Jacoby Ellsbury was the face of the Boston Red Sox last season. From April through September, he was the one constant that kept giving more to his team. Now, he’s arbitration eligible and will without question receive a raise from his $2.4 million dollar salary of last season. But with Ellsbury potentially becoming a free-agent after the 2013 season and his agent being Scott Boras (cue the Darth Vader music), the situation surrounding the all-star center fielder is about to get real complicated, with trade possibilities, extension talks and the reality of free-agency all sure to be topics of conversation over the next season.
Ellsbury had an MVP caliber year, there is no denying that. The fact that he didn’t win the award is best saved for another argument. As mentioned he’ll be in line for a raise for this upcoming season from his $2.4 million and will likely receive over $5 million for his services. The problem for the Red Sox and their fans is that the deal will likely only be for one year. Here’s where the Ellsbury scenario get’s dicey.
Scott Boras, the super agent, is unlikely to agree to a multi-year deal, should the Red Sox offer his client one. The Red Sox won’t offer Ellsbury MVP type money, unless he can duplicate last year’s performance and prove it was not a one-year wonder. Even then, if Ellsbury does have another outstanding season, Boras is likely to take his client to the free-agent market as he so often likes to do where he can extract the highest offer possible, as mentioned by Jason Churchill of ESPN.
So what are the best options for the Red Sox and Jacoby Ellsbury? If he continues to rip the cover off the ball next season and can effectively hit in the number three spot then keeping the speedy outfielder is a no-brainer. But, in order to keep him they’ll have to pay him what he’s worth and that could range between $18 and $20 million per season.
Considering that the Red Sox will likely be over the luxury tax threshold of $178 million this season, forcing them to be pay 40% on every dollar they go over and hence setting the bar at a 50% tax rate next season, how can they possibly afford to pay Ellsbury that kind of money. They already have some large contracts on the books for many years to come.
We can once again thank Theo Epstein for some of his hair pinned ideas to go out and sign busty free-agents. John Lackey will make over $15 million next season when he finally returns to the mound. Forget about trading him, nobody will want him, especially with that price tag following him around.
Then there is Carl Crawford, who will make an even $20 million for the 2013 season. Yes that is not a typo. While it may be a too soon to write off Crawford, his contract compiled with Lackey’s is now biting the Red Sox in the behind and losing Ellsbury may be the result. Unless of course the Red Sox are willing to go well over the luxury tax threshold and give Ellsbury what he’s worth or trade other players deemed to make salaries of eight digits. Letting David Ortiz walk after next season and dealing Kevin Youkilis are two options, and quite reasonable when you think of it. Their combined salaries would more than cover that of Ellsbury’s, but this is all on the notion that Ells wants to remain a Red Sox.
Churchill asks the question that maybe Ellsbury doesn’t want to continue playing in Boston and won’t want an extension. It was reported that he was the outcast of the locker room last season after an injury riddled 2010 season that severely limited his playing time and as Churchill points out, he may want to play on the west coast. Things may be even tougher for Ellsbury this year since his good buddy Jed Lowrie was recently dealt to Houston.
Maybe trading the Oregon native is an option, albeit not a very popular one I’m sure. If he can have a stellar first half of the season, his trade value would be through the roof and as Churchill notes, both the Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals are in need of a quality center fielder. Both are loaded with talented pitching arms, something the Red Sox are lacking. Then there is the always talked about possibility of sending him to Seattle for King Felix or Michael Pineda. Possible, sure, but too early to start surmising those options.
Losing Ellsbury for nothing via the free-agent market would be catastrophic for Cherington and isn’t really an option, which could ultimately force his hand into trading the speedster. Not since trading Nomar Garciaparra would a deal have such repercussion for this ball club.
While a new multi-year deal doesn’t appear to be in the cards anytime soon, we’ll have to continue to watch how this situation unfolds. There are a lot of questions surrounding Ellsbury and right now there are zero answers. Just because it’s a new year doesn’t mean the Red Sox don’t have the same old problems and Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract talks is going to be front and center.