FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For the first time in his career, Jacoby Ellsbury enters a season with free agency looming. It is a right he has earned after helping the Red Sox win a World Series in 2007, breaking the team's single-season stolen base record in '09 and nearly winning the American League's Most Valuable Player Award in '11.
But the one thing the Red Sox won't have to worry about with Ellsbury is turning his contract situation into an exterior distraction.
The center fielder, a quiet sort, doesn't speak much to the media anyway. And when he is asked about his contract, he will just about always change the subject.
"Well, what's important -– the main focus is winning," Ellsbury said. "All the guys have put so much hard work into the offseason, and that's what it's about -- and coming together as a team. I'm definitely looking forward to the 2013 season."
He was asked a similar question later in his interview session on Thursday.
"Every year, you come in with a chip on your shoulder, trying to perform at the highest level, and I didn't change my work ethic in the offseason," Ellsbury said. "I trained just as hard as I always do, so for me it feels the same. And I have the same goals, the same mindset. Like I said before, that's just helping this team win. That's why everybody is so excited about it."
Clearly, Ellsbury doesn't like discussing his contract.
"I think I'm focused on playing and helping the team win. Any question about contract or anything like that, it's best just to call my agent and do it that way," Ellsbury said.
Ellsbury never came out and said he'd like to play for the Red Sox the rest of his career, but he did express his enthusiasm for the only Major League city he has ever called home.
"Like I've said, I love playing here," Ellsbury said. "I love the fans. And I appreciate the Red Sox, obviously giving me an opportunity earlier in my career in the Draft when they selected me. I love playing here."
Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino said the team is keeping an open mind with regards to Ellsbury's future.
"Would we like to have him here? Yes. Do I think there will be some negotiations that will take place during the course of the year, perhaps sooner? Possibly. We wouldn't rule anything out," Lucchino said. "But we'd very much like to have him here, like to have him be part of a core Red Sox team or, as [general manager] Ben Cherington likes to say, be part of the next great Red Sox team. But I don't think it's appropriate to have too much of a discussion about a negotiation process right now and in this forum."
The Red Sox hope Ellsbury can avoid a major injury in 2013. Last year, he suffered a subluxation of his right shoulder during the team's home opener. In hindsight, the Red Sox never recovered.
Even though he played the entire second half, Ellsbury never recaptured the swing that led to his breakout season in 2011.
"I just never really got back," Ellsbury said. "That's why I'm so excited about this year. I've got those blinders on and I'm focused. Just excited about the opportunity for us to win. I think Dustin [Pedroia] touched on it and a bunch of guys have. It's all about winning."
If the Red Sox do win, it's likely their center fielder will set the tone on many nights.
"A healthy Jacoby Ellsbury is a darn good player," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He's one that two years ago set the tone for this team with his production -- middle-of-the-order production -- at the top of the order, and he can steal a base. The top of the order, as they go, so goes the team, and to have him back healthy, we've all seen what he's capable of. He looks great. The way he talks about how he feels and all of those issues, whether they're shoulder or rib cage, that's a thing of the past right now."
"I feel great," noted Ellsbury.