It doesn’t take a baseball wizard to acknowledge the fact that the free agent landscape is barren, to say the least, heading into this week’s GM Meetings. This class lacks marquee names of any sort, outside of a select few, meaning that several middle-of-the-road type players are going to get much larger than deserved contracts.
One of the few who could be filed under the list of marquee names is that of Boston Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. While he’s the top dog on the market, outside of division rival Robinson Cano, buyers must proceed with extreme caution when handing over a nine figure deal to the veteran speedster.
Ellsbury is a fine player, and had a fine career to this point with the Boston Red Sox. Whether he ends up back in Boston, or heads to a new club such as the Seattle Mariners, he has the potential to make a general manager look very bad. Just as Theo Epstein did when he brought Carl Crawford to Beantown.
In fact, many have likened Ellsbury to Crawford in the case of their respective free agencies. In December of 2010, Crawford signed a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox, only to be traded in salary dump less than two years later. A player whose game is predicated on speed, Crawford hit just .261 and stole only 23 based combined in 161 contests.
That was a player who had stolen at least 45 bases six times with the Tampa Bay Rays, including four seasons of at least 50 and a season of 60. Ellsbury hasn’t experienced such base stealing prowess over the long term, but does have three seasons of at least 50, including one of 70 and 52 in 2013.
But having turned 30 in September, the question of Ellsbury’s game is going to linger. He may very well be a wizard on the basepaths for the next couple of years. On a seven or eight-year pact, however, he’s likely going to experience a pretty significant decline.
We’ve seen teams grow a bit weary of speedsters in their 30’s. Look at Michael Bourn last offseason, in what was also a thin market. He waited most of the winter before finally receiving a contract from the Cleveland Indians. At the same time, with Ellsbury having just turned 30, and coming off of a fantastic year, teams are still going to be lining up to sign him.
Those teams should be just as weary as they were with Bourn. Ellsbury is going to get his paper, regardless. At the same time, though, teams should tread carefully. Ellsbury may very well be worth it in the short term, but when considering signing a player whose game is largely built around what he can do on the basepaths, a GM may be on the verge of making a large mistake.