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Ask Amalie: What's up with Jacoby Ellsbury?

Posted by Amalie Benjamin  September 21, 2010 11:39 AM

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Just 12 games to go, 12 games of watching the youngsters attempt to make a statement, 12 games of watching the free agents try to bump up their future salaries. Sounds a bit depressing, huh? With the Red Sox' elimination number down to five after Monday's loss to the Orioles, there's not a lot of optimism in the Red Sox clubhouse, more just a sense of resignation that the end is near. Perhaps this series against Baltimore is bringing that idea home, with the Red Sox understanding that their failings against the Orioles (along with some of the other bottom-dwellers in the American League) have helped to put them in this situation, as the Red Sox have gone 8-8 against the O's this season.

Before we get to the end of the year, though, there's the small matter of being able to play spoiler with the Yankees, against whom the Red Sox play six more games. And that could leave the Red Sox as the best friends of the Rays, who would certainly be happy if Boston could do a number on New York's chances to win the division. That should at least give Red Sox Nation something to watch for, right?

Until then, enjoy the mailbag and send questions for next week's edition. Thanks for reading.

Doug from Portland, Ore., asks: Jacoby Ellsbury entered this season with two years and 37 days of MLB service, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. Did Ellsbury accumulate enough MLB service this season to become arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason (by virtue of three years of MLB service)? I understand that time on the MLB disabled list counts toward MLB service. Thanks.

Answer: Jacoby Ellsbury did accumulate enough Major League Baseball service time this season. He will be arbitration-eligible this offseason, and will be an extremely interesting case for his agent Scott Boras. Given the absence of production this season and given that it was because of injury and not lack of performance, it will be intriguing to see what Ellsbury's contract number ends up being for 2011. The Red Sox have six players on their roster who will be arbitration-eligible next season, though two of them are likely to be non-tendered in Hideki Okajima and Kevin Cash. The Red Sox also have, in addition to Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Rich Hill on their arbitration-eligible list.

Joe from Tampa, Fla., asks: Hi, Amalie. I have enjoyed your mailbags all season. My question is what happens to Ellsbury next season. I think that the Red Sox should open their arms and welcome him back because of his stolen bases disrupt the other teams pitching and defense. I know that there has been negative talk about his this season. What do you think will happen?

Answer: While I have been in the camp that believes that the Red Sox will try to shop Ellsbury in the offseason, it seems very possible that the center fielder will remain with the club in 2011. There are a couple of reasons for this, including the fact that if the Red Sox were to deal him now, they would be selling low on a player who is very talented. I think there will certainly be conversations between general manager Theo Epstein and other front office personnel around the game -- especially because most players get discussed at some point in the winter -- but I'm not quite so certain that those talks will turn into a deal for the outfielder.

The Red Sox, after all, will have the need for an outfielder next season, and that's with Ellsbury returning. There will continue to be concerns about Mike Cameron's age and health, and the Red Sox would be foolish to go into next season without some insurance. The Red Sox could go after a player like Jayson Werth to go along with Ellsbury and J.D. Drew in 2011, with Cameron in the mix as well. In the end, I do think that there are things that need to be repaired in the relationships, but I also think that there are more reasons to keep Ellsbury around than reasons to trade him, and so I am leaning toward thinking that he'll be back in Fort Myers, Fla., in a few short months. Time will tell.

George from Andover, Mass., asks: Are the Red Sox playing Lars Anderson to "showcase" him? Anthony Rizzo supposedly has moved ahead of him on the depth chart. When they played Anderson against the Rays, especially since they will probably lose Carlos Pena, that looked like their strategy to me. Thank you!

Answer: George, I think that's exactly what the Red Sox are doing. Lars Anderson's stock has certainly fallen over the last couple of years, and I think the Red Sox see that he might have more value as a trade chip than as a part of the major league club. It doesn't hurt to show him off, especially when the alternative is Mike Lowell, a guy who is not only injured but is retiring at the end of the season.

