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Many top players set to test free agent market

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Open season for Major League Baseball free agents kicks in at midnight, with the World Series champion Boston Red Sox among teams with key players poised to test the market.

Teams had until Monday afternoon to make one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offers to their prospective free agents in order to be entitled to draft pick compensation should those players sign with other teams.

The clubs have exclusive rights until midnight to sign their own players to a contract of any value before they are free to sign with other teams.

Among players receiving qualifying offers but expected to test free agent waters are a trio of Red Sox players fresh off their Fall Classic triumph - outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, first baseman Mike Napoli and shortstop Stephen Drew.

The National League champion St. Louis Cardinals may be losing outfielder Carlos Beltran.

Other top members of the free agent class receiving qualifying offers include second baseman Robinson Cano, outfielder Curtis Granderson and pitcher Hiroki Kuroda of the Yankees and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo of the Reds.

Braves catcher Brian McCann, Mariners designated hitter Kendrys Morales, outfielder Nelson Cruz of the Rangers and starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez of the Indians and Royals right-hander Ervin Santana are also available.

Players can also, of course, decide to re-sign with their old clubs in the end.

The $14.1 million figure was set as the average of the 125 most lucrative contracts, as detailed by the Basic Agreement between MLB and the Players' Association.

The wheeling-dealing often heats up at the Winter Meetings, which will be held in Florida from December 9-12.

(Writing by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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