December 2010

Is Thursday the end of Okajima in Boston?

The next deadline on baseball’s offseason calendar comes up on Thursday, when teams must tender contract offers to all their unsigned players, otherwise those players become free agents.

Without question, the most difficult decision for Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein will be what to do with Hideki Okajima. The lefty is coming off a poor season, but this is after he spent his first three years in the Majors as a rock. Oki made $2.75 million last year. By tendering him a contract, the Red Sox will essentially be committed to paying him around that same salary in 2011. If he repeats his 2010 level, he will be very underpaid.

Perhaps the Red Sox will meet with Okajima’s representatives — either in advance of tomorrow’s deadline or after — and work out a creative deal that might guarantee less money but give him a chance to earn a similar amount if he gets the job done.

The other decisions are straightforward. Of course Papelbon gets tendered, even if he did make $9.25 million last year and had an off-year. Unlike Oki, who is 35, Papelbon is just 30. He also figures to be highly motivated because it is walk year. And the Red Sox get two choice draft picks should Papelbon — undoubtedly a Type A free agent — depart after 2011.

And yes, Jacoby Ellsbury, coming off a year full of rib woes, will also be tendered in his first arbitration-eligible winter. Ellsbury made $496,500 last year, but figures to get a nice bump from that based on the success of his first two seasons and the projection that he will have another big year from the leadoff spot in ’11.