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For Jacoby Ellsbury, it was a one-way street out of town

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  December 4, 2013 03:04 PM

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My colleague Nick Cafardo wrote in the paper today that he thought Jacoby Ellsbury would return to the Red Sox.

This topic is one Nick and I have disagreed on over the last few years and we'll have to again. There was more of a chance that Carl Crawford would light the Christmas tree at Faneuil Hall than Ellsbury would come back.

Ellsbury followed the Jonathan Papelbon plan to perfection. Refuse all offers for a contract extension, go to free agency, sign with the first team that offers you big money and never look back at Boston.

Like Papelbon, Ellsbury didn't even bother to call the Red Sox and tell them he was leaving. Team executives found out the same way you did, via the media.

That's all fine, too. Every player has a right to determine his worth on the open market and Ellsbury took full advantage of that. Just because Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz showed loyalty to the organization that drafted them and signed extensions doesn't mean Ellsbury had to.

Players prioritize different things. Ellsbury's priority was getting every dime he could, and good for him. All of us, no matter what we do for a living, want what we're worth. In this market, he was worth $153 million to the Yankees, an aging third-place team that built a stadium they can't fill very often.

He was not worth that to the Red Sox, a team with a smaller payroll and a significantly better farm system. The Red Sox learned their lesson with Crawford that paying for a fast player to get old is risky.

I never got the impression Ellsbury much liked Boston. He rarely interacted with fans or in the community. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a photo of him in something other than a baseball uniform? This was the team that happened to draft him, that's all. Strictly business.

And it was good business for both sides. For $20 million over seven seasons, the Sox got a 21.0 WAR out of Ellsbury and two World Series titles that he played a major role in. The player got a stage to showcase his talents and land a big contract.

Many fans were outraged that he signed with the Yankees. That's not paying close attention. In word and deed, Ellsbury made it clear he was setting himself up for a payday. As Scott Lauber of the Herald wrote on Twitter, Ellsbury would have signed with North Korea if they offered the most money.

Ellsbury was an excellent mercenary. But then, so were plenty of Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, and Patriots who fled their teams to come to Boston for big money. If you want to avoid outrage, root for the laundry and not the people inside.

Be heartened with the knowledge that the Red Sox are better off long-term. Jackie Bradley Jr. will give the team 75 percent of the production Ellsbury did at, literally, 2 percent of the price for the next three years. The Sox can take the money and better spend it elsewhere. Extending Lester would be a good place to start.

Ellsbury will be a solid player for the Yankees but he's no superstar. He made the All-Star team once in his career and is a leadoff hitter who doesn't walk enough. Scott Boras somehow got Ellsbury a contract befitting a No. 3 hitter and MVP candidate. That Boras let a client of his sign so early in the process was a sign of how ridiculous the offer was.

Young players, depth, and roster flexibility are what matter in baseball's post-steroid era. The Red Sox will be well-served to play Bradley, Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Workman, and the rest of their kids. Some of those guys will stick around because they'll love Boston and the atmosphere. Others will leave.

There are two roads for a player to take. One is to make it clear you want to stay, like Pedroia. The other is to leave as soon as you can, like Papelbon. For Ellsbury, there was never really a question which path he would take.

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