It was announced Tuesday that the Boston Red Sox have reached agreements with RP Jonathan Papelbon and OF Jacoby Ellsbury, the only two players on their squad eligible for arbitration. This comes as no surprise considering arbitration can be a disaster between Major League Baseball GM’s and money hungry agents accustomed to garnering outlandish contracts for the athletes in which they represent. Theo Epstein has never gone to arbitration with any future free agent since he became the GM for the BoSox 9 years ago and that won’t change this year. The concern here is the monetary investment. During an offseason in which Boston has made an enormous splash signing two major stars in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, they have also made two very perplexing deals with the homegrown mainstays.
The Sox signed Papelbon to a one year, $12 million deal and will bring Ellsbury back to the tune of one year $2.4 million with minor performance incentives included. Both deals are baffling. Papelbon is coming off the worst year of his brief career in 2010 where he posted a 5-7 record with a ballooned 3.90 era and 8 blown saves, a career high. Granted he did successfully shut down 37 games, good for a tie for 8th in the MLB, but watching Boston’s struggle to keep up in the AL East behind the Yankees and Rays, his death stare into the plate before firing a flattening fastball seemed to be less and less intimidating as the season wore on. As a result Terry Francona also seemed to show deteriorating confidence in the young door slammer and the front office responded. Epstein signed former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks this offseason who is more than capable of stepping into the closer role should Papelbon continue to struggle and the smart money is that is exactly what Boston’s brass thinks as well. Not to mention the up and coming flamethrower in Daniel Bard who could very easily transition into the go to guy. So why give Papelbon this largest one year paycheck of his career coming off his most disappointing 0f performances? The only guess I can muster up is that Epstein is banking on Papelbon bouncing back and earning that serious heap of cash or that he can find another team to take a gamble on the floundering star at some point during the 2011 season, possibly a combination of the two. Either way it would have been smarter, and much cheaper, to part ways with Paps. They could have handed the job to a credible replacement in Jenks and nurtured Bard into a stud for the 9th. Only time will tell if the investment will prove to be beneficial but one thing is for sure, Jawny Papelbawn will continue to be a very rich man for at least another season.
Ellsbury’s deal is the exact opposite. The young blazing talent signed for just under $2.5 mil which pales in comparison to the $11 mil Kosuke Fukodome has averaged for the last 3 years. The contract is a slap in the face and it is incomprehensible as to how his agent’s could have let that number ever come out of Epstein’s mouth. Yes, they signed Carl Crawford and yes, Ellsbury only played a grand total of 18 games last season but his prior track record deserves much more credibility. Jacoby burst onto the scene during the Red Sox playoff run in late 2007 hitting .353 while providing a legitimate speed threat on the bases. Over the next two years all he did was hit .280 and .301 in 2008 and 2009 respectively, hit 17 triples and swipe 120 bags. Very lofty numbers and consistent as well, providing comfort and stability to an outfield which was trying to pick up the scraps after losing Manny Ramirez and drastically overpaying for the very average J.D. Drew. So one injury riddled year and its time to insult such a young, raw, speedster? Bruised ribs are hardly an injury that is going to hinder Ellsbury for long or linger into a career defining issue, so why so little for someone with so much promise? I guess the Sox are content with puzzling together their outfield around Crawford with aging Mike Cameron, the aforementioned J.D. Drew and unproven Ryan Kalish, because I find it hard to believe Ellsbury will stick around for long when he could find a much sweeter home elsewhere.
With the Boston Red Sox being the most improved team this offseason, by far, these deals are cause for concern to say the least. I believe both Paps and Jacoby will be wearing new unis come June and hopefully regain validity in their careers. Only time will tell. The Sox had been making all the right moves to solidify a potential run at the East crown, but if this is a sign of things to come, maybe all is not so surefire. #justsayin