When the Red Sox assembled their roster for the 2013 season, it was with the goal of fielding a competitive team and maintaining roster and payroll flexibility for future seasons.
The first part of that objective certainly was surpassed when the team won 97 games and then the World Series. But the second half of the equation remains in effect. The Red Sox are in an enviable position economically and have a variety of avenues to explore that could result in a stronger team in 2014.
“We know we’re not going to have the same team we had again. There are a lot of changes that could happen,” catcher David Ross said last week. “But this organization is in pretty good shape when you look at the guys who are coming back.”
Teams have a 5 p.m. deadline on Monday to make a qualifying offer of one year and $14.1 million to any of their free agents. The Red Sox are expected to make those offers to shortstop Stephen Drew, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and first baseman Mike Napoli.
If any players tendered qualifying offers sign with another team, the Red Sox would receive compensation in the form of a draft pick.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who earned $4.5 million in 2013, is not expected to get the qualifying offer.
Ellsbury and Napoli almost certainly will reject the offer, knowing they can get multiyear deals. But Drew, who made $9.5 million in 2013, would have to at least consider it. The qualifying offer also could depress Drew’s value because of the draft pick attached.
Drew was comfortable in Boston and had a productive season. The Red Sox would welcome him back, knowing they could play Xander Bogaerts at third base. But players have only a week to make a decision on a qualifying offer and Drew’s agent, Scott Boras, traditionally believes in the advantages gained in going on the open market.
Barring a qualifying offer being accepted, the Red Sox would have approximately $47 million coming off their payroll. But some of the holes in their lineup could be filled inexpensively from within.
In Shane Victorino, the Red Sox already have a center fielder on their roster. They also have 23-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr., who hit only .189 in 107 major league plate appearances but showed promise with Triple A Pawtucket.
Both are viable options for center field. In Bradley’s case, he would cost the Red Sox roughly 96 percent less than Ellsbury and free up money that could be used to improve other parts of the roster.
If Victorino shifts from right field to center field, the Red Sox could play Daniel Nava in right field and sign a lefthanded hitter to platoon with Jonny Gomes in left field.
One of the reasons the Red Sox signed Victorino last winter was the knowledge that Ellsbury could well depart as a free agent.
The Red Sox have no further to look than their disastrous decision to sign Carl Crawford before the 2011 season as a good reason to have caution with Ellsbury.
Crawford was 29 when he was signed to a seven-year, $142 million deal with the Sox. He was a .296 career hitter with a .781 OPS, 409 stolen bases, and 104 home runs over nine seasons in the majors.
Ellsbury is 30 and is a .297 career hitter with a .789 OPS, 241 stolen bases and 65 home runs over seven seasons in the majors.
Crawford and Ellsbury are not identical players. Ellsbury has shown the ability to thrive in Boston when healthy and he is comfortable hitting leadoff, two important factors for the Red Sox. But their career statistics suggest enough similarity to give the Red Sox pause.
Ellsbury is not expected to command quite the same deal as Crawford. But the five-year, $90 million deal the San Francisco Giants awarded Hunter Pence suggests that Ellsbury will find a team willing to go to six years and $110 million.
Bogaerts is available to replace Drew and, like Bradley, would come at a steep discount.
Catcher and first base would be more difficult to fill. Saltalamacchia started 111 games in 2013 and had an .804 OPS, good for fourth among American League catchers. Ross has not played more than 62 games since 2007. He will be 37 in March and expecting him to catch 85-100 games is unrealistic.
The Red Sox have catching prospects in Ryan Lavarnway, Dan Butler, and defensively gifted Christian Vazquez. But only Lavarnway has major league experience and that consists of 45 starts over parts of three seasons.
The best overall catching prospect in the organization, 21-year-old Blake Swihart, is several years away.
Bringing Saltalamacchia back on a short-term deal — if he is willing to return after being benched for the final three games of the World Series — would bridge the gap to the prospects. Or the Red Sox could invest their money on one of the premier free agents on the market, Braves catcher Brian McCann.
The free agent most dealing from a position of strength is Napoli. The Red Sox need his righthanded power and first base is the weakest position in the farm system.
The free agent market offers little in the way of righthanded power outside of switch-hitter Kendrys Morales.
Napoli has made it clear he wants to return to the Red Sox and a deal could be easy to strike assuming he checks out medically. Napoli was denied a three-year deal last winter because of avascular necrosis in his hips. But the condition did not affect him during the past season.
The Red Sox are one of the few teams who appear to have a surplus of starting pitching. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, and Brandon Workman all are under contract.
Righthander Allen Webster struggled in the majors but the organization believes he can be righted. Three well-regarded prospects — Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, and Henry Owens — are in a position where they could make an impact next season.
The Red Sox could trade one of their veterans to bolster another part of the roster or improve their inventory of prospects. Or they simply could maintain the depth for the needs that inevitably will occur because of injury or poor performance.