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Papelbon, Ellsbury get one-year deals

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / January 19, 2011

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The Red Sox have been successful in locking up their better young players in recent years, coming to terms on long-term contracts with Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon was a determined loner in that regard, taking a series of one-year deals and talking longingly of the time when he would become a free agent.

That road was paved another mile yesterday when Papelbon avoided arbitration by agreeing on a one-year deal worth $12 million. The contract will make him the second-highest-paid relief pitcher in the game. Only Mariano Rivera of the Yankees, at $15 million, will make more.

The Sox also came to terms with outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury on a one-year deal for $2.4 million. The Red Sox have not gone to an arbitration hearing with a player since Theo Epstein became general manager in 2002.

Papelbon, 30, is now finished with arbitration and will be eligible for free agency after the season. While it remains possible he could sign a long-term contract in the interim, team sources indicated that was highly unlikely.

Papelbon has often said one of his goals was to help set the market for his fellow closers by pursuing a benchmark salary. If that remains the case, the coming season could be his last in Boston.

The Sox already have two other potential closers on their roster. Bobby Jenks, who had 173 saves for the White Sox from 2005-10, signed a two-year contract last month. The Sox also have 25-year-old Daniel Bard, a hard-throwing righthander who was one of the American League’s best relievers last season.

Beyond that, the question is whether Papelbon would be worth such a deal. He had a trying 2010 season, posting the highest earned run average (3.90) and WHIP (1.269) of his career. Papelbon blew eight of his 45 save opportunities and allowed the most walks (28) and home runs (seven) he ever has.

Opponents hit .298 with runners in scoring position against Papelbon in 2010. He had held them to a .147 average previously in his career.

Papelbon spent the weekend in Boston, attending the wedding of one of manager Terry Francona’s daughters Saturday and then the Celtics game Monday. When shown on the scoreboard at the Garden, he gleefully chugged a beer. His struggles in 2010 appear to have been forgotten.

“I’m excited,’’ he told the Providence Journal. “I can’t really explain it well because I’m so excited. The offseason acquisitions we’ve made have been above and beyond my expectations, for sure.

“Theo is putting together a ball club to where everybody can go out there and do their own job and worry about their own job and putting the pieces together to where nobody this year should have to go out there and expect more than what they normally should have to do.’’

The arbitration process proved lucrative for Ellsbury as well. He received a 384 percent raise from the $496,000 he made last season despite playing in only 18 games and hitting .192.

Ellsbury can make an additional $100,000 based on plate appearances.

Ellsbury benefited from his career accomplishments and how well he compared with outfielders of similar age and experience. He is a career .291 hitter with 136 stolen bases and 98 extra-base hits in four seasons.

After starting last season in left field, Ellsbury will be switched back to center field this year. Fractured ribs kept him on the disabled list for most of 2010. According to Epstein, Ellsbury has been symptom-free for several weeks and is expected to be ready to go for the start of spring training.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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