The Red Sox are currently down in Florida, preparing for the 2010 season. As they attempt to band together and bring another World Series title to town, several players do so with their futures in Boston up in the air.
The list of players who remain without deals for 2011 is long and includes:
Josh Beckett, Adrian Beltre, Manny Delcarmen, Jacoby Ellsbury, Bill Hall, Jeremy Hermida, Mike Lowell, Victor Martinez, Hideki Okajima, David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Ramon Ramirez and Jason Varitek.
Ellsbury, Delcarmen, Hermida, Okajima and Papelbon are all arbitration-eligible. While they are tied to the Red Sox under this concept, they are not assured of a contract for 2011. Following the year, the Red Sox will be able to decide whether or not to tender the five players offers for next season. In essence, Boston has an escape clause if a player performs below expectations by being able to cut them without penalty.
Ellsbury, Okajima, Papelbon and Ramirez will certainly have their options picked up. Ellsbury is an important part of the team and is considered to be a long-term investment for the Red Sox, while Okajima and Ramirez are two of Boston's most valued setup men.
Hermida is the one player to keep an eye on. With a $3.345 million deal for 2010, Hermida is expensive for a backup outfielder who is trying to find a groove and produce. While there is plenty of optimism about his talents, if Hermida struggles this season, the Red Sox might not tender him a deal to avoid paying him north of $4 million in 2011. Fortunately, if Hermida comes through with a big season, Boston can keep him for an additional year.
Delcarmen has been a longtime middle reliever and is still a bargain at $905,000. However, he has struggled to find consistency. For a big-market team like the Red Sox, even a worst-case scenario of an injury-plagued year or bad production would be unlikely to prevent Delcarmen returning in 2011. He has been bandied about in trade rumors, most notably for Nick Johnson last spring, and that's the only way he won't be with Boston next spring.
As for Papelbon, 2011 will be the final year the Red Sox can keep him in arbitration and he will become a free agent after the season. The closer has a great chance of making well over $10 million in salary for 2011, but the Red Sox will continue to explore signing Papelbon to an extension.
Some other players technically do not have future years guaranteed with Boston, nor do they have arbitration opportunities. These players receive minimum salaries or close to them. Though the team can release them without cause, it is difficult to see Clay Buchholz and Jed Lowrie, the headliners of this group, departing in that vein.
In Ortiz's case, his future is up to the Red Sox at the moment. With a 2011 club option worth $12.5 million up for grabs, Ortiz can remain with the team without becoming a free agent if the Red Sox are happy with his performance. If they decline the option, Big Papi will become a free agent free to sign with any club (including, possibly, the Red Sox, likely for less money).
Hall also holds a $9.25 million option for 2011 — which, if all goes right, won't be exercised. The only way Hall will see that option picked up is if he is a full-time starter for the duration of the season and puts up a monster campaign similar to his 35-home run season of 2006. Good news, right?
Don't forget that Hall is slated to be a backup infielder, so if he indeed gets over 500 at-bats, it will be due to one of the starters getting hurt for the entire year. No one wants that.
The remaining names control their own fate. Beltre holds a player option to return to Boston for $5 million, which would represent a $4 million paycut from his 2010 salary. Beltre, agent Scott Boras and Red Sox GM Theo Epstein have all indicated that this player option is solely for a worst-case scenario where Beltre underperforms to the point where he cannot do any better on the free-agent market. If that happens, Boston's season probably won't end in a ring, so let's root for him to opt out of his contract.
Beckett and Martinez are the two players fans will be most interested in. They are both in their respective primes, the former anchoring the top of the rotation and the latter expected to serve as the No. 3 hitter. They are both expected to request a minimum of $10 million annually and are liable to get it, whether in Boston or elsewhere.
Lowell's saga with the Red Sox has been well covered. He has found himself squeezed out of a starting job in Boston and, if not traded, is certain to depart after the season in hopes of landing himself a starting gig somewhere else.
That leaves the captain himself, Varitek. The new backup catcher has indicated he has no plans and no interest in finishing up his career anywhere but Boston. Assuming he accepts and adapts to his new role successfully, the Red Sox will ensure Tek finishes his career in a Red Sox uniform.