Jacoby Ellsbury is one of the most intriguing players on the free agent market but he is also possibly the most difficult free agent to accurately value going forward. He is represented by Scott Boras and he shunned extension talks during his arbitration season as
Ellsbury exploded onto the major league scene in 2007 with an eye-catching .353/.394/.509 line down the stretch for the World Champion Red Sox. He followed that up with two strong seasons in 2008 and 2009 transitioning from left field to his natural position in center in his second full season.
That transition to center was not particularly smooth despite his obvious talent for the position, however. As a result, the Red Sox even acquired Mike Cameron during the 2010 off-season to play center to keep Ellsbury in left. As it turned out, Ellsbury would see little time at either position, missing almost all of that season after a collision with third baseman Adrian Beltre.
Ellsbury rebounded with a monstrous 2011 season, hitting .321/.376/.552 and flashing previously unforeseen home run power with 32 dingers to go with his 39 stolen bases and 46 doubles. He finished second in the 2011 AL MVP vote and appeared destined for a enormous payday when this off-season finally arrived.
Then he met Reid Brignac. In April 2012, Ellsbury collided with the Ray’s shortstop at second and Brignac landed on him, dislocating his shoulder. Ellsbury missed more than half the season and returned to hit a dismal .271/.313/.370 in 323 plate appearances. He began the 2013 season off slowly, but caught fire in June and he is currently hitting .299/.355/.424 and once again leading majors with 52 stolen bases. Unfortunately, he has not shown any of the over-the-fence power he flashed in 2011, hitting just eight home runs in 624 plate appearances. Worse yet, he is once again out of the lineup, this time with a fracture in his foot.
Given his strong season in 2013, Ellsbury should be able to command a substantial multi-year deal. However, his injury history is a real concern. None of the injuries he has suffered are likely to recur or cause long term problems, but it is impossible to overlook the fact that he has not been on the field for almost one and half of the last three seasons. Different teams will weigh that risk differently, but it is going to be a factor in every negotiation.
The same is true of his power potential and that may be an even bigger factor. Teams were extremely reluctant to pay Michael Bourn (another
On the other hand, most players typically add more power in their thirties and the 29-year-old Ellsbury has already shown that his line drive swing can generate enough pop to put the ball in the bleachers. Scott Boras recently made the comparison to another former client of his- former Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. Damon averaged about 10 home runs per season in his first 6 full seasons and then averaged just under 17 in his next eight with
The Red Sox been hedging against Ellsbury’s departure since last off-season when they acquired Shane Victorino for three years/$36 million and their refusal to trade away top center field prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. at the deadline only cements their hard line in negotiating with Ellsbury and
The issue for
The Mariners have already been connected to Ellsbury by a report from Ken Rosenthal which described them as "well-positioned." The Mariners are indeed well-positioned in a few ways actually. They have money, with under $40 million committed to next year’s payroll before a very small list of arbitration decisions. That leaves them with more than $40 million available if they merely maintained their 2013 payroll and given their market size, they can likely spend at least $20-$30 million more than that without hurting their bottom line. They also have a talented young, cost-controlled core of players that has begun to show some signs that would justify a "win-now" attitude from the front office. Add to that GM Jack Zduriencik entering the final season of his current contract and a winter spending spree looks almost inevitable.
If that spree happens, Ellsbury is a good starting point. The Mariners rank 28th in center fielder fWAR this season. Incumbent Franklin Gutierrez has missed most of the season with injury and he will be a free agent if the Mariners don’t exercise his $7.5 million option. Youngsters like Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte and Michael Saunders have all seen time there and none of them done enough to earn a place in the position full time. While the farm system is poised to pay off well in the infield and on the mound, there isn’t much in the pipeline to help the outfield in any major way. Inking Ellsbury would be a message signing to fans, to other free agents and perhaps most importantly, to those young
The Rangers have some solid options in center field. Both Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry are excellent defenders. Gentry’s extreme lack of power hurts his chances at ever really being a full-time player but the 25-year-old Martin is still developing and has looked like a quality regular at times this season. If the Rangers were still sitting comfortably atop the AL West, they could probably live with those two for some time. Unfortunately, they are currently looking up at the Athletics and several other teams are gearing up to pass them as well.
The Rangers have lost too much on the offensive side to keep pace with
The Giants will have a great deal of payroll coming off their books and after a disappointing 2013 season, they may be looking to grab some headlines back from the playoff-bound Athletics across town and the hated Dodgers down south. The outfield wasn’t an issue for
Even if the Giants do re-sign Pence, Ellsbury could still be within their price range and his athleticism seems to fit in with GM Brian Sabean’s MO. Angel Pagan or Gregor Blanco could be offered up in trade to help the back of the rotation. With few can’t-miss pitchers on the market this off-season, pumping up the offense with free agent acquisitions and bartering for pitching might be a winning strategy by for the Giants. The park is just about as bad as it gets for lefties though and that could discourage Ellsbury and
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Potential Dark Horse Bidders
Much like the Mariners, the Mets have some young talent coming of age and money to spend but no one ready to help out a woeful outfield offense. I like them better for Shin-Soo Choo, since Juan Lagares’s glove makes him worth further examination as a full-time center fielder. However,
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were at the head of the team that drafted and developed Ellsbury and they know him better than anyone outside of the
The big questions are need and ability to land him. The Cubs aren’t ready to compete in 2014 at this point and that could make convincing Ellsbury to sign their difficult, especially if he is choosing between teams like
The Phillies brought in Ben Revere via trade before the 2013 and he was solid enough hitting .305/.338/.352 before losing the second half of this season to a broken foot. However, the Phillies core players are past their prime and a role player like
The Phillies are probably close to their max payroll however with almost $120 million committed to the team before arbitration raises. They need help behind the plate, in right field, in the bullpen and in the back of the rotation and signing one of most expensive players on the market will limit their options in those other areas.
What will he get paid?
Ellsbury is an extremely tough player to gauge. His upside is easily comparable to a player like Carl Crawford, who landed a seven-year/ $142 million deal with the Red Sox in 2011. Per this report from Jon Heyman, Scott Boras, was quick to try to make that something of a floor for Ellsbury’s deal. Sadly for Mr. Boras, the Crawford deal now looks like a major overpay and Ellsbury’s injury history is probably going make it hard for teams to justify that kind of expense.
Other executives are pointing to B.J. Upton’s five-year/$75 million deal according to Heyman and that maybe a more reasonable starting point. Thus far, Ellsbury hasn’t been healthy enough or consistent enough to give teams the kind of confidence it would take to match a deal like Crawford’s. He has been better than
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