In the first moves of the offseason, the Red Sox have extended qualifying offers to three upcoming free agents: shortstop Stephen Drew, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and first baseman Mike Napoli. The qualifying offer is a contract offer of $14.1 million to an upcoming free agent. If the player declines the contract, then he will have a first round draft pick (unless the signing team’s pick is in the top ten) attached to his name. This means that the Red Sox could have up to four first round draft picks in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft.
That the Red Sox extended a qualifying offer to these players is not surprising. Ellsbury is arguably the second best player of the free agent market, following Robinson Cano, after a season in which he hit .298/.355/.426 with 52 stolen bases with above average defense in center field. Drew and Napoli were tougher calls, but both were well above average players, with Napoli’s .842 OPS a full 29 points above the league average and Drew’s .777 OPS at 11 points above the league average along with excellent defense at shortstop.
The Red Sox will likely still attempt to re-sign these players, particularly Mike Napoli, but the qualifying offer gives some insurance in case that does not work. Though Ellsbury will not accept the contract, it is not an issue if either Napoli or Drew accepts. It will not cripple the Red Sox roster-wise or financially to have either player on board for 2014. Thus, in all three cases, this is the sensible move to make for the Red Sox.