As expected, Jacoby Ellsbury is having a solid contract season. With just 33 games left to go in the 2013 campaign, a healthy Ells has once again emerged as a dominant force for the Red Sox. He is an elite center fielder this season, leading the majors in stolen bases (46) and in the top 10 in average (.299, 3rd), on base percentage (.358, 4th), slugging (.426, 6th) and OPS (.783, 7th).
He is 11th among center fielders at .990, which is a misleading statistic since he gets to so many more balls that may go as an error than other center fielders. In short, he’s very, very marketable.
Boston needs him as their center fielder long term. There’s no other center fielder on the market that posses his killer combination of speed, true lead off sensibilities and an intangible that no one talks about. Ellsbury is a professional baseball player who keeps his mouth shut and lets his playing do the talking. He’s a great teammate. Just ask around the club house. And now he’s in jeopardy of going to another ball club in the offseason.
So who’s in the hunt and who’s out? As provided by Fangraphs, here’s a rundown of who won’t be looking for Ellsbury’s services in 2014 and beyond.
Angels: All set with Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos.
Pirates: Set with Andrew McCutchen.
Blue Jays: Colby Rasmus has improved a lot this season aside from his strike outs, 132 to date, sixth in the AL. The Blue Jays may waive Melky Cabrera and move Rasmus to left field.
Brewers: The Brewers are fine with Carlos Gomez.
Orioles: Adam Jones is a lock.
Diamondbacks: Jason Kubel will likely not be back in Arizona, but with Gerardo Parra, Adam Eaton and Cody Ross in the fold, they’ll have more than enough to go around.
Detroit: Austin Jackson will stay in center field for the Tigers.
Rockies: Dexter Fowler will be their man.
While not necessarily enamored with their respective center fielders, the Braves (B.J. Upton), Dodgers (Matt Kemp) and Padres (Cameron Maybin) are stuck with them.
Indians: All set with Michael Bourn.
Rays: Fine with with Desmond Jennings.
St. Louis: Jon Jay is a defensive liability but the Cardinals will likely stay with him.
That leaves 16 teams, who may or may not be in the hunt. The most likely candidates are:
Red Sox: Sure they want to sign him but I still say that his 2010 falling out with the organization, Scott Boras as his agent and the Sox wanting to get Jackie Bradley Jr. in centerfield are working against them.
Royals: 27-year old rookie David Lough has been a pleasant surprise but is definitely a downgrade from Ellsbury. Ellsbury could be instrumental in becoming a key cog in what is becoming a very good baseball machine as Boston’s recent series in KC proved.
Yankees: Curtis Granderson is a free agent and the Yankees have always taken special glee in sticking it to the Sox whenever the opportunity presents itself. This steal would be particularly delicious for the Bombers. Every night Brian Cashman wakes up in a frothy sweat after dreaming about this.
Philadelphia: Ben Revere is a pretty good center fielder but can easily transition to right should GM Ruben Amaro decide to pull the trigger after a sleepy and non-productive 2013 off-season.
Giants: San Francisco has a ton of cash potentially rolling off their books this season which would make them prime candidates to offer a fat wad and a lot of years to Ellsbury, a native west coaster.
Rangers: Alex Rios will be back in the folder but with both Nelson Cruz and David Murphy heading for free agency, they’re going to have a big gap that needs to be filled if they want to remain competitive.
Nationals: This a real on the bubble pick. Jayson Werth is good player but he gets hurt a lot. Denard Span is on for four years but has been so bad the Nats may ditch him if Ellsbury was serious about moving further down I-95.
The Cubs (no outfield obligations), Reds (seriously in need), Mets (Juan Lagaras and Marlon Bird can make room if the Mets decide they may be ready to compete again), As (Ellsbury replacing Coco Crisp?) and Mariners (almost home state boy comes home) are all teams that would likely draw up an offer at the drop of a hat but may not want or be able to part with enough cash to let them sleep at night nor make Ellsbury happy enough after being on playoff or near-playoff contenders throughout his career.
An even more in depth analysis of Ellsbury’s options can be found here at Fangraphs.
What do you think? Will Ellsbury be back in a Boston uniform in 2014?