One of the more curious names for the Red Sox looking forward to next year and beyond is Jacoby Ellsbury. 2013 is Ellsbury’s contract year and it’s widely believed that it will be his last season in Boston. However, the center fielder has stated that he enjoys Boston and would love to stay if possible. Despite being in the midst of an injury-depleted down year (.249/.298/.345, 1 home run, 6 stolen bases), Ellsbury is one of the premier players in baseball when healthy– evidenced by his 2011 season (.321/.376/.552, 32 home runs, 39 stolen bases, 105 RBIs) that saw him finish second to Justin Verlander in MVP voting.
The Red Sox don’t have a ton of payroll space to sign Ellsbury long term as their current payroll stands at approximately $146 million (fourth in baseball)– $32 million under the luxury tax threshold. About $20 million will be coming off the books this offseason with David Ortiz and Cody Ross (and potentially a trade of Josh Beckett), but the Red Sox will probably resign Ortiz and possibly Ross both to larger contracts, leaving my estimate of around $25 million remaining. The Red Sox could use that money to sign perhaps Ellsbury, a defensive-minded catcher, a starting pitcher, and a few relievers if they were economical.
The benefit of signing Ellsbury this winter, as opposed to next, is that not only will there be no competition for the speedster, but they could probably sign him for less. Coming off a down year, a contract of offer of say, 6 years/$85 million would be very hard for the 28 year old to refuse.
But if the Red Sox were to guarantee Ellsbury over $14 million per season, they’d have to have a pretty good idea of which player they’d be getting: the injury prone player from 2010 and 2012, the MVP contender in 2011, or the speedy leadoff hitter from 2007-2009. If healthy and in his prime, which he’ll hopefully be in 2013, I think Ellsbury will fit in between the speedy leadoff hitter and the five-tool monster.
From 2007-2009, Ellsbury put up a .297/.337/.414 triple slash line– add those cumulative numbers to his monster 2011 season and between those four seasons, he averaged a .305/.345/.461 line, also averaging 16 home runs, 71 RBIs and 53 stolen bases between ’08, ’09, and ’11 (his three full seasons). Assuming Ellsbury stays healthy, he should put up numbers something along those lines in his prime with perhaps a few more home runs for the first years of this contract. A contract like this would be a smart move for the Red Sox, to lock him up before he has another career year like last season.