While the topic has been beaten like a dead horse, we must revisit it at least once more—the 2013 season will most likely be Jacoby Ellsbury’s last in Boston.
He is in the final year of his current deal with the Red Sox and will be a free agent at season’s end.
Despite offseason rumors and speculation that Ellsbury would be used as trade bait, the Red Sox front office has committed to him this year, and it’s curious as to why that is.
Ellsbury is coming off a disappointing 2012 campaign in which he missed more than half the year with a shoulder subluxation after he collided with Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Reid Brignac while attempting to break up a double play.
It was the second time in three seasons he was forced to sit out a significant portion of the year with a major—yet freak—injury (he played in just 18 games in 2010).
Ellsbury did, however, manage to squeeze in a full season in 2011 in which he offered a glimpse of his true potential. In 158 games he hit .321, with 32 homers, 46 doubles and 105 RBI. He also registered a blistering .928 OPS and stole 39 bases. Ellsbury earned his sole All-Star selection, while winning a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger Award and finishing second (to Justin Verlander) in AL MVP voting.
But one season is hardly a big enough sample size when considering a player’s worth. Professional athletes who cash in on huge contracts are usually the ones who put up stellar numbers year after year.
If Ellsbury can stay healthy this season, we will probably find out if 2011 was indeed a fluke. That might explain the Red Sox reluctance to offer Ellsbury a long-term extension. And perhaps the feeling is mutual—as far as we know Ellsbury has not asked for one.
Ellsbury is represented by Scott Boras and if history has told us anything, Boras’ clients tend to hit the open market, often ending up with the highest bidder. Ellsbury’s expectation is that he will receive a contract similar to the ones handed out to Jayson Werth, Josh Hamilton and Nick Swisher.
Jayson Werth: Washington Nationals: 7 yrs/$126 million
Josh Hamilton: Los Angeles Angels: 5 yrs/$125 million
Nick Swisher: Cleveland Indians: 4 yrs/$56 million
If Ellsbury has a year that even remotely resembles 2011 (unlikely), he will probably get a nine-figure offer from a team willing to shell out for his services.
Sure the Red Sox would love to keep Ellsbury around. He is an ideal leadoff man who hits for average, is a threat to steal and has some pop. But is he worth $18-20 million a year?
The answer would be a resounding no.
Besides, didn’t the Red Sox recently have issues regarding long-term contracts for big money with very little return?
It doesn’t make much sense to trade him now since his value is down following a disappointing season. But dealing Ellsbury is a no-brainer if the Red Sox are not contending at the trade deadline. A team making a playoff push, in need of a steady left-handed bat, would love to acquire Ellsbury for half a season and the postseason.
Boston also has insurance with top prospect Jackie Bradley, Jr., who has been tearing it up in Grapefruit League play (8-for-17 with a 1.056 OPS in seven games).
Once projected to make his major league debut in 2014, Bradley will almost certainly make an appearance this year, either as a September call-up or even sooner if there is an injury in the outfield.
His promising talent makes Ellsbury expendable. If the younger Bradley can deliver similar results at less than a quarter of the price, why overpay to keep Jacoby Ellsbury around?
It will certainly be interesting to see how things unfold, but as of this moment, it seems all roads lead to Jacoby Ellsbury wearing a different uniform in 2014.