FORT MYERS, Fla. — So where should the Red Sox hit Jacoby Ellsbury in their lineup?
It’s a riddle without a wrong answer. His speed and ability to get on base suggests they would be wise to leave him at the top of the order. The Red Sox led the majors in runs scored last season, why tinker with what worked so well?
But why squander so many extra-base hits in the leadoff spot? Having Ellsbury come up so many times without runners on base seems wasteful. Surely he should hit third.
“We’ve talked about this already and I bet we have a chance to talk about it again. Just call it a hunch,” said Bobby Valentine, who has ducked all questions about his lineup.
“That’s going to be an interesting situation that will probably evolve during the spring and the season. The last thing in the world you ever want to do is create confusion, doubt, any of those things. Right now he seems to be free and open [to hitting anywhere in the lineup].”
If Ellsbury has a preference, he’s keeping it to himself.
“It’s hard for me to say at this point. I haven’t hit third on this team before. I don’t know how they would go about mixing the lineup,” he said. “Certain guys feel comfortable hitting in certain positions. I’ve hit in different areas in the lineup and it hasn’t really bothered me. I feel comfortable.
“Time will tell what will happen. I really don’t have an opinion either way at this moment.”
But perhaps a clue as to what Ellsbury prefers was unearthed when he was asked what statistic he took the most pride in last season. It was his 105 RBIs.
“I was pretty happy with driving in the runs. It’s all about scoring runs and driving in runs. I was pretty excited about that,” he said.
The other question with Ellsbury is whether he is marking off the days until he becomes a free agent or will join teammates Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz in agreeing to a long-term deal with the Sox.
Ellsbury and the Red Sox settled on a one-year, $8.05 million deal for this season, avoiding arbitration. Ellsbury will not be a free agent until after the 2013 season, giving the Red Sox ample time to work out an extension — that is if Ellsbury is interested.
“There’s always that possibility,” Ellsbury said. “I kind of leave that up to my agent and I’m just happy to get everything worked out this year. As far as future contracts and stuff like that, I let them take care of it and then inform me if there’s any decisions to be made.”
Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, usually advises his client to test their worth in the free-agent market. Ellsbury, who is from Oregon and makes his home in Arizona, could prefer a team on the West Coast.
But he also professed his love for all things Boston.
“I love playing here; it’s a great place to play,” Ellsbury said. “Love the fans. The fans show up for spring training. … It’s a great place to play and I enjoy it. It’s the only place I know. I enjoy playing in that pressure environment.”
The Red Sox require terms favorable to the team before they will agree to an extension. That includes buying out a free-agent year and getting a team option on another season.
Boras would join Occupy Wall Street before he agrees to that. But plenty can happen in two years.
For now, Ellsbury is a premium player and he's under control through 2013. That's good enough for now.
“If he’s not totally unique, he’s in a real small sample. He’s just a joy,” Valentine said.