Ellsbury's future with Red Sox near top of team's to-do list

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Ellsbury's future with Red Sox near top of team's to-do list

As might be expected for a team with 93 losses and a last-place finish, the Red Sox' off-season to-do list is a lengthy one.

The team must attempt to re-sign free agents David Ortiz and Cody Ross, then turn its attention to re-making a starting rotation which ranked 12th out of 14 teams in the American League.

But another item, one not necessarily tied to this off-season, may require their attention: outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

Ellsbury remains under the team's control for another season and will be eligible for salary arbitration for the third straight off-season. But he will be eligible for free agency after the 2013 season, meaning a decision on his future isn't too far off.

In fact, because Ellsbury is represented by Scott Boras, there's reason to address the issue this winter.

Historically, Boras advises against his clients signing contract extensions with their original teams. The reason: supply-and-demand.

Boras believes that a player can best maximize his salary value only when all 30 teams can bid. By contrast, re-signing with a team before free agency means, by definition, a player isn't taking full advantage of all the market has to offer.

The Sox could, of course, make Ellsbury an offer this winter to gauge his interest in staying in Boston. But to get Ellsbury to agree to an extension, the Sox would almost certainly have to present something seven or eight years in length, with an average annual value in excess of 20 million.

(Boras cited Matt Kemp's eight-year, 160 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a benchmark last spring).

After ridding themselves of more than 260 million in salary in their mega-deal with the Dodgers last week, the Red Sox appetite for nine-figure contracts may well be non-existent.

Then there's the matter of Ellsbury's durability. Though Boras has contended that the injuries suffered by Ellsbury -- broken ribs in 2010; separated shoulder in 2012 -- were major and unavoidable, the fact remains that, in the last three seasons, Ellsbury has played just 250 of the last 486 games, or 51 percent.

Further, regardless of Ellsbury's loss in leverage over his games played, some believe getting him signed to a contract a year before he qualifies for free agency would be virtually impossible.

Asked last month about the chances of the Sox locking up Ellsbury this winter, a team source answered: "Zero."

With that acknowledged, the Sox have two choices with Ellsbury: settle on an arbitration figure -- somewhere around 10 million, most agree -- and hope he enjoys a career year in anticipation of free agency; or trade him this winter.

Keeping Ellsbury is the safe choice. He's one of the team's most popular players and there exists the possibility that Ellsbury could duplicate his magical 2011 season, when he finished second in the American League MVP voting.

But toward what end? Few expect the Red Sox to be legitimate playoff contenders next year. Keeping Ellsbury might help the team win 87 games instead of, say, 82.

And, should the Sox roll the dice and keep Ellsbury, they'd be given no special advantage in re-signing him a year from now. That, after all, would violate the central point of Boras' theory on supply-and-demand, which presumes that he would go the highest bidder among 30 teams.

Trading Ellsbury would come with plenty of risks. They could further alienate the team's fan base, while inviting speculation that the team doesn't plan to reinvest the more than quarter billion in payroll it saved with the Dodgers' deal.

But Ellsbury also represents one of the few marketable chips the Sox have on their major league roster. If the Sox find the right trading partner -- a contending team which believes it's only a player away from a World Series - the Sox could land a quality starting pitcher, or perhaps, address their never-ending shortstop problem.

The Texas Rangers would seem to make some sense. The Rangers have reached the post-season three straight times. Texas may lose free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton this winter and Ellsbury could serve as a one-year replacement.

Texas might be willing to move shortstop Elvis Andrus, who is signed through 2014 for a total of 11.2 million. (The Rangers have baseball's best shortstop prospect, Jurickson Profar, to replace Andrus).

Or, Texas might be willing to move a starter -- Matt Harrison? Derek Holland? -- in return for a package involving Ellsbury.

Other contending teams with a need in center field: Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, and San Francisco.

It's possible the Sox could hold onto Ellsbury then re-assess the trade market -- and their own position in the standings -- next July. But if they wait until after the 2013 season begins, Ellsbury's value will decline since no player traded in the final year before reaching free agency can result in a compensation draft pick for the team obtaining him.

Given the uncertainty, then, if the Sox want full value for Ellsbury, their best bet may be in dealing him this winter.

Brian Johnson: 'Awesome feeling' after five-hitter vs. Mariners

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Brian Johnson: 'Awesome feeling' after five-hitter vs. Mariners

BOSTON - Brian Johnson had quite a turnaround in his second time on Fenway Park's mound.

