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Questions Surround Jacoby Ellsbury as He Enters Contract Year

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COMMENTARY| Last Friday, Jacoby Ellsbury signed a one-year, $9 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. It's the final year that Ellsbury is protected; he will be a free agent at the end of the upcoming season. The Red Sox and Ellsbury will both have to decide if and when the time is right to negotiate a new contract. Seemingly, it won't be after the season knowing how the Sox and Scott Boras (Ellsbury's agent) like to do business. This should give Ellsbury the entire year to prove his worth to not just Boston, but also to other possible suitors.

However, the situation is not quite that simple. Ellsbury does carry some baggage. He missed the majority of games in two of the last three years. In 2010, Ellsbury suffered from fractured ribs and played only 18 games. Then, just last year, he managed to play in only 74 games after dislocating his shoulder in early April.

What must be frustrating to Ellsbury is that his season before the rib injury was incredibly productive. Ellsbury hit .310 with a .355 OBP. He broke Boston's single-season stolen base record with 70. In his first season of batting primarily in the leadoff position, he also managed to score 94 runs.

Even more frustrating, though, has to be the way he played before the second major injury. In 2011, Ellsbury was an MVP candidate. He finished with a .312 BA and an OBP of .376. He had 32 HRs, 105 RBIs and 119 runs scored. Ellsbury was an All-Star, won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, and finished second in MVP voting. It was a monumental season for the young center fielder who looked to really be ready to bust out.

Ellsbury is just 29 years old, a prime age for a positional payer in the majors. No team is going to shy away from a multi-year deal claiming he's too old. His speed also makes him a prime base-runner and an above-average center fielder. Because of that speed, his range is second-to-none.

As noted before, Ellsbury was able to get 74 games in last year. While his numbers were pedestrian (.271 BA, .313. OBP, 4HRs, 26 RBIs), they at least showed that he the injury wasn't going to deter him from coming back. This was important, considering the criticism he received for how long it took for him to come back from the rib injury. If there's one label that every single player in the history of sports wants to avoid, it's "injury prone."

There is no more woeful phrase in the world of sports. It's incrementally more tragic if it's associated with a player looking for a new contract. Fortunately for Ellsbury, he has a season to prove his true worth. More important, he has a season to prove that he isn't an injury risk.

If there is any good news about the injuries it would be what they were. Both incidents were freak. Neither was associated with any other malady. Neither left any lingering negative effects. Neither is expected to pose any future complications. If a player must sustain an injury, Ellsbury's type is the best-case scenario. One might even say that Ellsbury was lucky.

Will Ellsbury re-sign with the Red Sox? It's anyone's guess. Both Boras and Boston tend to let things play out, so don't expect anything during the season. This obviously puts the ball in Ellsbury's court. If he has a productive season then it may be hard to get him at the price Boston sets. However, a productive season doesn't change the fact that he has missed nearly two full seasons out of the last three. Baseball is a game of numbers, and the only zeros a player wants to see are the ones holding seven places in the salary line of a new contract.

Chris Sedenka is a Yahoo! Contributor in Sports covering the Boston Red Sox. You can listen to his daily radio show on 96.3FM in Portland, ME or at He is also the voice of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League.

You can follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisSedenka.

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