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Ellsbury, Napoli among Sox's free-agent decisions

Ellsbury, Napoli among Sox's free-agent decisions

Ellsbury, Napoli among Sox's free-agent decisions

BOSTON -- They were all trying to enjoy the moment, spray the champagne, pour the beer and jump into the most embracing of hugs.

But four of the key contributors of the 2013 World Series champions did so knowing they could be in different uniforms by the time Spring Training rolls around. The Red Sox have until 5 p.m. ET on Monday to decide whether to issue qualifying offers to their free agents: Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew.

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Free agency previews

Free agency won't begin until Monday, but the Red Sox can negotiate with their free agents before then. For each free agent they present with a qualifying offer of $14.1 million for one year who ends up with another club, the team will receive compensation in the form of a pick at the end of the first round of next year's First-Year Player Draft. The players have until 5 p.m. on the seventh day after receiving the offer to make a decision.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and his brigade have decisions to make almost immediately.

"Poor Ben," said Red Sox chief operating officer Sam Kennedy. "He needs to get to work right away on that. It'll be busy. That's the hard part of playing deep into October, is you have to go to work right away."

Ellsbury is expected to receive the most lucrative contract of Boston's free agents. A CBS Sports report in September indicated that agent Scott Boras will be seeking more than the seven-year, $142 million deal the Sox gave Carl Crawford after the 2010 season, so a qualifying offer to Ellsbury, who stole 52 bases while hitting .298 this season, would almost certainly be declined.

"I haven't thought about that right now," Ellsbury said. "I'm just going to celebrate with my teammates and just enjoy the moment."

Napoli made the transition from catcher to first base look almost too easy. He led Major League first basemen in most defensive metrics during his first year in the field, despite missing time due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot. The streaky hitter finished with 23 homers and 92 RBIs. Napoli has hit at least 20 home runs in each of the past six seasons.

"I want to be here," Napoli said of his potential return to the Red Sox. "I love this place. They treated me so good here, the way they've taken care of me has been unbelievable. When the time comes, we'll have some conversations. I hope to be back here next year."

Saltalamacchia had a complete turnaround at the plate in 2013, taking a different approach that resulted in a decrease in home runs from 2012, going from 25 to 14, but an increase in doubles from 17 to 40 and batting average from .222 to .273. He ended up losing playing time to a hot-hitting David Ross in the World Series, but Saltalamacchia has been lauded for his work with Boston's pitching staff.

"He was unbelievable," said Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves. "He's a grinder. He works hard. He reads the game so well. Any information we give him, he took it to the next level."

After studying the team's pitchers and maturing as a catcher over the 3 1/2 years he spent in Boston, Saltalamacchia really wants to return.

"Yeah, I mean, I would love to," Saltalamacchia said. "And they know that. They know where I want to be. They know this has been home to me for the past four years. There's always going to be a special place in my heart for Boston. I hope something can happen and I end up staying here."

At shortstop, the Red Sox might have the most debatable dilemma. Drew began the year slowly after suffering a concussion in Spring Training. He also dealt with an injured hamstring during parts of the season. Despite extended slumps, Drew hit 29 doubles and 13 homers to go with a .253 average and a .777 OPS.

Drew felt like he was capable of more.

"It was tough," he said. "I had a concussion, a hamstring [injury]. Offensively, yeah. Defensively, I had a great year. But it doesn't matter. This year is about this World Series and this team, and it was fun to be a part of it."

Some teams may want to sign Drew to play second or third base, but he wants to continue to play shortstop.

"When I got drafted [by Arizona in 2004], they were like, 'Oh, you're going to play second base,'" Drew said. "I was like, 'No, I won't play second. I'll play short.'"

Boston also has Xander Bogaerts at the position, and Bogaerts showed incredible poise during the postseason, though he was playing third base. He spent the majority of the season playing shortstop in the Minors.

The good news: The Red Sox won the World Series, and Kennedy said the team still believes in the theory, "You have to spend money to make money."

Cherington will just have to figure out where to spend it.

"They really believe in investing in a first-rate product," Kennedy said. "And tonight is a good demonstration of that."

Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmastrodonato. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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