By Jeff Louderback
Will Jacoby Ellsbury remain with the Red Sox beyond 2013? Though he is eligible to become a free agent this offseason – and chances are he will test the market since his agent is Scott Boras, there is a possibility that the club signs him to a new deal.
On Friday, the 29-year-old center fielder stole his 200th base. Tris Speaker, who last played in 1915, and Harry Hooper, who is the team’s all-time stolen base leader with 300 and last played for the Sox in 1920, are the others who have reached 200 steals for Boston.
If Ellsbury stays healthy this year and serves as a tablesetter atop the Red Sox lineup, he could land a hefty long-term contract in the offseason. The ownership group has said that it wants to remain under the $189 million luxury tax threshold, but after last summer’s blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team unloaded three cumbersome long-term deals. And the team is well-positioned beyond 2013.
John Lackey‘s $15.25 annual salary expires after the 2014 campaign. Ryan Dempster ($13.25 million) and David Ortiz ($13 million) will see their deals end at the end of 2014, too. Since top prospects like Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and even Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo could step into the rotation in 2014 and 2015, the Sox can replace Lackey and Dempster with homegrown arms.
The Sox will also have around $23 million fall off the books following this season when Stephen Drew, Joel Hanrahan and Jarrod Saltalamacchia can become free agents. With the presence of Jose Iglesias (and Xander Bogaerts), Andrew Bailey and Ryan Lavarnway as alternatives next season, the Red Sox are unlikely to sign Drew, Hanrahan or Saltalamacchia.
The future of Jon Lester (who has a $13 million team option for 2014) could impact whether Ellsbury stays with the Red Sox or signs elsewhere. Lester will likely command an annual salary that is similar to the $20 million a year that Ellsbury might pursue. If Lester remains a Cy Young Award contender this season, that will drive up his price.
The Red Sox could opt to let Ellsbury depart and let Jackie Bradley take over in center field next season. Though he batted .097 in his short Major League stint earlier this month, Bradley is a superb defensive outfielder who has the talent to even exceed what Ellsbury has accomplished to date in his career.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington probably embraces the vision of Bradley, Ellsbury and perhaps Bryce Brentz in Boston outfield for the long term. Shane Victorino was signed to a three-year deal last offseason to give the club depth in case Ellsbury leaves. An outfield of Bradley, Ellsbury and Victorino for 2014 and 2015 would be attractive.
After an injury-plagued 2012 campaign, Ellsbury is healthy again and swiping bases. He has 11 steals this year to accompany a .283 average and three triples. He has yet to showcase power – Ellsbury has just one home run so far in 2013 – but he demonstrated that can be part of his offensive repertoire when he belted 32 home runs in 2011.