Last week, I wrote about how the Red Sox are in great shape headed into the offseason thanks to their financial and organizational flexibility. With the Nick Punto trade creating more salary relief than anyone would’ve thought possible and a big steps forward by a majority of the Sox’ better prospects this season, Boston is in an enviable position when it comes to building a roster for 2014 and beyond.

A big part of that strategy revolves around whether Jacoby Ellsbury resigns with the Red Sox after this season.

You already know the details surrounding Ellsbury, so I’ll just gloss over them here: it was once considered a foregone conclusion that he would leave for greener pastures after 2013, but now there’s a prevailing sentiment that the Red Sox at least have a shot
at retaining Ellsbury past this season. There are three primary events over the past year that have shaped this new line of thinking:

1) The aforementioned trade with the Dodgers, in which the Red Sox freed up a tremendous amount of money, but also lost two left-handed bats in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford
2) Ellsbury’s own performance this season, which will essentially split the difference between his superstar campaign in 2011 and his frustrating, injury-riddled season in 2012
3) The Red Sox’ performance in 2013, which sees them no longer as a rebuilding club but rather as one that’s poised to compete for the next several years

Jacoby Ellsbury is undeniably handsome. Photo by Kelly O'Connor, sittingstill.net,

Jacoby Ellsbury is undeniably handsome. Photo by Kelly O’Connor, sittingstill.net,

Pegging down the type of contract Ellsbury is going to receive is quite difficult. The whispers of a Carl Crawford-type megadeal that persisted after 2011 seem farfetched now. Ellsbury has been worth more than 2.5 fWar exactly three times in his career now – 2008, 2011 and this season – and played in just 92 games in 2010 and 2012 combined. The prodigious power we saw during his 32-homer, .552 SLG season in 2011 looks to be a mirage, and Ellsbury is more likely to hit for 8-15 homers a year as we’ve seen him do in 2008, 2009 and 2013.

That being said, when he’s healthy it’s hard to argue against placing Ellsbury among the best outfielders in the game. His 4.7 fWAR this season ranks 16th in all of baseball, fifth among outfielders and fourth among center fielders. Those ahead of him include bonafide superstars in Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen and then Carlos Gomez, who is having a career year.

Red Sox fans generally rationalize accepting Ellsbury’s absence by stating that Jackie Bradley Jr. is waiting in the wings and can easily fill in as a replacement. While I agree that Bradley can hold down a starting center fielder job for a contender, we shouldn’t confuse his upside with what Ellsbury can bring to the table. The argument should be that Bradley can produce 70% of what Ellsbury can do at a fraction of the cost. It should not be that Bradley can reasonably recreate what Ellsbury brings to team at the plate or on the bases.

I do not know what type of contract Ellsbury will receive this season, and I won’t explore it in depth here because that’s a column in and of itself. My guess is the five-year, $75.5 million contract B.J. Upton signed this offseason is probably a floor, and that something in the vicinity of $17-18 million per season is the ceiling.

We know that Ellsbury will have no shortage of suitors, and that teams with serious financial muscle can compete with Boston for his services. We also know that Ellsbury is probably the second-base player on the free agent market, trailing only Yankees second
baseman Robinson Cano. The market for Ellsbury this offseason is going to be heated, and there’s no reason to think that anything resembling a hometown discount is going to come into play. If the Red Sox want Elllsbury, they’re going to have to pony up.

And in my opinion, they should.

When the Red Sox enter the offseason, they’ll be faced with holes at catcher, first base and center field, assuming that Xander Bogaerts will begin 2014 as the everyday shortstop and Will Middlebrooks as the everyday third baseman. They have six starting pitchers who are league average or better, a fairly deep bullpen and an insane amount of pitching depth in the upper minors.

Boston could opt for a big splash and go after Brian McCann, or perhaps they’ll pursue the newly available Jose Dariel Abreu to play first base. I think the latter is more likely
to happen than the former, given the Sox’ plethora of left-handed bats. Perhaps they’lldiversify their spending like last offseason and sign veterans with upside to more modest deals.

But I’d argue that Boston’s best option is to resign the occasionally frustrating but very steady Jarrod Saltamaccchia, then make a big push for Ellsbury and use what they have to fill their 1B hole.

It’s not a perfect scenario, but this would allow Mike Carp to start against righties – an opportunity he very much deserves – and give Daniel Nava at-bats against lefties. Nava hits better against righties than southpaws, to be sure, but he’ll likely put up more of a fight than would Carp against same-side pitching.

Here’s how the Sox could configure this sort of platoon. What you see below would allow for more frequent days off for the fragile Shane Victorino as well.