With his phenomenal year at Double A, Rizzo has indeed moved ahead of Anderson on the depth chart. Rizzo, who just turned 21 years old, had a .263 average with 20 home runs and 80 RBI 414 at bats at Portland this season, and has deeply impressed the organization with his maturity in the way he has dealt with both baseball and his bout with Hodgkin's lymphoma. He has more power potential than Anderson does, and adds excellent defense to complete the package.

As for Anderson, there is still potential there, but it might not be potential that will be reached with the Red Sox. It's just noticeable the way that manager Terry Francona, for instance, brings up Anderson in answers to questions that don't relate to the first baseman. Perhaps it doesn't mean anything, but perhaps it's just another key that indicates that Anderson might not be long for the organization.

Sean from Easton, Mass., asks: Amalie, John Lackey came to Boston as a promised third ace of the staff. But, he hasn't pitched like an ace, with only a few exceptions; his last outing was an excellent example. Is he just having an off year? Can we expect him to put together a much-improved 2011? I would give him the benefit of the doubt, but am I wrong?

Answer: Honestly, it's hard to know exactly what precipitated John Lackey's struggles this season. No, he hasn't pitched like an ace, and it's easy to attribute that to the move from the American League West to the AL East. There's some validity to that theory, as Lackey has pretty good career numbers against the West, which he obviously faced quite a bit more when he was with the Angels. In 2010, Lackey is 5-1 with a 2.98 ERA against the West. Over his career, Lackey is 44-26 with a 4.02 ERA, making his winning percentage .629 in his career against the West (.582 overall).

But his numbers are way off across the board, continuing a trend that had already been there but that has a far larger jump from 2009 to 2010 than in other seasons. This is the part that might indicate that this season has just been a bad year, perhaps due to some rough times in his personal life, and that he could bounce back in 2011. Do I think he'll replicate a season in which he's just 12-11 with a 4.63 ERA and 1.477 WHIP? No, not really. But I'm also not convinced that he'll be quite as good as his contract would seem to indicate. Ultimately, though, we'll see next season.

Rick from Windsor, Mass., asks: Hi Amalie! Something from your last mailbag kind of stuck out. It was when you said "I'm not a fan. I'm a writer. And I have to remain objective in my coverage, and that includes telling it like it is." So my question is, when you are home and "off the clock" are you a Sox fan? A fan of baseball in general? A fan of a different team? Where do your personal non-reporter loyalties lie? And for that matter, how about the rest of the Globe staff? I've always wondered how many of the reporters and commentators are actually fans of the teams they follow. Thanks!

Answer: Thanks for asking, Rick. When I say that I'm not a Red Sox fan, I mean that. I'm not a fan at work, nor am I a fan when I'm off the clock and at home. I know that might sound somewhat strange, given the job and given that I grew up as a Red Sox fan just outside of Boston. I'm a fan of baseball, but I rarely watch it when I'm not at work. I certainly follow the game and the trends and the races (and play fantasy baseball), but that is something I do more for work. It's a weird phenomenon, but it's also something that was explained to me before I made the decision to become a sportswriter. I was told that if I wanted to remain as a fan, I should stay a fan. I was told that if I wanted to be a writer, I should be a sportswriter. The two teams that I follow most closely in baseball are the Red Sox, obviously, and the Dodgers, as I happen to be marrying a Los Angeles native/Dodgers fan. Listening to Vin Scully just comes with the territory. Tough, I know.

I always say that I'm a fan of good story lines and short games and making deadlines, and that's really true. I know it's the same for virtually every reporter. There are very few (if any) true Red Sox fans in the Red Sox press box, which is not to say that there aren't sports fans there. Many of us have loyalties with other teams in other sports -- there are quite a few Patriots/Celtics/Bruins fans among us -- but very few are invested in the Red Sox.

In fact, most of us are far more likely to "root" for particular players over particular teams, just because we interact with them and grow to like them. I do, however, openly pull for my alma mater, Northwestern. Go Wildcats.

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