FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jacoby Ellsbury  appeared in the Red Sox  clubhouse on Thursday and addressed the media for what could be the start of his final season in Boston. The 29-year-old is entering camp for the sixth time on a one-year contract, set to receive a $9 million salary for 2013. After the year, unless he signs an extension, the 2005 first-round pick of the Red Sox will have a chance to test the open market for the first time.
That reality created an inevitability. The question of Ellsbury’s future, and of his desire to remain in Boston long-term, was put forth early.
Ellsbury downplayed the significance of being in a contract year, suggesting that his goals were to be healthy and help the team win after last year’s bitterly disappointing campaign.
“I think I’m focused on playing and helping the team win,” he said. “Any question about contract or anything like that, it’s best just to call my agent and do it that way.”
He did allow that he would be open to discussing an extension with the Sox should they see fit to do so.
“I love playing here. I love the fans. And I appreciate the red sox obviously giving me an opportunity earlier in my career in the draft when they selected me. I love playing here,” he said. “Any contract stuff like that, just kind of like I said last year, if there’s anything that comes on the table, I’ll be presented with something and we’ll go from there. Anything as far as that, my whole thing is just winning ballgames. I love the atmsosphere, the fans. There will be times during the season when you’re worn down a little bit and you can step on the ballfield and you get re-energized. Just that competitive atmosphere. You have to win and that’s great for all of us, that environment. I thrive in that environment.”
Certainly, there were times when that proved true, most notably in 2011, when Ellsbury produced a 30/30 season that earned him runner-up honors in AL MVP balloting. He also set a Red Sox franchise record for steals in a season with 70 in 2009.
However, he missed almost all of 2010 with broken ribs and missed the first half of 2012 due to a right shoulder subluxation. When he returned, Ellsbury was never able to sustain any rhythm to repeat his offensive successes of the previous year, finishing the year with a .271/.313/.370/.682 line. Now, after completing his rehab in the offseason, he feels he is ready to return to form.
“I just never really got back [to form in 2012]. That’s why I’m so excited about this year,” he said. “I’ve got those blinders on and I’m focused. Just excited about the opportunity for us to win.”
While the Sox seem to have options in their system to replace Ellsbury — whether slated right-fielder Shane Victorino , who signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Sox this winter or prospect Jackie Bradley Jr., who is expected to open the year in Double-A — CEO/president Larry Lucchino  suggested that the team would like to retain their leadoff hitter if possible, and may pursue in-season (or even spring training) negotiations to see if such an outcome is possible.
‘Would we like to have him here? Yes. Do I think there will be some negotiations that will take place during the course of the year, perhaps sooner? Possibly. We wouldn’t rule anything out,” said Lucchino. “But we’d very much like to have him here, like to have him be part of a core Red Sox team, as Ben Cherington likes to say, be part of the next great Red Sox team. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to have too much of a discussion about a negotiation process right now and in this forum.’
After all, there will be plenty of time for those discussions as the year unfolds.