Against LHP
1B: Nava
LF: Gomes
RF: Victorino (Bradley)

Against RHP
1B: Carp
LF: Jackie Bradley Jr.
RF: Victorino (Nava)

And here’s a look at how the lineups would play out 1-9.

2014 Red Sox vs. RHP 2014 Red Sox vs. LHP
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Shane Victorino, RF Shane Victorino, RF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B Dustin Pedroia, 2B
David Ortiz, DH David Ortiz, DH
Mike Carp, 1B Jonny Gomes, LF
Xander Bogaerts, SS Daniel Nava, 1B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C Xander Bogaerts, SS
Will Middlebrooks, 3B Will Middlebrooks, 3B
Jackie Bradley, LF David Ross, C

That’s a pretty daunting lineup for righties to have to go through, and if one of Bogaerts or Middlebrooks really clicks then lefties wouldn’t have the easiest time either. While the Nava at 1B solution isn’t ideal, it’s really the only weak spot I can see at any point on the roster.

And most importantly, Boston keeps its very effective Top 4 in the order from 2013 intact. These lineups possess a really nice mix of power and speed, are fairly balanced in terms of lefties and righties and open the door for interesting late-inning replacements and combinations as well.

Maybe Ellsbury will price himself out of Boston’s reach, or maybe another team will blow everyone away with a deal that pays him like it’s 2011. Perhaps Ellsbury really doesn’t want to stay in Boston and, remembering the ugly incidents with his medicals, will look
for greener pastures.

If it’s at all reasonable, though, the Red Sox are best off splurging to keep their leadoff hitter, center fielder and one of the best homegrown players they’ve produced in the past decade. It’s easy to point out what Ellsbury isn’t or what he might cost, but it’s
hard to like this lineup as much without him.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Brian McCann Daniel Nava David Ortiz David Ross Dustin Pedroia Jackie Bradley Jacoby Ellsbury Jarrod Saltalamacchia Jonny Gomes Jose Dariel Abreu Shane Victorino Will Middlebrooks Xander Bogaerts

Ben is a graduate of Boston University with a degree in journalism and a love of all things Red Sox and minor league baseball. He has experience writing for Baseball Prospectus, NESN, RotoExperts, BU Today and other sites, and typically serves as an in-house MiLB writer. An editor for a business website by day, Ben likes to grill, sample IPAs and re-read Faulkner novels by night. He is an unabashed J.D. Drew apologist with a deep-seated fear of middle relievers. Follow Ben on Twitter here.

6 Responses to “An Argument For Keeping Jacoby Ellsbury” Subscribe

  1. nah August 19, 2013 at 11:00 AM #

    Mark DiFelice.

  2. JK7_ August 19, 2013 at 12:22 PM #

    I love it. I would absolutely go into next season with those as our lineups and be thoroughly happy. Well done, Ben.

  3. Gerry August 19, 2013 at 5:17 PM #

    I had similar thoughts, and enjoyed your spot on comment that it’s hard to like this lineup without him, though I think there are viable alternatives elsewhere in the lineup to restore offense, and Bradley may well be a better CF and CF arm.   Ells has great value as a leadoff hitter, base runner and SB threat, defender, and being a home grown vet on a team full of home grown players, but establishing his $ value will be difficult.  Probably no one will give him more than six years, and his AAV is probably closer to $15M than CC’s silly $20+M.  Six years at $15M is $90M which might satisfy all parties, including the Sox FO, players, fans and even Boras (probably not).  Ells has verbalized on several occasions that he would like to stay in Boston.  The questions are will he accept +/- 6/$90 and will anyone offer more?
    My Ells lineup is similar to yours, though I have Bogaerts behind Ortiz to start the season, with his combination of OBP and power.  Then Carp, WMB, Bradley and Salty/Lava/Butler with Ross.  Variables include signing Abreu, Napoli re-signing, Salty getting a huge offer elsewhere (which, with Ross + Lava, Butler, Vasquez we need not match), and how well Hassan does in winter ball and ST with a healthy finger (RHB, 1B, OF).
    On the other hand, with the two prospects which Ells’ and Drew’s QO’s will bring, using that $$ to sign McCann, Abreu, MAG, for example, could have more impact with a lineup of JBJ, Vic, PD, Papi, Abreu/Carp, Bogaerts, Nava/Gomes, WMB, McCann, or other top FA’s, while restocking the lower levels of the farm system.  And the defense would be excellent.  Or stick with JBJ, Vic, PD, Papi, Bogaerts, Carp/Hassan, WMB, Nava/Gomes, Salty/Ross, a formidable lineup with good defense, and allows us to keep Nava, Gomes, Carp and bring up Hassan.  Wonderful problems.  That said, Ells has signified his intentions by staying with Boras and refusing to sign long term contracts since 2007, so don’t get your hopes up too high.  If no middle ground with Boras can be met as FA begins, I doubt the Sox would or should break the bank for a single player again.  The good news is that the fall back plans are very, very good.

