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Sunday Mail: Any chance the Red Sox can keep all four of their top free agents?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  December 1, 2013 08:42 AM

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LEADING OFF

A relative asked me that question in the exact words during during a post-feast b.s. session on Thanksgiving.

My standard answer from the moments after the World Series was clinched Oct. 30 until the last of the pumpkin pie was devoured was essentially, "There's a better chance of Carl Everett being the Red Sox' Opening Day center fielder than Jacoby Ellsbury."

While I'm still relatively confident that another team will give Ellsbury a little more money and a couple more years than the Red Sox, I do wonder whether it's a possibility that all four return ... or at least three of the four.

Ellsbury remains the least likely, and his unsigned status is just an effect of the usual Scott Boras strategy of waiting out the process. The Cubs should sign him. So should the Mariners, who have been jilted by lesser players in recent years. He probably will get that Carl Crawford-type deal. But if it never materializes, who wouldn't want him back in Boston for five years and $90 million or so?

I'm sticking by my prediction that Stephen Drew comes back. He still managed to be a top-five shortstop in OPS while having a very inconsistent season at the plate, his defense was stellar, and the attached draft pick is going to make potential suitors wary, as evidenced by the Cardinals' decision to sign Jhonny Peralta, who was non-tendered by the Tigers.

Mike Napoli is generating plenty of interest. But he obviously wants to be here, he was a perfect fit in the lineup, clubhouse, and barrooms, and I suspect the Sox will give him a nice bump in average annual value on a three-year deal if that's what it takes. Random note: he has seven postseason homers in his career. These are the pitchers who have served them up: Josh Beckett (twice), David Price, Chris Carpenter, Mitchell Boggs, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez. Pretty good company.

As for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, I've made my stance clear on him -- I hope he's back. And if the Red Sox are hesitant to go to three years with the 28-year-old catcher because Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart are on their way, I'd suggest looking no further than the incumbent to remember how long it can take for even an elite catching prospect to make it.

But to actually answer the question: It won't be all four. But three would be great. I'll leave it to you to pick your three.

THE MAILBOX

Since the injury report for Friday's chat read OUT -- TRYPOPHAN HANGOVER and that's my usual source for questions, let's knock out an all-Twitter edition this week.

Agree, especially if it ends up being Beloved Fan-Favoriteā„¢ John Lackey, who just put up his best walk/9 rate of his career, had his best K/9 and H/9 rates since 2006, is essentially the same pitcher he was during his quasi-ace heyday with the Angels, and just won for the second time in is career. Not to mention that he'll make just $500,000 in 2015, the result of Theo Epstein's We Suspect You're Damaged Goods Now Please Take Our $82,500,000 clause. I want him here. I'd be OK with shopping Jake Peavy or Ryan Dempster, the former if they're convinced a decline in velocity with lead to a sharper decline in effectiveness, the latter because he's Ryan Dempster. It's funny, I never had a huge issue with the now-infamous Bronson Arroyo-for-Wily Mo Pena deal, because I thought there was some merit in the their thinking -- namely, that Pena had a chance to become a middle-of-the-order beast once he got to an organization that handled him correctly. They did hit on a similar jackpot with David Ortiz. But as we sit here eight years and 1,690.1 slightly-above-league-average innings later and wait for Arroyo to get a fat deal from a team like the Mets, the merits of holding on to even mid-level pitching are pretty obvious.

What don't we know? Which of the other 29 teams he'll be playing for, I'd guess, and that's if he's in the majors at all. (Suppose I could have said which of the other 29 Triple A teams he'll be playing for.) Lavarnway isn't really a prospect at this point. He'll turn 27 in August, has a .585 OPS in 291 major league plate appearances, slugged .350 in 50 Triple A games this season, has been surpassed by Christian Vazquez, and has so many issues defensively that I remain convinced working with him is a major reason Sox pitchers came to appreciate Salty. He'll be dealt for a Burke Badenhop-type or two, or as the fifth player in a blockbuster. Feels like a long time ago that we were trying to convince ourselves he could be another Mike Napoli.

I actually think the decision to put him at the point and the fact that he's succeeding there is a clue to Brad Stevens's smart, open-minded coaching style above all else. I'm not sure many people familiar with Crawford's act during his first three NBA seasons thought he was capable of dishing out 5-plus assists in a week, let alone averaging that with decent efficiency though the first 19 games of the season. I'm not convinced Crawford is the answer as a backup point guard -- he's such a wild-card that a seventh- or eighth-man role on a decent team is his ceiling if this new-found unselfishness is legit. Should he keep playing like this, maybe he'll find that role when he hits free-agency in the offseason.

Man, that's a great question. For Williams, I don't think it would change much -- he dueled with the Knights of the Keyboard, as he sarcastically put it, then, and he'd do it now and go out and go 2 for 5 every day anyway. Bird would be pretty close to bulletproof, though we'd never hear the end of it if something like the alleged (and legendary) bar fight in which he busted up his hand between Games 2 and 3 of the 1985 Eastern Conference Finals happened nowadays. Hell, Gary Tanguay's head might explode on the air. As for Russell ... I actually believe he'd be more respected and revered today than he was then. I don't know if he was a man ahead of his time or the times just weren't worthy of him, but the Celtics were an afterthought on the Boston sports scene for much of his unmatched heyday. He'd be more appreciated now, for the way he played the game and for his remarkable intelligence and pride. I'm being semi-facetious here, but don't you just know Bobby Orr would be verbally assaulted from 2-6 p.m. daily in December 1975 for not playing on his destroyed knees. "He's the best to ever play the game on two knees, Mike! You're telling me he can't give you 14 minutes a night on one? I'm telling you, Moose Dupont, now there's a guy who would do everything it takes. Also, Fisk's home run was foul. I know we've talked about this a lot lately, but I just don't think the point is getting across. It's called the foul pole, not the fair pole, Mike! It hit the foul pole! Case closed."

Until next week, the mailbox is closed. Exit music, please.

If only for the Larry Bird cameo 17 seconds in.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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