We knew this day was coming. We knew Jacoby Ellsbury was likely gone after this season. What we didn’t know was where he would ultimately end up, though we made some assumptions. Now we know. Ellsbury opted to sell to the highest bidder for a seven year, $153 million deal from the “rival” (considering the series record last season and NY’s finish, I use that term loosely) Yankees. Count me as one who’s not too upset about this.
Granted I’m disappointed to see a guy I rooted for leave to play for the baseball team I despise the most. But honestly, I’m more worried about the Rays and Orioles next season. NY has just ponied up for two players who are going to be 30 on opening day, have been plagued by injuries the past few seasons, and can’t pitch. With no real big names on the FA market, and no real blue chips down on the farm, the Yankees are unlikely to acquire a proven frontline ace this offseason. They’re now punting away their first and second round picks. They do have free agents with draft pick compensation tied to them in Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Hiroki Kuroda. There’s still a good chance Cano re-signs, as well as Kuroda (unless he opts to return to Japan). But Granderson is likely gone. So instead of accumulating picks to rebuild their farm to truly solve their problem, the Yankees are adding to the problem. Once again, I see the Rays as a bigger threat going forward. They have smart people in the front office and are consistently producing young talent on an annual basis.
But back to Ellsbury: He was fun to watch since his debut in 2007. He was the compensation pick for losing Orlando Cabrera after 2004 (who we received in the Nomar Garciaparra deal, so the tree from that deal continues to grow with two more picks now coming our way). His injuries in 2010 and 2012 were freak occurrences, but they still happened and he was essentially lost in both seasons. Ells has also only had ONE full season OPS over .800, his amazing 2011 campaign, which is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. Megadeals are usually reserved for middle of the order power hitters and elite starting pitchers. At least until Carl Crawford was signed by the Red Sox to a seven year, $142 million deal in the 2010-2011 offseason. To date, that is one of the worst contracts in baseball. At the time Crawford signed, he had been pretty durable. Ells can’t make the same claim, but he’s now getting an even bigger contract. There is a chance Ells does live up to the deal at least in the short term. But the risk far outweighs the reward. It was the right move to not attempt to outbid the Yankees in this case. The Sox have internal options to replace Ellsbury at leadoff and in center field for next season. Shane Victorino has experience in the leadoff spot. Daniel Nava has a career .369 OBP. In time Jackie Bradley could emerge as the leadoff hitter. He’s more likely to bat ninth to begin 2014 though. The Bill James Handbook projects him to draw 60 walks (Ellsbury’s career high is 52) next season. He’s already considered by many to be an upgrade defensively, capable of covering as much if not more ground, and a much stronger throwing arm (been a long time since we’ve had one of those in CF).
I conclude my post by thanking Ellsbury for his contributions for the 2007 and 2013 championships. I hope he enjoys his money, because he sure won’t be enjoying many championships.