All along, the assumption was that the anticipation of free agency after this season would inspire Jacoby Ellsbury to once again reach MVP-caliber heights.

But take it from two of Ellsbury’s Red Sox teammates: It isn’t so simple.

A year ago, Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli were in Ellsbury’s position. And faced with the chance to cash in by having a big season, they fell flatter than a flapjack. Napoli batted .227 with 56 RBI for the Texas Rangers, while Victorino had his career-worst year and was traded in July from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In both cases, the allure of a big payday proved only to be an unwanted distraction.

“For me, it wasn’t really putting pressure on myself. It was more all the outside people,” Napoli said yesterday. “Your family, your friends, they’re like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to have a big year this year.’ You’re getting all the chatter from everybody. It’s constantly being put in front of you. It’s always in your ear.

“I remember friends being like, ‘Man, come on, let’s have a good week.’ It’s like, ‘Get off me. Let me play like every other year.’ So, yeah, I could see where guys, because of that free agent year, if you start off rough, it’s like you want to do so good that you’re overdoing it.”

Perhaps that’s what Ellsbury is going through.

Entering last night’s series opener here against the Twins, in which he stole a base and drove in the tying run with an infield single, Ellsbury was batting .249 — including a 6-for-46 funk over his last 11 games — with a .314 on-base percentage and only one home run.