The start of the season is nearly upon us, and as such, now seems like a good time to begin my new column series for Fire Brand. In my very first column with the site, I broke down the top storylines about the upcoming season that would inevitably annoy me the most. Number one on that list was, of course, Jacoby Ellsbury’s impending free agency, which I dubbed the Ellspocalypse.
After further consideration, I decided that the Ellspocalypse deserved a closer look, though. After all, this is a player who was worth 9.4 fWAR in 2011 and has been one of the most discussed Red Sox regulars of the past several years. That’s where Ellspocalypse 2013 comes in – I’m going to be taking a periodic (most likely monthly) look at Ellsbury’s season and contract situation leading up to his free agency at the end of the year.
Ellsbury has been one of the more difficult players to evaluate the past few years with the Sox. After solid production in 2008 and 2009, he collided with Adrian Beltre in 2010 and managed only 18 games that season.
Then came the explosion – 32 homers, 39 steals, and a .400 wOBA in 158 games in 2011. That season is the vast majority of the reason his contract is now so difficult to judge. As it happened, I kept waiting for him to regress, but the regression never quite occurred. Ellsbury’s 2011 is one of those season stat lines that impresses me more every time I see it, even if I don’t believe it could happen again.
His encore last year, however, was a disappointment. He missed much of the year, managing only 74 games and posting a less-than-spectacular .271/.313/.370 line. Of course, the entire Red Sox 2012 was a disappointment, so perhaps this was an aberration, but the fact that he never really got in a groove after returning to the Sox lineup was discouraging.
Now we’re here. Ellsbury is a year away from the open market, and we can’t really be sure what to expect production-wise from him this season. On top of that, his agent is Scott Boras, so we know there will be no hometown discount for the Red Sox this year, because hahahahahahaha.
So how do we evaluate Jacoby Ellsbury? Is he a 9+ fWAR player? Is he a 4? Is he an injury risk, or were those injuries (especially the Beltre collision) a fluke? Is the power he showed in 2011 legitimate, was it all luck, or was it somewhere in between? Is his motivation a concern? It’s just question marks after question marks after question marks.
The goal of Ellspocalypse 2013 is to (attempt to) get a better bearing on Ellsbury before he hits the market. His performance this season is going to be a key factor that determines what kind of deal he receives this winter, with the catch-22 being that the better he plays, the less likely he is re-sign with Boston, for obvious reasons.
At this time, there’s not a whole lot to discuss that hasn’t already been talked about, because his status hasn’t really changed this offseason. We know he’s almost assuredly going to be a free agent at the end of the season – because, again, Scott Boras – so now we just have to wait and see how he performs when the season gets rolling.
So that’s Ellspocalypse 2013. The plan is to discuss any rumors surrounding Ellsbury as well as talk about his performance as the season progresses here, as a way to sort of centralize the information that will be flying around about Ellsbury as the season goes on. Also, I’m terribly uncreative, so it’ll spare me the occasional column idea.
For now, I’ll leave on my current thought process regarding Ellsbury, which is this: I don’t think it’s necessary to re-sign him if the price is too high. I’m tremendously excited for Jackie Bradley Jr., and although it’s bad practice to bank on prospects – I think it’s extremely likely he’ll be able to adequately replace Jacoby in center. Ben Cherington has set a precedent for avoiding gaudy contracts, and locking up Ellsbury to an enormous contract would therefore be counterintuitive.
While Jacoby Ellsbury is an exciting player with a very valuable skillset, I just think there are too many question marks to give him the deal he’s looking for. Just let somebody like the Rangers overpay him. I believe it’s time for the Red Sox to move forward.
At any rate, keep an eye out for the next edition of Ellspocalypse 2013 in late April when we have some regular season performance to discuss. Until then, it’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming.
LATE EDIT: WELP.