General manager of the Red Sox, Ben Cherington, says that he would "love" to have Jacoby Ellsbury back in Boston. Why wouldn't he? Ellsbury, when healthy, is highly productive, and if Robinson Cano signs an extension with the Yankees before the season is up, Ellsbury just might end up the premier free agent available when his contract ends.
In an interview with MLB Network radio, Cherington spoke of a continuing open dialogue between the Red Sox and Ellsbury's agent, Scott Boras:
"But we've had an open dialogue with him before spring training, and Scott and I talk from time to time, share thoughts. I'd rather not get into details of those conversations. Certainly we have a great deal of respect for Jacoby, we know the caliber of player he is when he's on the field and he's the type of guy we'd love to have certainly after this year. We'll just see how it plays out, I know that he's very focused on having the best year he can and just trying to help us win."
Cherington isn't very forthcoming even when everyone knows what is happening, so it's not a surprise to see little in the way of details here. One thing he does discuss, though, which lets you know a bit about how Boras and Ellsbury have handled things over the time Ellsbury has been in town, is arbitration negotiations:
"Once he got to arbitration, the arbitration years of course we talked every year, about his contract during those conversations, we talk about a number of things. In each year it's ended up sort of focusing back on a one year deal, and that's the way it happened again this year."
With some players, rather than the one-year deals, Boston has been able to lock them up for extensions that bought out those seasons as well as some free agency years. Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Clay Buchholz all signed deals like that. Jonathan Papelbon did not, and neither did Ellsbury, though. It didn't hurt Papelbon any, as he still pulled in nearly nearly $28 million with the Red Sox during his three arbitration years, and then signed a four-year, $50 million deal (that could be a five-year, $63 million deal) with the Phillies once he hit free agency.
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Ellsbury has gone the same route, taking things year-by-year to maximize his earnings. It hasn't quite worked out as well as it did for Papelbon, though. He only made $2.4 million in his first year of arbitration, thanks to missing almost all of 2010 with injury, but he was able to redefine his projected free agent value and subsequently his arbitration payments with his huge 2011 season, giving him over $8 million in year two. For year three, despite a 2012 campaign that featured another major injury and a disappointing performance on the field, he still reeled in $9 million for 2013 thanks to the value established for him by 2011. That's all well and good, but injuries left him with just $19.4 million in arbitration payments, a figure he likely could have had guaranteed, and then some, with an extension a few years back.
At this point, though, it's too late to think about that. A big season would catapult him atop the free agent class, and justify his previous extension reticence. If that happens, it's hard to believe the Red Sox would end up with him, not when they already have almost $90 million guaranteed for 2014 despite needing a new starting catcher, a first baseman, possibly a shortstop depending on Jose Iglesias' development, and with four players entering their third year of arbitration. Not when they have Jackie Bradley Jr. to step in to an everyday role in center field a year from now, when he's already playing like he could maybe do that for the team right now.
The Red Sox would love to have Ellsbury -- there's no lie there. But it would have to be on their terms, and it's likely that, unless Ellsbury ends up with another year that damages his value in the eyes of the rest of the league, their terms won't align with those of Ellsbury and Boras, just like they haven't for the last three years.
Read more Red Sox:
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- Enjoy the show: Your 2013 Boston Red Sox