The proactive signing of Jacoby Ellsbury to avoid arbitration was a welcome show of good sense between the parties. The Red Sox have a worthy record of signing all their arbitration-eligible players since 2002. Now if they could only lock up long-term contracts this way.
Admittedly Ellsbury still has to prove he can stay healthy for a full season to be worthy of the big payday. I can still remember the gifted Jimmy Piersall, another center fielder, who never reached his potential due to a penchant for throwing himself at baseballs and down the base paths. Pete Rose could do it with impunity, but some players simply do not bounce off the turf. They bend and break.
But the Red Sox have spent many millions on players with shaky physical credentials, just look at Stephen Drew and Mike Napoli this year. Yes, they are only one-year investments, but the assumption is that they might be re-signed after a healthy season. Other reclamation projects, like Franklin Morales and Andrew Miller, paid off with handsome dividends and have also by-passed arbitration with modest contracts.
But if Ellsbury manages to play healthy at nearly the level of the 2011 season, the Sox should lock him up for another ten years. From Ellsbury’s point of view this move could make sense for several reasons:
- He has a defined role as a lead-off hitter and center fielder with the Red Sox
- The fans love him; he brings a level of excitement that no other player brings to Fenway
- John Farrell has known him since his rookie year; he won’t ask him to do what he can’t do
- He has team mates who have come through the system with him: Pedroia, Lester, Bucholz
Much of the argument relies on an archaic concept of “team” that the Red Sox should nurture, now that they have moved their “rent-a-stars,” Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. There will always be flux in the personnel of Major League teams, but Red Sox fans have appreciated loyalty in their players and consistency in their lineup. One reason Pedroia and Ortiz are loved in Boston is their devotion to the team on the field and in salary negotiations. The Red Sox should honor this loyalty and try to cultivate it in other players, like Ellsbury and Lester.
Signing Ellsbury to a long-term contract will certainly depend on whether he can make it to the All-Star Break without visiting the “Disabled” list. Given a show of good health and consistency, the Sox should try to wrap up Ellsbury’s contract for the coming years as soon as possible.
With Scott Boras as his agent, Ellsbury may prefer to test the riches of the free agent market. But Ellsbury may have the loyalty of a Pedroia or an Ortiz buried in him. He may see the value of a consistent team culture and a throng of adoring fans when he plays at home. He should certainly weigh those intangibles against the riches to be gathered in another ball park.
Here is one fan who is ready to say–“Ellsbury forever!”