Ben Cherington Shows Interest in Re-Signing Red Sox’ Four Big Free Agents, But Thinks It’s ‘Unlikely’ All Will Return

Ben CheringtonBOSTON — In an ideal world, the Red Sox would re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia this offseason. Unfortunately for Boston, we don’t exactly live in an ideal world.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said Monday that the club has interest in re-signing all four of its free agents who played a major role in Boston winning the World Series this season. Cherington isn’t optimistic that will happen, though, as free agency tends to be a complicated process.

“Really, with all of our free agents, there’s interest in every one of them. I also think it’s unlikely that every one of them will be back, just because it’s the nature of the game — it’s difficult to do that,” Cherington said. “In between there, there’s all sorts of permutations and combinations that could work, and we’re going to have to, again, keep the conversation going with all of them and also with alternatives and see how the market shapes up for them and ultimately see what makes sense for us.

“But we had six free agents, if you include John McDonald and Joel Hanrahan, and four position player free agents who played significant roles on the team. In a vacuum, we’d like to have all of them back, but we just have to see how it goes, and we’ll continue to talk to all of them and see how the market shapes out.”

The Red Sox on Monday extended qualifying offers to Ellsbury, Napoli and Drew, meaning that, theoretically, those players could re-sign with Boston for one-year and $14.1 million. But there’s pretty much zero chance that all three will accept their qualifying offers, especially Ellsbury, who is believed to be seeking a long-term contract in excess of $100 million. The Red Sox would certainly be pleased if they all signed back on for Boston’s 2014 title defense, though.

“Part of the analysis in making a qualifying offer or the decision to make a qualifying offer is assume the possibility that it’s accepted,” Cherington said. “We didn’t make any qualifying offer that we weren’t comfortable being accepted, so yeah, if any of them are accepted, we’d be happy with that outcome.”

The Red Sox appear to be in a good position as they head into the offseason. Not only are they World Series champions, but the organization is deep — both in terms of major league talent and players on the cusp of playing in the big leagues full-time. This offseason likely won’t be as busy as last offseason when it comes to roster turnover, but Cherington expects the Red Sox to have a similar mindset while constructing what they hope is a team capable of contending for another World Series title in 2014.

“The generic answer is we want to maintain that depth, the strength throughout the roster as best we can,” Cherington said Monday of the Red Sox’ offseason approach. “More specifically, the four position player free agents that played key roles, we’re going to continue to talk. All four of those spots have to be determined in some way. In a lot of those spots, we have, we think, very strong, viable alternatives in the organization, younger players. I think there’s probably a preference on our part not to commit to being young at all four of those spots, and maybe there’s a combination somewhere in there, so we’ll just have to see. But those four, the free agents and their respective positions, are things that we have to work on.”

Ellsbury hit .298 with nine home runs, 53 RBIs and an MLB-best 52 stolen bases in 2013. The 30-year-old outfielder was also a Gold Glove finalist.

Napoli hit .259 with 23 homers and 92 RBIs. The 32-year-old got on base at a .360 clip despite his club record 187 strikeouts and exceeded defensive expectations in his first season as a full-time first baseman.

Drew hit .253 with 13 home runs and 67 RBIs in 124 games. The 30-year-old shortstop played tremendous defense, which kept him in the starting lineup amid a lack of offensive production during the postseason.

Saltalamacchia — the only one of the four free agents not to receive a qualifying offer — made great strides both offensively and defensively in 2013. The 28-year-old backstop hit .273 with 14 home runs and 65 RBIs, while also building an excellent rapport with much of the Red Sox’ pitching staff.

“I think if we can duplicate this group and keep it together and take another run at it, that would be great,” manager John Farrell said Monday. “But a lot of questions are yet to answered, and the one thing I think we all subscribe to is that stability and continuity has a chance for success. We’ve already been success with this group, and if we had an outside chance of just reassembling in Fort Myers next February, I think another year of familiarity would be a really good thing.”

We’ll have to see how everything develops on the open market this winter. But it’s clear that the Red Sox are at least looking into locking up their core four free agents.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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