Johnson pitched a five-hitter in his first big league appearance at Fenway, and the Boston Red Sox stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 6-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

The 26-year-old left-hander became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in his first Fenway start since Pedro Martinez on April 11, 1998. In Johnson's first start in Fenway - his fourth as a professional - he sustained a season-ending facial fracture when he hit by a line drive while pitching for Class A Lowell in 2012.

"The last time I walked off the mound here was 2012 and I made two pitches," Johnson said. "Today I went nine innings. Today was pretty cool."

Johnson left Triple-A for a little over a month last season to get treatment for an anxiety issue.

"Obviously with some stuff that I've been gone through in my career, it's an awesome feeling" he said.

But despite the stellar outing, Johnson was optioned back to Triple-A after the game.

"That's the reality of the game," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "We had a chance to congratulate him and yet option him back to Pawtucket, with David Price coming here Monday."

Brought up from the minors for the start, Johnson (2-0) gave up five singles, struck out eight and walked none. His only previous big league starts were at Houston on July 21, 2015, and at Toronto on April 18 this year.

Johnson was helped by a semi-leaping catch by center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. at the wall in the sixth, Bradley's diving grab of Nelson Cruz's sinking liner in the ninth and Bradley's game-ending running catch of Kyle Seager's drive.

Xander Bogaerts' RBI single triggered a three-run first inning and Bradley hit a two-run homer in the sixth

Shut out for the second straight day, Seattle has lost seven of eight.

"Their guy threw the ball over the plate. He threw strikes," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "I won't take anything away from what he did, but we're not swinging the bat very well."

Rob Whalen (0-1) gave up five runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings in his Mariners' debut, his first big league start since Aug. 23 for Atlanta. He is Seattle's 12th starting pitcher, the most in the major leagues.

Andrew Benintendi and Sandy Leon also had RBI singles in the first, when the Red Sox had two batters hit by pitches, two walks and two runners thrown out on the bases - Dustin Pedroia at third for the first out and Hanley Ramirez at the plate for the last.

Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

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Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

BOSTON - Brian Johnson pitched a five-hitter in his first big league appearance at Fenway Park, and the Boston Red Sox stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 6-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

Brought up from Triple-A Pawtucket, Johnson (2-0) gave up five singles, struck out eight and walked none. The 26-year-old left-hander's only previous big league starts were at Houston on July 21, 2015, and at Toronto on April 18 this year.

Johnson became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in his first Fenway start since Pedro Martinez on April 11, 1998. In Johnson's first start in Fenway - his fourth as a professional - he sustained a season-ending facial fracture when he hit by a line drive while pitching for Class A Lowell in 2012.

Johnson was helped by a semi-leaping catch by center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. at the wall in the sixth, Bradley's diving grab of Nelson Cruz's sinking liner in the ninth and Bradley's game-ending running catch of Kyle Seager's drive.

Xander Bogaerts' RBI single triggered a three-run first inning and Bradley hit a two-run homer in the sixth

Shut out for the second straight day, Seattle has lost seven of eight.

Rob Whalen (0-1) gave up five runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings in his Mariners' debut, his first big league start since Aug. 23 for Atlanta. He is Seattle's 12th starting pitcher, the most in the major leagues.

Andrew Benintendi and Sandy Leon also had RBI singles in the first, when the Red Sox had two batters hit by pitches, two walks and two runners thrown out on the bases - Dustin Pedroia at third for the first out and Hanley Ramirez at the plate for the last.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Mariners: RHPs Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez, both on the DL with right shoulder inflammation, threw bullpen sessions. Hernandez said he "felt really good."... LHP James Paxton (strained forearm) is set to come off the DL and pitch at home Wednesday.

Red Sox: Pedroia was back at second base after getting Friday off to rest his sore left knee and not play on a wet field. He was hit by a pitch on the right forearm his first time up and went 1 for 3. ... 3B Pablo Sandoval, on the DL with a sprained right knee, was expected to play nine innings Saturday night in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket. Manager John Farrell didn't rule out that he could be activated next week.

UP NEXT

Mariners: RHP Christian Bergman (1-2, 6.30 ERA) gave up 10 runs and 14 hits over four innings in a 10-1 loss Tuesday at Washington.

Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (3-4, 4.35) has gone at least six innings in eight of nine starts.