  4. DaveP August 20, 2013 at 9:42 PM #

    Although I love the Peavy signing…we must remember that he
    will cost $14.5M next year.  And although
    the Dodger’s trade freed up a boatload of money…a lot has been spent.  With Lester making 13M next year, Uehara
    making 5M, and possibly Thornton getting 6M…the Sox may ONLY HAVE 35-40M to
    spend (leaving a little wiggle room for mid season trades and the cost of
    Health Care).  So if they pay Arbitration
    players (Morales, Miller, Carp & Tazara) ~7M, and pre-Arb players
    (Doubrount, Nava, Villarreal, Middlebrooks, Bradley, Bogaerts, etc…etc…etc)
    another 5M…you ONLY HAVE 23-28M to spend!!…and 3 positions to fill…
    Center
    Field:  Bourne was only paid $48M…
     I bet it will take $100M to sign Jacoby!!  So $16.7M x 6 years will get it done!!  And remember…it is the AAV (AVERAGE
    ANNUAL VALUE) for tax purposes…
     Catcher:  McCann (29) will not be worth his cost…I bet
    $10M x 4 years…
     Salty (28) is getting better every year!! (OPS with Boston
    .737, .742 and .797)
    I bet he will get $7.5M x 4 years…or 6M, 7M, 8M and 9M with
    an option at 10M.
     1st
    Base:  Carp and Nava could
    platoon…but, still need a power R handed hitter…
     Jose Daniel Abreu will probably get 6yrs and 60M!! (Cespedes
    4 yr $36M has been better than expected?)
     So could the Sox keep Jacoby ($16.7) and Salty ($7.5)…and
    add Abreu ($10M)??  Would they even go
    over the Luxury Tax for 2014?  How about
    not re-signing Thornton?  I know he has
    been good…but we still have Miller, Breslow, Britton and Morales all coming
    back…and look at Ryan Rowland-Smith’s stats at Pawtucket?
     And if they did go over for
    2014…they drop off another boatload of money for 2015!!
     How about leaving Bradley at
    Pawtucket 1 more year while we still have Gomes?
    Any chance they keep Drew to
    play SS?…could be a need in 2014…if Xander just is not ready…:(
    vs Righty                                vs Lefty                                   Subs
    L-CF-Ellsbury                         L-CF-Ellsbury                         CF Bradley/Victorino
    L-RF-Victorino                        R-RF-Victorino                       RF Bradley/Nava/Brentz
    R-2B-Pedroia                         R-2B-Pedroia                          2B  Holt/Sutton/Diaz
    L-DH-Papi                              L-DH-Papi                                SS  Holt/Marrero?
    L-1B-Carp/Nava                    R-1B-Abreu??                         1B Nava/Carp/Papi/Snyder
    R-3B-Middlebrooks               R-3B-Middlebrooks                3B Holt/Sutton/Cecchini
    L-LF-Bradley/Nava                R-LF-Gomes                            LF Bradley/Nava/Gomes                          
    L-C-Salty                                 R-C-Ross                                 C   Ross/Lavarnway/VasquezR-SS-Bogaerts                        R-SS-Bogaerts                       SS Holt/Marrero

  5. TP August 21, 2013 at 1:57 PM #

    IDK, I’d love to keep Ellsbury but I think his cost will end up exceeding his value.   Assuming he could be signed to a reasonable contract  I still have a problem with the idea that Nava’s only going to play 1B against LHP.  It’s a position that’s still fairly new to him and into a 642 OPS career split.  He’d have a lot more value to the team as a trade chip than filling this role.  Hell, Carp has a better career line vLHP and if you that’s an anomaly then you still have Hassan or, more likely, a low cost signing or trade who could back up 1B/3B.
    I think trades are at least as likely as FA signings.  With the positions of need, the team’s new philosophy of avoiding risky long term contracts and the depth of prospects and role players I’d look to see them acquiring younger lower cost players with some of that depth.

    • DaveP August 21, 2013 at 9:26 PM #

      @TP Great comments!!  Sadly, Nava’s value will never be higher!!  Is he worth more in trade than riding the bench as a back-up 1B and Outfield?  I am amazed how often players seem to get hurt…no one seems to play 160 games anymore…so…you need to be 2 or 3 deep at EVERY position.  Even if the Sox can keep Jacoby, Victorino and Bradley/Gomes for 2014…they still need depth.  Is Brentz really ready? After a great 2012…he is only hitting .272 with a .808 OPS this year in Triple A.  I say keep Nava even if they re-sign Ells…:)