Insofar as recent performance history is concerned, Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is a mixed bag. In 2011, he put up MVP-caliber numbers. In 2012, he regressed and missed roughly half the season to a shoulder injury, and in 2013 he has been inconsistent and, on balance, ineffective (.259/.318/.340 thus far).
Ellsbury, 29, will be eligible for free agency after the 2013 season. And because of his spotty track record, the Red Sox seem to be taking a "wait and see" approach. Take, for instance, the comments of Sox GM Ben Cherington to WEEI's Alex Speier:
"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. 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.”
This is a calculated risk. If Ellsbury heats up and ends up with a standout season, then the Sox will wish they locked him up while he was struggling. Of course, the post-"qualifying offer" free-agent marketplace can be a frustrating place, as Kyle Lohse of the Brewers can attest. This fact -- and the leverage that it shifts back to the team -- surely isn't lost on the Red Sox's front office, should they reach the point of making a qualifying offer to Ellsbury.
The takeaway, I'd think, is that Ellsbury is going to need to play his way into a multi-year offer from Boston. That's a sensible approach for the organization in light of Ellsbury's somewhat unpredictable worth moving forward.