At the very least, the Red Sox will now receive compensation in next June's First-Year Player Draft if Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli or Stephen Drew sign with other Major League teams this offseason.
All three rejected the Red Sox's qualifying offer by the 5 p.m. ET deadline on Monday, opting not to accept the $14.1 million that would accompany the one-year contract. All 13 Major League players presented with qualifying offers chose not to accept.
"I think across baseball they were turned down, so I was not surprised," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. "I didn't hear formally until [Monday], but I wasn't really surprised."
Should any one of those players accept a Major League deal elsewhere, the Red Sox would receive a compensatory Draft pick between the first and second rounds of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, in reverse order of winning percentage.
While it was a foregone conclusion that Ellsbury would decline the offer, there was some speculation that Drew or Napoli could re-sign for the $14.1 million, a higher salary than each received in 2013. But the idea of a multiyear contract might have swayed them toward free agency.
"Obviously, any player understands what he's doing when he turns down an offer," Cherington said. "He's turning down not just $14.1 million for a year, but he's going into free agency with potentially a Draft pick attached to him. They're all making that decision with their eyes open. I'm sure they've gathered information just like we have on what's the potentially out there, and they're making an informed decision."
WEEI.com reported that many teams are interested in Drew, who was a top 10 shortstop in 2013, despite a slow offensive start after sustaining a concussion in Spring Training.
Drew, who is represented by agent Scott Boras, finished with 29 doubles and 13 homers to go with a .253 average and a .777 OPS. Because of his slow start offensively, Drew said immediately after the World Series that he believes he's capable of even better numbers.
"It was tough," Drew 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."
Drew said he wouldn't field offers from teams asking him to play a position other than 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.'"
Napoli said he wanted to return immediately following the World Series, and Cherington said the feeling was mutual. But Cherington specified that the team was comfortable with a one-year deal, while Yahoo! Sports reported Napoli's desire to test the market.
Napoli could be seeking long-term security after he hit 23 home runs, eclipsing the 20-homer mark for the sixth straight year. He also demonstrated the ability to play premier defense at first base.
Napoli was originally signed to a three-year, $39 million deal last offseason before the Red Sox balked with the emergence of health reports that left lingering questions surrounding the slugger's durability. Napoli played in 139 games during the 2013 regular season, though he dealt with plantar fasciitis in his foot during the final months.
"The most important thing I think is, he played a full year and had no issues," Cherington said. "We don't have any reason to have any more concern than we did last winter. We absolutely have interest in having him back and we'll keep talking to him."
Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo top a talented list of free-agent outfielders, though the Red Sox aren't among the front-runners on either, according to multiple reports. The Mariners and Rangers are said to be the most interested in Ellsbury's services. The Red Sox have been linked to Carlos Beltran, though Beltran, 36, played right field for the Cardinals and could profile more as a designated hitter in future seasons.
If the Red Sox don't re-sign Ellsbury, they could fill the center-field gap with 23-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr. -- who hit .275 with an .842 OPS for Triple-A Pawtucket this season -- or search the free-agent market for another center fielder.
The team prefers to keep former center fielder Shane Victorino in right field, where he won a Gold Glove Award this season, though Victorino has won three Gold Gloves in center and the Red Sox recognize his versatility.
"It's certainly one possibility, and as we look at alternatives in the outfield, we have to be open-minded," Cherington said last week. "That would be one possibility. I think I speak for [manager John Farrell] that we both recognize just how good he was in right field this year and how valuable his defense was in right field. So, I guess we'd have to be compelled to move him. It would have to be a pretty compelling opportunity, but you can't rule that out. He's capable of doing it."
While the Red Sox struck one deal early last year, signing David Ross in the beginning of free agency, Victorino, Drew and Ryan Dempster weren't signed until mid-December. Cherington said he's expecting the market to shape a similar approach this offseason.
"I think early in the offseason it always sort of feels like the bidding for players up until the Winter Meetings, it tends to be aggressive bidding for the players in the highest demand," Cherington said. "Whatever money's available, that money is allocated, or teams are going after certain players. And then it shifts. As you get past the Winter Meetings, past the holidays, and into January, it can turn a little bit.
"I don't know that this winter is going to be any different. Obviously the pool of players is different and we know the teams that have money to spend. ... Time will tell."