The Red Sox scratched a winning lottery ticket last weekend. It was a one in a million winner, and they cashed in. Suddenly, this franchise finds itself with sacks of money and not a ton of toys to spend it on.
With roughly $260MM heading from John Henry’s wallet to the bright lights of Hollowood, it is almost natural to believe that Jacoby Ellsbury will remain with the Red Sox after the 2013 season, when the talented center fielder hits free agency.
Not so fast.
For an organization that is suddenly preaching the practice of discipline when it comes to baseball decisions, Ellsbury is simply not the individual the Red Sox want as the spokesman for their new campaign.
Generally speaking, there are three different avenues that the Red Sox can take when dealing with last year’s MVP runner-up. The team can allow Ellsbury to play out the final year of his final arbitration-eligible season and allow him to walk after 2013. GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox can explore trading the Oregon State product this offseason or potentially at next year’s deadline. Finally, they can vigorously pursue Ellsbury when he hits free agency after the culmination of the 2013 season.
The third option is no doubt a popular one given the newly acquired fiscal flexibility of the team, and the fact that Ellsbury is a homegrown World Series champion who happens to be a fan-favorite. However, if Red Sox brass is serious about taking a disciplined stance when it comes to free agency, they will trade the speedy outfielder this offseason.
Unlike Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz, or Jon Lester, Ellsbury and super-agent Scott Boras will not be willing to ink an extension that will keep the former first-round pick from hitting free agency. And you really can’t blame the Ellsbury camp.
He is a dynamic, marketable player who possesses tremendous skills with the glove and the bat. Let’s not forget that Ellsbury is one year removed from a year that saw him post a .321/.376/.552 line to go along with 32 home runs and 39 stolen bases–a truly remarkable season.
Boras will certainly attempt to parlay Ellsbury’s MVP-level 2011 season into a contract that resembles what Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp received from the Red Sox and the Dodgers, respectively. Let’s say the asking price lands somewhere in the middle of the two aforementioned stars–an eight-year, $155MM contract seems realistic. Depending upon what the Red Sox do between now and the end of next season, it is fair to assume that they could afford to offer Ellsbury that type of high-priced deal.
But it would be a mistake. Ellsbury will be 30-years old when he gets his first crack at free agency. He is a player who relies heavily on legs, hits from the left side, and occupies center field.
Ellsbury is a talented player, but he is not middle of the lineup run-producing slugger. So why pay him like one?
Instead, the Red Sox should deal him this offseason when his value is at its highest.