The Red Sox are coming off the Franchise’s 3rd World Series Championship victory since 2004, but they still have many things to address this offseason. In 2013, The Red Sox offense led all of baseball in Runs Scored, OBP, SLG, and WAR. However, one of their top position players, Jacoby Ellsbury, has hit the Free Agent market. The club made Ellsbury a Qualifying Offer (1 year, $14 Million), ensuring that they will receive draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere. Their Starting Lineup has three other players in the Free Agent market right now, but this post will focus on Red Sox’ approach to Jacoby Ellsbury.
The Red Sox would love to re-sign Ellsbury, but are currently unwilling to meet his asking price. Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, has said that he is aiming for Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 Million contract as a benchmark. According to many sources, the Red Sox are comfortable in the neighborhood of a 5-year, $100 Million contract. The Average Annual Value (AAV) between the two deals is similar, but the Red Sox seem unlikely to go beyond 5 years, which seems a little short for an elite Centerfielder. He is coming off a season in which he accumulated a 5.8 fWAR at the age of 29. Ellsbury is an outstanding defensive Centerfielder with a Gold Glove in 2011. Offensively, Ellsbury has a career slash line of .297/.350/.439 and 241 career stolen bases in just over 6 Major League seasons. In his standout 2011 campaign, Ellsbury hit 32 home runs; however, he has never reached double-digit home run totals in any other MLB season.
The main reason the Red Sox will not go beyond 5 years is concern about Ellsbury’s lack of durability, as he has averaged just 114 games per season in his 6 full seasons at the Big League level. The other concern is that Ellsbury’s entire game is predicated around his elite speed. This is an issue because speedy players with little power do not tend to age well, so the Sox do not want to be locked into Ellsbury’s age 36 and 37 seasons.
If Ellsbury does sign elsewhere, the Sox will have plenty of options to fill the void. Free agent options include: Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson. Signing either Beltran or Choo would force the Red Sox to shift Victorino to Centerfield, which is something they do not want to do. Beyond that, Beltran is not a great fit because he would need considerable time at DH, which would take time away from David Ortiz. Choo would be a much better fit because he can take over for Ellsbury as the leadoff hitter, while also providing outstanding defense in Right field. The best fit may be Curtis Granderson, as he can play Centerfield and provide some more pop to this already explosive lineup. While Granderson is not the same caliber of player as Ellsbury, he will be more willing to accept a shorter deal. Signing him to a short-term deal would make much more sense as a large financial commitment to anyone other than Ellsbury seems unlikely. This will also give them an opportunity to develop Jackie Bradley Jr. before asking him to be their everyday Centerfielder.
While Bradley Jr. is not ready to assume the role of everyday Centerfielder in 2014, he has the range to handle centerfield. Once he makes the necessary adjustments to MLB pitching, he will be a solid everyday option. Bradley Jr. will likely play a major factor in Boston’s plans this winter and it is hard to imagine them giving out more than 2 years to anyone except Ellsbury. In three seasons in the Minors, Bradley Jr. has shown he can make adjustments, as indicated by his Minor League slash line of .297/.404/.471. If they are unable to retain Ellsbury, then a veteran, such as Granderson would be an outstanding addition, in order to groom Bradley Jr. into a solid everyday Centerfielder.
Ellsbury is willing to wait for the right deal and he will have plenty of suitors beyond the Red Sox, including the Rangers, Mariners, Mets, Cubs and Yankees. All these teams have the need and money to lure Ellsbury. It is clear the Red Sox will make a serious attempt to retain Ellsbury, but it still seems likely that he will sign elsewhere, as another team is more likely to give him the extra years.