- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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When the full weight of Tampa Bay shortstop Reid Brignac toppled onto the right shoulder of Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury last April 13 as he was sliding into second base, it cost Ellsbury more than the 79 games he missed with a partially dislocated shoulder.
The injury conservatively cost Ellsbury at least $5 million, the raise he could have expected in salary arbitration had he come close to approximating his career performance when healthy. The Sox center fielder could have reasonably expected millions more had his 2012 performance approached his breakout 2011 season, when he was MVP runner-up.
Had Ellsbury remained healthy, he would have compared favorably in arbitration to two outfielders who have had similar service time in the major leagues, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones and San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence. The Orioles last summer signed Jones, who had a breakout 2012 (32 home runs, .334 OBP, .505 SLG, .839 OPS) to a six-year, $85.5 million extension that averages $14.25 million a season. Pence is expected to command between $13 million and $14 million in arbitration from the Giants, after a season in which he hit 24 home runs and posted a .319/.425/.743 line.
Jones and Pence, like Ellsbury, have been All-Stars, but neither player has had a season as spectacular as the one Ellsbury had in 2011, when he hit 32 home runs, stole 39 bases and posted a .376/.552/.928 line. But neither has missed the playing time Ellsbury has in two of the past three seasons. Ellsbury played in just 18 games in 2010 after colliding with third baseman Adrian Beltre and fracturing his ribs.
So Ellsbury, who is in his third and final year of arbitration eligibility before qualifying for free agency after the 2013 season, is probably looking at only a slight increase over the $8.05 million he was paid in 2012, when his salary jumped from $2.04 million. A much bigger payday will come in free agency, assuming he returns to form. If that happens, agent Scott Boras can be expected to push Ellsbury into the $20 million to $25 million per year range occupied by outfielders Josh Hamilton and Carl Crawford.
It is for that reason the Sox and Boras have not engaged in talks regarding a contract extension. Having missed so much time, Ellsbury needs to make his case that he deserves to be near the top of baseball's salary bracket; the Sox wouldn't think of paying him at that level now.
Ellsbury is one of nine Red Sox players eligible to file for arbitration, with the players' association notifying MLB by Jan. 15 of the players filing, a formality. Three days later, on Jan. 18, teams and players exchange salary figures. If a team and arbitration-eligible player cannot reach an agreement, the case goes to an arbitration hearing, and a three-man panel chooses one of the two salary figures. Hearings are scheduled from Feb. 4 to Feb. 20.
Last winter, 142 players filed for arbitration. Only seven cases went to a hearing last February, with teams winning five of those. Teams have won the majority of cases in 14 of the past 16 years.
The other Sox players eligible for arbitration are catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and seven pitchers. The nine Sox players are listed here, along with the salaries projected for them by MLBtraderumors.com, using a formula the website has devised to project salaries of arbitration-eligible players: Ellsbury ($8.1 million), Saltalamacchia ($3.9M), Andrew Bailey ($3.9M), Joel Hanrahan ($6.9M), Alfredo Aceves ($2.6M), Daniel Bard ($1.6M), Andrew Miller ($1.4M), Franklin Morales ($1.4M) and Craig Breslow ($2.4M). Hanrahan, like Ellsbury, is in his last year of arbitration eligibility and can expect a significant bump from the $4.1 million he was paid by Pittsburgh in 2012. Saltalamacchia is also just a year away and is in line for an increase from the $2.5 million he was paid in 2012.
Bailey increased his salary eight-fold last winter, when he was signed by Boston for $3.9 million in his first year of eligibility after being paid $465,000 by Oakland in 2011. But his injury-shortened season and ineffective performance are likely to keep his salary static in 2013.