MLB Offseason: Key dates to know as Red Sox enter pivotal winter

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Right now all eyes are on the MLB playoffs, and for the next two weeks the focus within the sport will be on who emerges as this year’s World Series champion.

But once the Fall Classic ends, the baseball world will quickly shift into offseason mode, and for the Red Sox these coming months could chart the franchise’s course for years to come.

When can fans expect to see players start switching teams? How about other big decisions and deadlines that loom once the offseason officially begins? Here’s a quick primer on the offseason schedule and how things should play out this winter.

When does free agency begin?

Free agency and the trade market officially opens the day after the World Series ends, but free agents cannot sign with new teams until five days afterwards. During that five-day stretch clubs have exclusive rights to sign their own players, which for Boston will include James Paxton and Adam Duvall, along with likely Justin Turner, Corey Kluber and Joely Rodriguez, who have options that aren’t expected to be exercised.

Option decisions must also be made within five days of the end of the World Series. Turner has a $13.4 million player option with a $6.7 million buyout, Kluber has an $11 million club option and Rodriguez a $4.25 million club option.

If clubs wish to extend a qualifying offer to any of their free agents, they must also do so within the five-day window. The qualifying offer is a one-year offer worth the mean salary of MLB’s 125 highest-paid players, which for this season will be set at $20.5 million. Players who receive a qualifying offer will have until Nov. 14 at 4 p.m. to accept, and if they reject the offer and wind up signing with a different team, their original team will receive draft pick compensation.

Last year the Red Sox extended qualifying offers to Xander Bogaerts and Nathan Eovaldi, both of whom rejected and went on to sign elsewhere. This year the Red Sox don’t have any obvious qualifying offer candidates.

Salary arbitration?

Throughout the offseason players who have three or more years but less than six years of big league service time, along with a small group of players with between two and three years, are eligible for salary arbitration if they haven’t already agreed to a long-term contract extension with their club.

The Red Sox currently have five arbitration-eligible players: Alex Verdugo, Nick Pivetta, Reese McGuire, John Schreiber and Luis Urias.

If arbitration-eligible players and their clubs haven’t agreed to a contract by Jan. 12, they will submit salary figures for the upcoming season and an arbitration hearing will be held between Jan. 20 and Feb. 16 to determine the player’s salary. The panel of arbitrators will then select either the player’s figure or the club’s, and nothing in between.

Clubs can decline to tender a player on their 40-man roster under team control a contract for the upcoming season. Those players are “non-tendered” and become free agents, and the deadline to tender player contracts this offseason is Nov. 17.

Winter Meetings and more

In addition to qualifying offer decisions, Nov. 14 is also the deadline for clubs to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 Draft by adding them to the 40-man roster. The Rule 5 Draft is held annually and allows clubs to identify and offer a big league opportunity to prospects they believe have been held back elsewhere.

The idea behind the Rule 5 Draft is to keep teams from hoarding MLB-ready players in the minors, and the Red Sox acquired right-hander Garrett Whitlock in the Rule 5 Draft three years ago.

This year’s Rule 5 Draft will take place on Dec. 6 during the MLB Winter Meetings, which will take place in Nashville between Dec. 4-7. Candidates to be added to the Red Sox 40-man roster this year include pitching prospects Wikelman Gonzalez, Luis Perales and Shane Drohan.

The MLB Draft Lottery will also occur at the Winter Meetings on Dec. 5, and by finishing with the 12th-worst record in baseball the Red Sox have a 1.1% chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick and a 9.9% chance of moving into the top six. The more probable outcome is Boston picks at No. 12 overall, though they could also pick later if clubs behind them jump into the lottery.

Before the Winter Meetings, MLB’s top executives will also gather at the GM Meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona, from Nov. 7-9. At the moment the Red Sox are still without a head of baseball operations and the club has indicated the GM Meetings won’t be a deadline to make a hire if they believe they need more time to bring in the right person.

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