Red Sox free agency: Club offered Jacoby Ellsbury less than $120 million

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The Red Sox were willing to offer Ellsbury around $20 million per season but fell short. Could they spend that money elsewhere?

Prior to Jacoby Ellsbury signing with the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox made two offers to the outfielder, reports Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston. The first was for six years and under $120 million while the second was for five years and $100 million.

While Boston was not able to re-sign their star outfielder with that kind of money, the fact that the team made those offers shows a willingness to give around $20 million per year to a player the Red Sox really like. Since big deals to players like Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford flopped, the Red Sox have been more stingy about giving out big contracts. The team was unwilling to even append one more additional season to a two-year offer made to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia this offseason, opting instead to give one year to A.J. Pierzynski in a more low-risk move.

However, the Red Sox still have money. They are just being more careful about giving out big offers. The team currently has nearly $134 million locked up in player contracts for 2014, with four arbitration-eligible players likely to earn an additional $8 million. That puts Boston over $10 million under their 2013 opening day payroll and over $30 million under the franchise-high $175 million they spent on players in 2012.

Boston has a lot of flexibility moving forward, however. Just one player, Dustin Pedroia, is locked in beyond the 2015 season. Even for 2015, the Red Sox have just $42 million currently allocated to players. The team is able to shed a lot of money, very quickly. That could open a path to either signing or trading for a big-name player.

A willingness to give $20 million per year to the right kind of player also makes rumors of a possible Matt Kemp trade more viable. The Dodgers have been keeping in contact with several teams about Kemp, including the Red Sox. Now that the team officially lost Ellsbury, talks between Boston and Los Angeles sides could heat up if the Red Sox think Kemp is worth his contract.

Kemp, 29, is still owed $130 million over the next six seasons. The most he will get in an individual year is $21.5 million, which will be his compensation each season from 2016-19. Kemp suffered through an injury-filled year in 2013, struggling to a 723 OPS when he was in the lineup. He also missed a third of the 2012 season due to injury, but is just two years removed from hitting .324/.399/.586 with 39 home runs and 40 stolen bases.

With Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig all vying for playing time in the outfield with Kemp, the Dodgers have been looking at trading one of the four this offseason. Most rumors have swirled around Kemp and Ethier. What Los Angeles would need in return would likely depend on how much money they pick up in a potential trade.

The Red Sox could also choose to allocate the money they offered Ellsbury to another free agent, such as Shin-Soo Choo. Choo and Ellsbury were the top two outfielders on the market, with the former originally asking for a lower annual salary than what the latter received. Choo entered the offseason looking for a similar deal to the seven year, $127 million contract Jayson Werth signed with the Nationals prior to 2011.

That type of annual salary would put Choo solidly in the Red Sox wheelhouse. However, with contracts showing increases in value this year and a number of teams vying for Choo, he may receive something closer to what Ellsbury got from the Yankees. The Tigers, Rangers, Mets, Mariners and Astros have all been mentioned as potential landing spots for Choo.

For now, the Red Sox appear set to enter 2014 with Shane Victorino moving to center field. However, if the team chooses to look for another option to replace Jacoby Ellsbury, they appear to have the money. They just have to find the right player to spend it on.

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