Jacoby Ellsbury remains Boston's No. 1 offseason priority.
The Boston Red Sox outfield could be in for a number of changes in 2014 in the wake of what could transpire this offseason.
Already well documented is the potential departure of veteran center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury via free agency. Shortstop Stephen Drew and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia are also free agents.
Ellsbury, who has served the Red Sox since 2007, is certain to command a lofty contract next year—a number higher than the $9 million he made in 2013.
In a way, Ellsbury's situation in Boston shall directly influence and dictate what transpires in the Red Sox's offseason prospectus in the outfield. There is a possibility that he stays in Boston. There is also a strong likelihood that he walks, opening the door for other scenarios.
Staying put may be one of Ellsbury's best options, per Jim Bowden of ESPNBoston.com.
The article suggests that Boston will not give Ellsbury a long-term contract, yet the team does view him as their No. 1 offseason priority.
This scenario is further backed up by Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, who states the Red Sox are still keeping an open dialogue with Ellsbury's agent Scott Boras.
Scott Boras said that he has kept an open dialogue on Jacoby Ellsbury with the Red Sox.— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) November 24, 2013
Sure, keeping Ellsbury would be a nice move by general manager Ben Cherington. He is a tremendous asset without doubt. Yet the question remains whether or not the Red Sox can get him at the right cost and contract length.
Let us assume that the two parties are unable to come to terms this offseason and Ellsbury signs elsewhere.
The initial thought that would probably best suit Boston is to give the starting center field job to top prospect Jackie Bradley Jr.
Red Sox president Larry Lucchino made a statement to WEEI.com via Chris Towers of CBS Sports regarding Bradley's long-term potential in Boston:
Bradley, taking you back a few months as to the views of him by experienced baseball people, he's going to have a long and productive career. I feel very confident about them, as confident as you can be with someone at that age and stage.
Bradley hit only .189 with three home runs and 10 RBI in limited action in 2013. While the numbers are not particularly inspiring, it is clear from Lucchino's statements that the Red Sox are pinning high hopes on their young talent.
Bowden also makes the argument that Boston should pursue free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran if Ellsbury walks. Beltran would be an upgrade in left field—assuming that is where he would play if signed—but how likely is this possibility?
Carlos Beltran Still an Impact Player, But Red Sox' Other Offseason Questions Make Pursuit Tough to Gauge http://t.co/Xb3Y0jzW6X— NESN (@NESN) November 22, 2013
This likelihood is broken down by Ricky Doyle of NESN.com. He writes:
In a vacuum, Beltran would look good in a Sox uniform. While he’s no young pup—he’ll be 37 in April—he still has power, which is at a premium these days, and he’s a proven playoff performer with a competitive edge. Teams can’t win solely on the latter, but the 2013 Red Sox showed that there’s some value to having a cohesive team comprised of high-character players.
Doyle also describes that Beltran could potentially be a liability from a defensive standpoint, and his signing would shake things up in Boston's lineup.
The idea of Beltran in the outfield isn’t too compelling either, per Doyle:
In all likelihood, Beltran would play left field if he signed with the Red Sox, as right field at Fenway Park is no place for someone with diminished defensive tools, particularly range. Beltran playing left field would obviously have implications for Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp, who would all be jockeying for playing time in some capacity. Bradley would likely serve as the Red Sox’ center fielder, as signing Beltran could accompany the end of Ellsbury’s tenure in Boston.
There are too many factors at stake here for Boston to take a gamble on Beltran. While he would be an asset at the plate, the Red Sox would have to consider his age, defensive liability and contractual obligations.
In short, they are best suited looking elsewhere.
When healthy, Kemp is a tremendous player—his 162 game career averages are .293 with 26 homers and 94 RBI with an .844 on-base percentage.
Yet Kemp is in the midst of an eight-year, $160 million contract. The Dodgers would certainly have to eat some of that contract if they moved Kemp, but Cafardo reports they have not shopped Kemp despite interest from other teams.
As such, this deal is probably slated as a rumor at best.
The most likely scenario is Boston giving Bradley a starting job in the wake of Ellsbury's departure. Nava, Gomes and Carp (pending free agency) will compete for playing time.
What about shortstop Stephen Drew?
Despite reports that stated Drew's time in Boston was over, Cherington made it clear that the Red Sox were interested in having him back, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe.
Report: Red Sox 'Haven't Closed the Door' on Re-Signing Stephen Drew http://t.co/lYjzzr5FIV— NESN (@NESN) November 14, 2013
“That’s not something I’ve been told,” Cherington said regarding Drew's departure. “We’re still talking with him and we’d like to have him back. We’ll see what happens.”
Abraham points out that Drew signing with another team could cost a first-round pick given the Red Sox offered him a qualifying offer. That, in turn, could dampen the market, even though reports state that Drew's agent Scott Boras has been pushing him elsewhere.
Drew could still return, and Cherington has indicated they would like him back.
Yet a better scenario could be this: Part ways with Drew, especially if the contract is too much. Give the young and talented Xander Bogaerts a shot at playing every day at shortstop. Either Will Middlebrooks or an addition like veteran Michael Young could fill the third baseman job.
Young could be an interesting addition given the interest, per Derek Stykalo of Fansided.com.
If Boston were able to sign Young, the team could potentially take some pressure off of both Bogaerts and Middlebrooks to perform at high levels in 2014.
Are there any options like this available at catcher? That is a more difficult question to answer.
Saltalamacchia, the incumbent catcher who lost considerable playing time to David Ross in the postseason, is set to be a free agent and is drawing considerable interest from other teams, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
The Red Sox have made Saltalamacchia a qualifying offer and would clearly entertain his return. Yet what happens if he leaves?
Previously, Boston could have pursued other veteran options like Carlos Ruiz or Brian McCann. Now, Ruiz has re-signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and McCann with the New York Yankees. These deals have thinned the market and could potentially force the Red Sox's hand.
If Saltalamacchia walks, expect Boston to be quick in signing a new backstop. The market here is relatively thin and the Red Sox have the chips to make a quick short-term deal.
Like many championship teams, the Red Sox are in a precarious position to retain some of their talented veterans. It will be difficult for them to get all of them back in free agency.
As such, expect Boston to pursue additional options this offseason. Some, or all, of the aforementioned players could leave which forces the Red Sox to be more active on the free agent market. Yet the biggest deals are not always the best ones.
Only time will tell which avenues Cherington and the Red Sox pursue.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.