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.

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.