Papelbon, Ellsbury get Boston deals

Posted Jan. 18, 2011, at 6:42 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 18, 2011, at 9:41 p.m.

BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox have reached agreement on one-year deals with closer Jonathan Papelbon and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, two people familiar with the contracts told The Associated Press.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the deals had not been announced.

The base salaries are $12 million for Papelbon and $2.4 million for Ellsbury. They were Boston’s only arbitration-eligible players. Theo Epstein kept intact his record of never going to arbitration with a player since becoming general manager in 2002.

Comcast SportsNet New England first reported the agreements.

Papelbon is coming off his worst season with a 5-7 record, 3.90 ERA and 37 saves in 45 opportunities. He made the AL All-Star team in four of his five seasons as Boston’s closer and has a career record of 19-18 with a 2.22 ERA and 188 saves. He becomes eligible for free agency after the 2011 season.

The Red Sox signed free agent Bobby Jenks, the former closer for the Chicago White Sox who is expected to fill a setup role at least in the coming season.

Papelbon, a 30-year-old righty, received the highest one-year contract for an arbitration-eligible pitcher and the fourth-highest overall. Prince Fielder and the Milwaukee Brewers avoided salary arbitration Tuesday by agreeing to a $15.5 million, one-year contract. The previous highest-single season contract for an arbitration-eligible player was Mark Teixeira’s $12.5 million agreement with Atlanta in 2008. Carlos Zambrano got $12.4 from the Chicago Cubs.

Papelbon avoided an arbitration hearing for the third straight year. He and the Red Sox agreed to one-year contracts of $6.25 million for 2009 and $9.35 million for 2010.

The 27-year-old Ellsbury would receive an additional $50,000 for 600 plate appearances and another $50,000 for 700. His salary last season was $496,500.

He had just 78 official at-bats last year when fractured ribs limited him to 18 games. He hit .192 with no homers, five RBIs and seven stolen bases. In 2009, he batted .301 in 624 at bats with eight homers and career-highs of 60 RBIs and 70 stolen bases. For his career, he is hitting .291 with 20 homers, 130 RBIs and 136 stolen bases in 349 games.

The Brewers’ prospects to keep Fielder in Milwaukee past the upcoming season are slim. Fielder is represented by agent Scott Boras and can become a free agent following the World Series.

“We’re just focusing on this year,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said during an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s the best thing for all parties involved, with him going into his free agent year and us going into a year where we want to have a lot of success.”

Fielder hit .261 with 32 homers and 83 RBIs last season, when he made $11.25 million. It was the lowest batting average in his big league career.

“We’re pleased with the deal, where it’s at, and he obviously is, too, to get it done. It was only natural he would pass Teixeira,” Melvin said. “He can focus on spring training, preparing for spring training and having a big year.”

The 26-year-old slugger is expected to be the top free agent hitter available in November and has been the biggest force in a potent offense with an impressive list of accolades.

Fielder became the youngest player to hit 50 home runs, accomplishing the feat at age 23 in 2007. In 2009, he won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star break and finished with a .299 average and 46 homers, tying Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard with a big league-best 141 RBIs.

“We took into consideration his previous years — the 50 homers, the 46 homers. I know last year he had a little bit of a decline, but I expect him to bounce back,” Melvin said. “We feel he’s ready to bounce back and have a big year.”

Milwaukee is gearing up for a postseason run with Fielder again at the center of a young, potent offensive core that includes All-Stars Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, as well as second baseman Rickie Weeks and third baseman Casey McGehee.

Offense hasn’t been a problem since Fielder arrived after being a first-round draft pick of the Brewers in 2002, but Melvin has made major improvements to his pitching staff this offseason with two trades.

Melvin added former AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke in a six-player swap with the Royals and dealt the organization’s top hitting prospect to Toronto for Blue Jays’ opening-day starter Shaun Marcum.

The two join Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf in a rotation that’s among the best in the NL behind Philadelphia’s and gives the Brewers two aces the team has missed since CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets left following the NL wild-card run in 2008.

Melvin said he worked with Boras late into Monday night, and they finished up the details on Tuesday morning.

One thing that hasn’t been discussed much is a long-term deal with Fielder, who had been the subject of trade rumors all last season and into the offseason until Melvin acquired Greinke.

It’s believed Fielder is seeking a contract in similar size to the $180 million, eight-year deal Teixeira, also a Boras client, signed with the Yankees before the 2009 season.

Melvin has only gone to an arbitration hearing once as general manager of the Brewers. The team lost that case last year with Corey Hart, who went to agree last August to a deal adding $26.5 million and three years through 2013.

Left-hander Manny Parra also avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $1.2 million, one-year deal. The Brewers have three players left in arbitration: Weeks, Marcum and right-handed reliever Kameron Loe.

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