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Ben Cherington on D&C: In-season contract talks with Jacoby Ellsbury unlikely

05.23.13 at 9:52 am ET
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Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, in an appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show, said that the Red Sox have talked at various points with outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury about the possibility of something other than a one-year deal. However, each time, the team and player elected to agree to a one-year contract that avoided an arbitration hearing but that kept Ellsbury moving on a path towards free agency after the 2013 season. And now, in a season where Ellsbury has shown some recently promising offensive signs (reaching base in six of his last seven plate appearances) but has mostly struggled en route to a .249/.318/.340 line, Cherington suggested that the Sox expect that the team will not engage in contract talks with the 29-year-old until after the season.

“Because Ellsbury has gone through arbitration the last three years, there’s been an opportunity to talk to [agent Scott Boras] and Jacoby each of those years in the winter before spring training or early in spring training about his status. And each of those years we’ve signed a one-year deal and settled his arb case before it went to a hearing.
But during those talks, you talk about a lot of things. You talk about other options, other contract options, other sorts of scenarios,” said Cherington. “We’ve had those conversations. It’s just, in this case, we agreed before the season that we would defer it until the end of the season. That’s our expectation right now. You never say never. Things can change. But our expectation is we pick up the conversation after the season.”

As far as Ellsbury’s struggles, the GM suggested that there is reason to believe that the center fielder is in line for a turnaround.

“It’s a combination of things, and some of this is speculation, but we’ve seen a lot of lefties already early in the year. … He’s been a little bit unlucky on balls in play — hit some balls right at people,” said Cherington. “There’s nothing really alarmingly different in the underlying numbers — the strikeout percentage and the swing-and-miss rate. He’s still compact. He’s still doing a lot of things that he’s always done well. He’s healthy, the bat speed is there, the tools are there — he just looks to me like a guy who’s going to get hot at some point and we’ll stop talking about it. By far, the best outcome for all of us is for Jacoby to feel good, be productive in the leadoff spot. That helps him, helps us win games and I still think that’s going to happen.”

Whereas Ellsbury’s track record — and the similarities between the aforementioned underlying fundamentals this year and in previous seasons — gives the Sox optimism, the struggles of Will Middlebrooks — hitting .203/.236/.413 this year — are different. He doesn’t have the same established big league track record spanning multiple seasons, and he’s enduring a spike in his strikeout and swing-and-miss rate.

Still, Cherington expressed optimism that the 24-year-old will work his way through an early-career player development struggle to become a steady, meaningful contributor.

“With a player like Will, who has so much talent and potential and is potentially such a long-term value for the Red Sox, as long as we’re seeing progress, as long as we’re seeing the work put in, as long as we’re seeing attention to detail and the physical skills, then we’ve got to stick with him. Obviously he wants to be performing better, and we expect him to. He got to the big leagues, frankly, sooner than we thought last year,” said Cherington. “His timetable, going back to spring training of 2012, we really expected it to be sometime this year, not last year. It happened quicker. I guess it’s not all that surprising that he’s going through a little bit of a development stage right now, but he’s too talented with too much upside not to figure this out.”

Cherington also discussed the decision to trade Justin Masterson to the Indians in 2009, along with prospects Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price, for catcher Victor Martinez. Though Masterson is 7-2 with a 2.83 ERA this year and has been one of the top starters in the AL, Cherington said that he would have made the same deal that his predecessor, GM Theo Epstein, did. Still, he acknowledged that the team didn’t anticipate quite what Masterson would become as a starter.

“We didn’t see him performing quite like this as a starter. We thought, at the time, he would be a good major league starter or a really good reliever, and he’s probably exceeded that in a starting role,” said Cherington. “I don’t think we should be too surprised by it, though. This is a pretty impressive young man. Masterson, going back to the draft, he stood out in the draft as the top makeup on the board that year. Even though he does it in sort of an unconventional way, it’s a combination of his physical size, strength and stuff with his drive and makeup to succeed that separated him. We were able to get him at a spot in the draft — a lot of good work by Dan Matson, one of our scouts that year to get him — but fast-forward, and if I’m in Theo’s shoes at the time, I would have done the same thing. The deal made a lot of sense at the time. We were trying to get into the playoffs, and Victor Martinez certainly helped to get us into the playoffs. We needed that bat in the middle of the lineup at a key position. He helped us for the time he was here. But not surprised at all that Justin is having success, but yeah, he’s probably exceeded our expectations.”

To listen to the interview, click here. For complete Red Sox coverage, visit weei.com/redsox.

Read More: Jacoby Ellsbury, justin masterson, Scott Boras, victor martinez
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