You have begun to hear the whispers. “Jacoby Ellsbury is having a better season in 2013 than Carl Crawford did for Tampa Bay in 2010,” the season before he signed the infamous 7 year/$142 million deal. That may or may not be true:
Crawford (2010) – .307/.356/.495/135 OPS+/6.9 bWAR
Ellsbury (2013) – .296/.356/.424/112 OPS+/4.8 bWAR (all incomplete stats, obviously)
No matter where you fall on the Ellsbury/Crawford debate headed into their dreaded free agency season, it is a fairly tight race. This has some of Red Sox Nation in a tizzy, terrified that Ellsbury is going to get Crawford money somewhere, and that somewhere is not going to be Boston.
Look, we all know that you love Jacoby Ellsbury. Your wife/girlfriend/daughter has a pink jersey shirt in both number 2 and number 46, you named your cat Jacoby, and your sister brings a “Marry Me Jacoby” sign to every home game that you gladly hold up in the 5th inning. There is a lot to like here, not least of which is that he is ours. We drafted him. We developed him. We saw him stay hot *that* September. We cringed when he learned the hard way just how different Adrian Beltre range is from the average 3rd baseman. We have expected him to steal second every time he has gotten on first. He is Red Sox, through and through.
Yesterday, Ben Carsely wrote a string argument as to why to keep Jacoby Ellsbury going into next season. I hope we do keep him, and I believe that it likely won’t take as much money as people are nervously purporting in smoke filled back rooms.
But let’s think logically here, for a second. First of all, 2013 is a very different climate than 2010 – not least of which is because of Carl Crawford. General Managers, analysts , scouts, even beat writers seem acutely aware of the fact that speed/defense players do not age well into their 30′s.
For all of the rebounding that Crawford has done this year, he is still only a one win player. Plus, his OPS+ the last two years is in line with his career (a career, by the way, which has seen 1/4 of his career WAR earned in the two seasons leading up to his free agent deal). It is safe to say his peak was short and that his decline was predictably swift.
You may think I am saying all of this to predict gloom and doom on Ellsbury. Well, no. I am saying that the case of Carl Crawford killed, for example, Michael Bourn’s free agency case last year. Coming off 3 out of 4 seasons with a bWAR north of 5.0, Michael Bourn was slapped with a Type A free agency designation (which means, among other things, teams in the lower half of the first round of the upcoming Rule 4 amateur draft would have to surrender that first round pick). The Crawford stigma (game based on speed/defense/average bat in the OF will regress in their 30′s) hung around Bourn like a stale fart. He ended up with a meager 4 year/$48 million contract (amazing what accounts for meager these days).
You say to me: Ellsbury is better than Bourn! Yeah, maybe so. But – Ellsbury, as of today is a career 20.1 bWAR. Bourn was a career 20.0 bWAR when he entered this offseason as a free agent. You say well, Ellsbury has played less games in order to amass that sttistacally identical total, I say Bourn has been phenomenally healthy and Ellsbury could be labeled as injury prone. You say, well
Bourn has regressed some this year, and I say, yes he has…at age 30.
Let’s look at some other big deals signed lately for position players headed toward or just past 30 – Josh Hamilton 5 years/$125 million, Albert Pujols 10 year/$210 million Alex Rodriguez 10 years/$275 million, Mark Teixeira 8 years/$180 million, Matt Kemp 8
years/$160 million. Would you want any part of any of those deals? I anticipate that teams are signing players like Bourn to lesser deals because they are sobering up.
Now, I’m not here to rain on Ellsbury’s parade. I want the Red Sox to keep Jacoby Ellsbury. And I suspect that they may be able to, if they so desire. I do not think it will take a Carl Crawford deal to sign Jacoby Ellsbury, though it would have two years ago. Keith Law has been quoted around these circles (by attendees Evan Brunell and Hunter Golden, our fearless and fearsome leaders), from the recent Sabr Seminar, as pointing out that 80% of free agent deals longer than three years are a loss for the team. Teams know this stuff, they see the albatross that aging players are in the last three years of their deal, when they are no longer productive (ahem, Ryan Howard) and how that kills teams.
Suffice it to say, the narrative is that Ellsbury is a very, very expensive goner. I say, there is a chance, if teams have learned anything, that we may be able to keep Ellsbury for roughly Pedroia money (5-6 years/$90-100 million). The cost of the first round draft pick, plus the ridiculous sums of money, plus the fact that Ellsbury’s do not tend to age well = a lot of scared off teams, and perhaps rightfully so. Let other teams, instead, fight at the meat market over the carcass of Robinson Cano.
Then again, the only one of those two represented by Scott Boras is Jacoby Ellsbury.
Maybe I should just start over…