Ellsbury’s return iffy as Red Sox look ahead
Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia takes pictures as he rides in a duck boat during a rolling rally in Boston, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013 to celebrate their World Series championship. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Boston Red Sox's Jacoby Ellsbury celebrates with teammates after Game 6 of baseball's World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, in Boston. The Red Sox won 6-1 to win the series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Boston Red Sox's Mike Napoli hits an RBI single during the fourth inning of Game 6 of baseball's World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, right, tips his cap to fans as majority owner John Henry holds the 2013 World Series championship trophy during a parade in celebration of the baseball team's win, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Boston Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey reacts after St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese grounded out to end the eighth inning of Game 4 of baseball's World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
BOSTON – Jacoby Ellsbury waved to the crowd lining the shore. The next time he sees those same fans he might get a much different reaction.
The center fielder and his teammates celebrated Boston’s World Series title in a “rolling rally” of amphibious vehicles Saturday. It began at Fenway Park, went through city streets and continued into the Charles River before returning to the field where the Red Sox won the championship last Wednesday night.
Ellsbury leads the team’s group of potential free agents and, after a strong season, likely could get a better offer elsewhere. The Red Sox are leery of giving long-term contracts, and Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, is expected to ask for a nine-figure deal.
Red Sox President Larry Lucchino refused to discuss what Boston might offer Ellsbury.
“Every baseball season is different,” he said before the rally. “It’s impossible, or nearly impossible, to have an identical roster year after year. I predict we will not.”
General Manager Ben Cherington and other team officials also had to decide what to offer first baseman Mike Napoli, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and shortstop Stephen Drew. All three were key contributors to the championship and are eligible for free agency. That strategy began to take form yesterday, when the team extended $14.1 million qualifying offers to Ellsbury, Napoli and Drew, but not to Saltalamacchia. The players given offers have a week to decide whether to accept or reject them.
“It’s up to Ben and the baseball operations people and all of us to insure that we make the best effort we can to keep the guys that we want,” Lucchino said, “but, inevitably, there’ll have to be some new faces next year.”
Before their championship season, the Red Sox signed mid-level free agents to relatively short-term contracts – Napoli, Drew, outfielders Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes, reliever Koji Uehara, right-hander Ryan Dempster and catcher David Ross.
The Red Sox signaled their intent to avoid long-term deals when they traded Adrian Gonzalez, whom they had signed for eight years, and Carl Crawford, under contract for seven years, to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August 2012.
Manager John Farrell knows he’ll lose some members of his close-knit team that spent most of the season in first place.
The prospect of their departure put “a damper” on the rally, Farrell said before it began. “Unfortunately, the group that we shared so much with might not ever be together again.”
But his players were still focusing on the season that ended with a 6-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6.
“I’d like to stay here,” Napoli said. “We’re going to enjoy this first.”
Saltalamacchia, who hit a career-high .273 with 40 doubles, wasn’t in a rush either.
“I haven’t heard from Ben yet,” he said. “I’ve always said this is a great place to play.”
If Saltalamacchia leaves, the Red Sox would need a starting catcher since Ross, an outstanding defender, is a weak hitter. If Napoli signs elsewhere, they could move third baseman Will Middlebrooks to first base or sign a free agent. Despite Drew’s poor postseason, the Red Sox might keep him since prized rookie Xander Bogaerts hasn’t proven he can play shortstop at the major league level.
Victorino, who played right field but has been an outstanding center fielder, was signed with an eye toward Ellsbury’s possible departure.
“That’s the business side of this,” Middlebrooks said. “That’s the part we don’t like, but we’re not thinking about that right now. We’re going to enjoy the team here while we’re all together now.”
The Red Sox have a surplus of veteran pitchers with Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster all signed. Some of those could be gone since the Red Sox have youngsters, including rookie Brandon Workman, who might be ready for the rotation.
But the veterans did their part in getting the Red Sox to the World Series, where Lester went 2-0 and Lackey won the deciding Game 6.
“I knew early that this was a championship-caliber team,” Gomes said, “but, being a realist, I know that this team possibly could not be together next year.
“It just won’t be this group that we built leaving spring (training). The time is now. So we’ve got to get this done now.”
When the rally was over, reporters asked Ellsbury if he wanted to talk. He said he would return shortly and went into the dugout.
He never came out.