending away one of their arms in exchange for some offensive help.
The team does have prospects like Allen Webster and Brandon Workman to step up in a future role, so it is feasible that the Red Sox consider trading one of their starters.
Trading away Dempster may be the best option here. In 2013, Dempster had the highest ERA of Boston's starters—4.57—and the second-lowest strikeout-to-walk ratio—1.99.
At 36 years old, it would be tough to get much in return for Dempster, and considering his contract expires in 2015, Boston may have to eat some of the $13.25 million owed to him next season.
If that trade brings in a prospect or some depth, that money may be worth the return.
Upgrading the Catcher Position
The tandem of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross will likely not carry over next season.
Saltalamacchia hit .273 in 2013 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI.
He hit just .188 (6-for-32) with 19 strikeouts during the postseason, including 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in the World Series. But Salty made great strides in his fourth season—third full season—in Boston, and is likely in line for a nice payday on the open market per Ricky Doyle of NESN.
Saltalamacchia would like to be back and he stated so via Doyle:
It was tough because of the fact I don’t know if this is going to be my last year here. I took everything in and enjoyed every minute of it. This whole postseason I’ve been enjoying every pitch, every out, knowing that it could be the last, (Game 6) especially. I was looking in the stands and seeing everybody, just looking at the jersey and enjoying every minute of it. Hopefully I can be back.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia took stock of his Sox career on Wednesday, mindful that it might have been his last day w/team http://t.co/jqMwCy2L7t— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) November 1, 2013
Ross will still be on the roster in 2014 although his duties are probably best served in a backup role.
In all likelihood, Saltalamacchia departs via free agency. While he had a decent tenure in Boston, upgrading the position has to remain a major priority.
Who fills that role?
Brian McCann could be a popular man this offseason, with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers potentially calling on him http://t.co/r97p4EGucM— SB Nation MLB (@SBNationMLB) October 21, 2013
That acquisition would be a tremendous upgrade over any incumbent catcher in the Red Sox organization.
Yet McCann will be sought by a number of teams willing to pay top dollar for his services.
Jon Heyman, Danny Knobler and Scott Miller of CBS Sports predict that McCann will sign with the Texas Rangers this offseason although Heyman does not rule out the possibility of him winding up in Boston.
A championship team could lure McCann to Boston, but it would cost plenty of money. McCann earned $12 million last season and could earn an even heftier contract in 2014.
The Red Sox would have to pay up to make this happen, yet they could do it, especially considering the potential offsetting contract departures of Saltalamacchia and Dempster—among others to be described later.
Keeping Mike Napoli
Boston can probably get away with letting Jacoby Ellsbury walk—more on him later. Yet unlike their center field situation, the Red Sox do not have a lot of options at first base within the organization.
Mike Napoli initially signed a three-year contract with Boston, yet the deal was cut down to one year after a physical revealed a degenerative hip condition per Mike Axisa of CBS Sports.
Napoli provides plenty of thump in the lineup as well as solid defense. Losing him could prove costly, considering Boston does not have a ready-to-go prospect waiting to take over the position.
Both parties appear interested in Napoli returning to Boston per Sports Illustrated, and the Red Sox have already made a qualifying offer to keep him in a Red Sox uniform next season.
Report: Red Sox to make qualifying offers to Mike Napoli, Jacoby Ellsbury: http://t.co/0lLKycIVna— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) October 31, 2013
Napoli stated that he loves playing in Boston and wants to return per NESN:
I want to be here. I love this place. They’ve treated me so good here. The way they’ve taken care of me, it’s unbelievable. When the time comes, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have some conversations. I hope to be back here next year.
Mike Napoli Hopes to Return to Red Sox in 2014, Says 'I Love This Place' http://t.co/HXGXIcP2jR— NESN (@NESN) October 31, 2013
Red Sox fans unquestionably want him back. The only issue is whether or not contract negotiations get in the way.
Bringing him back needs to be a priority. If that does not happen, however, look for the Red Sox to eyeball a player like Kendrys Morales via free agency to fill the void.
Stephen Drew at Shortstop and Xander Bogaerts at Third Base
Shortstop Stephen Drew probably disappointed a few Sox fans in 2013—at least at the plate.
He hit only .253, drove in a mere 67 runs and had a rough postseason sans his World Series Game 6 home run.
Yet Drew's value is felt defensively. At shortstop, Drew is as reliable as they come—owning a season .984 fielding percentage with only eight errors in 516 chances.
Drew changing his contact lenses before Game 6 may be a sign of better things to come, so perhaps that is just enough incentive to keep him in a Red Sox uniform in 2014.
Also from Boras, Stephen Drew went to the eye doctor before Game 6, got some new contact lenses and homered and hit the ball hard 3 times.— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) October 31, 2013
His agent is Scott Boras, and his name alone could drive up the price, but his defense alone provides a worthy investment.
On the other hand, Xander Bogaerts could take over the position, and Boston would like him to be an everyday star. Yet Bogaerts has done an exceptional job at third base, too, which seemingly should push Will Middlebrooks to the sidelines.
Perhaps keeping Middlebrooks in a backup role—he is cheap as his one-year, $498,000 contract suggests—would be the best option while allowing Drew and Bogaerts to retain the starting jobs on the left side of the infield.
Letting Jacoby Ellsbury Go
It may be hard for Red Sox fans to see one of their favorites don a new uniform in 2014. But that is exactly what the team should consider with Jacoby Ellsbury.
Ellsbury is going to be one of the most sought free agents on the market this offseason and has already drawn interest from a number of teams per CBS Sports.
Like Drew, Ellsbury is another Boras client and is sure to command a hefty contract on the open market. Boston has already made a qualifying offer per Sports Illustrated, so it is clear that the organization is interested in retaining his services.
The only question is what the eventual cost would be.
If Boston is able to re-sign Ellsbury, all parties should be relatively happy. Yet general manager Ben Cherington is also looking to the future with a young Jackie Bradley Jr. in the mix.
Bradley may, or may not, be ready at the big-league level in 2014. In that regard, keeping Ellsbury in 2014 makes sense. The only problem with that scenario is that Ellsbury will probably seek a long-term contract. Is that something the Red Sox want to do?
Most likely not.
Instead, Boston should be planning for its future and saving the would-be spent money elsewhere.
What should be Boston's top offseason priority?
There are plenty of changes in the Red Sox's future and some of them are likely to come soon.
Even in the wake of all the celebrations from the team's third championship in nine years, Boston has to be forward-thinking. There are some worthy players the Red Sox should retain. There are also some deals that could be made.
It is also feasible to see some of their stars depart.
There can be pitfalls after a World Series crown, and Boston hopes to avoid them. The next few weeks and months should give us a better indication of whether or not they do.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.