Red Sox’s hopes for Jacoby Ellsbury extension getting more expensive with every homer

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During a radio interview this morning general manager Theo Epstein noted that the Red Sox unsuccessfully tried to work out a long-term contract extension with Jacoby Ellsbury in the past and would still like to do so, but the center fielder’s price tag is rising rapidly.

Here’s what Epstein said on the Dennis and Callahan Show:

This isn’t the right forum to talk about it. Those conversations are always behind closed doors. But I guess it’s not a secret we sat down and tried in the past to do that, lock Jacoby up, and I hope we’ll sit down in the future again and try to do it once more at the appropriate time. He’s somebody we’ve long believed in, we’ve long seen as a core young member of the organization that we would love to keep around.

Ellsbury is earning $2.4 million in his first season of arbitration eligibility and will be under team control in 2012 and 2013, so there’s no rush to get something done. On the other hand, he’s bounced back from an injury wrecked 2010 to hit .316 with 15 homers in 95 games after totaling 20 homers in his first 349 games, which along with having Scott Boras as an agent guarantees Ellsbury will be looking to break the bank.

Plus, as Rob Bradford of WEEI.com points out Boras has typically tried to avoid letting his clients give up free agent years as part of contract extensions, so even if the Red Sox are willing to meet his rising asking price that may not even be an option. Quite a bit different than just a year ago, when Ellsbury hit .192 and was limited to 18 games by injuries.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.