Red Sox officials no doubt took notice last week when the Arizona Diamondbacks optioned outfielder Chris Young to Triple-A Reno in an effort to rediscover his swing and validate the huge investment they made in him less than two years ago.
Here's what the Diamondbacks owe Young over the course of the contract extension he signed in the spring of 2008:
2009: $1.75 million
2010: $3.25 million
2011: $5 million
2012: $7 million
2013: $8.5 million
2014: $11 million option or a $1.5 million option
Young had 702 major-league plate appearances under his belt when he signed his contract extension. Jacoby Ellsbury will have close to 1,500 major-league plate appearances at the end of this season. Ellsbury also will have virtually the same amount of major-league service time at the end of this season that Dustin Pedroia had when he signed his six-year extension this winter. (All of the three players are almost precisely the same age, too. All three will turn 26 between now and mid-September.)
It's not too early to wonder if the Red Sox are going to approach Ellsbury about a five- or six-year contract extension at some point this winter.
Several teams, including the Red Sox, have done well to sign their cornerstone players to long-term contracts at team-friendly rates. Evan Longoria's deal with Tampa Bay, in fact, is so one-sided the Rays might want to think about buying him a truck or something.
Pedroia, too, will make less money over the next six seasons than Mark Teixeira will make over the next two, but he traded away the chance to earn an extra $10 or $15 million for the security of knowing a career-ending injury won't have an adverse affect on his family.
Ellsbury will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time following the 2010 season, and the Red Sox immediately will be on the hook for somewhere between $1 million and $3 million. The year after that, the number will jump to between $3 million and $5 million. The year after that? Who knows?
That's why it might behoove the Red Sox to act now and avoid paying later. Tampa Bay signed outfielder Carl Crawford for a four-year, $15.75 million extension even before he became eligible for arbitration, a contract that broke down as follows:
2005: $0.5 million
2006: $2.5 million
2007: $4 million
2008: $5.25 million
2009: $8.25 million option or a $2.5 million buyout
2010: $10 million option or a $1.25 million buyout
Ellsbury, you have to imagine, isn't going to settle for a contract as team-friendly as that of Crawford. He'll likely look for something more along the lines of what Young got from Arizona or what Curtis Granderson got from the Detroit Tigers the year before he got to arbitration, a contract that looks like this:
2008: $1 million
2009: $3.5 million
2010: $5.5 million
2011: $8.25 million
2012: $10 million
2013: $13 million or a $2 million buyout
(Thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts for all of the salary information.)
The Tigers gambled that Granderson would be worth $8.25 million and $10 million in 2011 and 2012. (So far, so good.) The Diamondbacks gambled that Young would be worth $7 million and $8.5 million in 2012 and 2013. (So far, well, not so much.)
If the Red Sox sign Ellsbury long-term, they'll have to take a similar leap of faith and hope he's someone around whom they can build for the next five or six years. If they don't view him that way, well, they might be better off offering him to Seattle in a package for Felix Hernandez either this winter or next.