Of the five potential arbitration cases the Red Sox face this year, one of the most interesting -- and potentially expensive -- is Jacoby Ellsbury.
Ellsbury is represented by the hard-nosed Scott Boras, who's had some significant arbitration victories. In 2001, he won a then-record 8.2 million for the Braves' Andruw Jones, and also negotiated the two highest contracts ever awarded to arbitration-eligible players in recent years. He got Mark Teixeira a 12.5 million contract from the Braves in 2008, and Prince Fielder a 15.5 million deal from the Brewers last year.
Ellsbury is in his second year of arbitration eligibility. He wont be a free agent until before the 2014 season. Last year, after a 2010 season that was almost totally wiped out by injury, Ellsbury settled before going to arbitration for a salary of 2.4 million (an increase from 496,500 in 2010, when he wasn't eligible for arbitration).
But this time he has numbers to present to an arbitrator: He batted .321, with 32 home runs, 105 RBI, 119 runs scored, and a .928 OPS. He was second in MVP voting and also earned his first All-Star berth and Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.
What might the Sox expect from Boras in arbitration?
He does a superb job, said Tal Smith, who runs Tal Smith Enterprises, a company that advises major-league teams in arbitration. He will be very well prepared. He will present very well. But it still gets down to the numbers . . .
"Sometimes he files very, very, very high and expects . . . that a lot of clubs will shy away from that risk and sort of capitulate, and he gets more than what the players worth. And Scott likes that, not only for that particular player, but because it establishes new benchmarks and drives the market up, if not for that year, for future years. But, sometimes he files too high and gets trapped. Its tough.
What approach might the Sox be likely to take with Ellsbury in arbitration?
Hes a fine player, Smith said. I dont think the Red Sox can do much with respect to diminishing anything hes done.
"I think they might use the fact that there was a year of service time accumulated without any contribution or performance" -- his injury-ruined 2010 season -- "and I think they would rely then on the career comparisons, on the quantitative measurements, or what we call the bulk i.e., at-bats, innings pitched, runs scored as opposed to rates, which are qualitative i.e., ERA, on-base percentage, slugging percentage. And showing that on a career path, because of the time he lost, hes only scored so many runs, or driven in so many runs, or hit so many home runs on a career basis as opposed to others who hadnt missed time. That would be one of their arguments . . .
"Im not sure how persuasive thats going to be. Thats up to the arbitrators. But thats an argument I would expect the Red Sox to make.
Theres no set answer for using a players most recent season or career as a whole in making a presentation to the arbitration panel. Each side will use what it feels best represents their position. For a young player, some will contend his most recent season is the most relevant.
A challenge, though, for both sides, may be to find comparable players, an important part of the arbitration process when each sides attempt to compare the player to others who can best help them make their cases. It will be difficult to find a player who missed virtually a whole season, only to return and post one of the most dominating seasons in baseball.
A potential comparable could be Jones, who was also in his second year of arbitration eligibility when he was awarded the then-record deal in 2001.
They dont have to be current comparables, Smith said. It can be people from the last several years. Scott Boras did an Andruw Jones case when Andruw was in his earlier years with the Braves, and that was a big award, and obviously Jones was a Gold Glove outfielder with power, speed, the whole package. Now you can say, Well, thats so long ago. But what he would do if hes using a comparable that old, he would then show what the average salary was in those years and what the percentage increase was, and then correspondingly apply that to Andruws salary and things like that.
Hunter Pences name could also come up.
Pence obviously had some power, Smith said. One of the strong points in his favor was he had three straight years of 25 home runs. And they emphasized the consistency of his career. Id go look at all the All-Star outfielders.
There are several options available to Ellsbury and the Sox. They could go through the arbitration process. They could agree to a one-year deal. Or they could agree to a long-term contract. Either way, one thing is pretty well guaranteed: Ellsbury is in line for a comfortable and significant raise.