Today is an important day in Major League Baseball.

It’s the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their free agents, a deadline that goes a long way towards determining who is really available in the annual shopping spree that is already under way.

The Red Sox have four players eligible for free agency. Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez are Type A free agents.

If the Red Sox offer them arbitration and they sign elsewhere, Boston will received two draft picks for each of them.

There is no doubt Boston will offer salary arbitration to both of them, and there is no chance either will accept.

Both are in line for big-money, multi-year contracts on the open market and will be among the most sought-after players available.

The Red Sox will be in on both players, but the price on each may be too steep for the team’s liking.

In that case, they will take the draft picks and move on.

The other two players are Type B free agents, and the decision on them is a little more difficult.

The Red Sox would receive one draft pick for each Type B free agent who is offered arbitration, declines, and signs elsewhere.

Felipe Lopez was acquired by the Red Sox late in the season, in what seemed to be a strange addition on the surface.

He’s 30 years old, has had discipline issues with other teams and is a second baseman.

Last we checked, Dustin Pedroia had that position pretty well locked up.

The Red Sox signed Lopez for one reason — the draft pick they’ll receive this winter.

They undoubtedly will offer him arbitration, with no intention of signing him.

The risk they run is having him agree to arbitration, and then being stuck with him on a one-year contract at a salary set by the arbitrator.

The last Type B free agent is Jason Varitek. Many thought Varitek’s 13-year run with the Red Sox had come to an end, but perhaps not.

Last year, he adapted to the role of backup catcher, and was actually hitting pretty well until he was injured.

If Martinez signs elsewhere, the Red Sox will have to decide what they are going to do behind the plate this season.

General Manager Theo Epstein hinted that the team may be expecting Martinez to do just that. Epstein told reporters last weekend that the Red Sox are prepared to move on and give young Jarrod Saltalamacchia a chance to be an everyday catcher.

If they do this, they will need a veteran backup, one who could help Saltalamacchia with the pitching staff, and preferably one who can hit well against lefties.

In other words, they’d need a guy like Varitek. No one is more respected for his pitch-calling abilities, and no one knows the Red Sox staff better than ‘Tek.

What’s more, his OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) was more than 100 points higher against lefties last season.

The risk is that Varitek could very well accept arbitration, which is binding.

That’s great if Martinez leaves town, but what if the Red Sox get Martinez to agree to a contract. Having ‘Tek on the roster at some $3 million as a third catcher doesn’t make sense.

And with David Ortiz back as DH, there’s no room for one of the three catchers to become a DH, as Jorge Posada is doing in New York.

In other words, an offer of salary arbitration to Varitek could be a good sign that the Red Sox don’t expect Martinez back.

And that the captain will return as a backup catcher/on-field mentor to a 25-year old who has never been an everyday catcher at the big-league level.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.