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Ell$bury price too high for Red Sox

Posted by Obnoxious Boston Fan  October 10, 2013 09:31 AM

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Jacoby Ellsbury.

It's been more like Jacoby Ell$bury in 2013.

He's been money at the plate, on the bases and in center field for the Red Sox this season. His timing at the plate was nearly perfect against Tampa Bay.

His timing for becoming a free-agent couldn't be any better, as well.

He'll be in the money this offeseason whether he becomes a free-agent or re-signs with the Red Sox. Boston tried to re-sign him before this season but failed. The Red Sox violated their own unwritten policy by giving Dustin Pedroia a below-market-value, eight-year, $110 million extension in July.

They will get no "hometown" discount if agent Scott Boras has his way. No one knows for sure what Ellsbury's thinking, as is the case with most clients represented by Boras.

But Boras really isn't the issue here. It's Ellsbury. Does he want to stay in Boston for what the Red Sox are willing to pay him? The answer to that will be "no." The Red Sox won't, nor should they, meet the market price for Ellsbury and it's doubtful Ellsbury will want to do the Red Sox any favors.

The initial reaction for the Red Sox and their fans is to recoil in horror at the mention of Boras' name. But his job is to get the best deal for his client. There are no "good guys" or "bad guys" when it comes to players and management negotiating free-agent contracts. It's easy for us to say "he should take less money to play here" when it's not our money. Now, if a player chooses to take a deal for less money that he could get on the open market - see Pedroia - that's terrific. But it's the player's choice because he's earned that right by both MLB service time and the level of play he's exhibited. The best players, usually, get the best deals.

And when the Carl Crawford's of the world are signed to seven-year, $142 million deals [probably close to what Ellsbury will end up getting] and end up playing like Carl Crawford did in Boston, who is in the wrong there?

The team's fault for writing the check or the player's fault for cashing it.

It's wholly unfair and disingenuous to condemn any athlete who jumps at a deal for the money, except of course when they say they aren't doing it for the money.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, they're doing it for the money. And so are the teams who sign them.

The Red Sox and Boras have been wrestling each other for years over his clients. The tussle over Ellsbury is set for another slugfest in the rhetorical octagon.

"Free agency is like the Navy," Boras told CBSSports.Com in September. "You can have a number of mid-range missiles, but they only work as long as you have the aircraft carrier to put them on."

The Battle of Midway ultimately doomed the Japanese Navy since the Americans sent four Japanese carries to the bottom of the Pacific.

It also gave us two of Charlton Heston's finest hours. In Sensurround, no less.

The Battle of Ellsbury could have equally catastrophic long-term implications for the future of the Red Sox' finances, especially if he ends up like Crawford in terms of dollars and sense.

So what's the going price for an free-agent outfielder these days?

Boras said estimates of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo , who is also his client, getting a $100 million-deal were actually too low.

$100 million. Too low. For a guy who has never made the All-Star Team. Sort of makes you wonder what Scott Cooper could earn these days.

"As a custom of the industry, prognostications by executives this time of year are dramatically divergent from the real market," Boras said in the same interview with Jon Heyman. "I don't think anyone correctly predicted what Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford got."

There's that name again.

The Red Sox will have exclusive rights to negotiate with Ellsbury for five days after the World Series. Then it becomes a wide-open free-for-all.

Ellsbury hit .500 (9-for-18) against the Rays in the ALDS, with an 1.137 OPS and seven runs scored. His presence on the basepaths was critical in helping Joel Peralta become unglued in Game 4.

In that game, Xander Bogaerts drew a pinch-hit walk with one out took third on Ellsbury's two-out single off Jake McGee. Peralta was Tampa Bay's sixth pitcher of the night. Some may say Joe Maddon's "luck" finally ran out. Rather, it was Ellsbury's aggressiveness that was just getting started.

Ellsbury took off for second base on Peralta's first pitch, which bounced in the dirt and got past the distracted Jose Lobaton. The ball spun toward the backstop, allowing Ellsbury to take third. He then scored when Shane Victorino beat out the throw to first after he hit a slow chopper to first. The mayhem put the Red Sox ahead 2-1.

The timing could not have been any better for Ellsbury, both on the bases Tuesday and entering the free-agent market after the season.

Baseball will enter this free-agency period with its wallets bursting at pre-recession levels. Giants outfielder Hunter Pence just signed a five-year, $90 million extension that includes a no-trade clause. Pence, who is just five months older than Ellsbury, will be covered by this contract until after he turns 35. The rest of big names in this year's free-agent outfield class, Carlos Beltran (36), Curtis Granderson (32) and Nelson "Coming off a PED suspension" Cruz (33), are all well north of their career primes.

The Red Sox have gotten a lot out of Ellsbury. Ideally, teams should part with players at the exact point where their skills have peaked. Lifetime achievement awards are OK for Hollywood or David Ortiz. If Ellsbury scampers his way to another ring with the Red Sox this month, better for him and better for the Red Sox.

He was part of the 2007 championship team and treated millions of Americans to free tacos for stealing the first base of the World Series. Ellsbury even went from bad guy to good guy during the 2011 season. The same teammates who quietly questioned his determination to play after a rib injury turned out to be the biggest chokers this side of Albert DeSalvo.

So what should the Red Sox do? Clearly Jackie Bradley Jr. is not ready for prime time [he wasn't on the ALDS roster], nor is he ready for full-time duty in center field. He won't be coming close to replacing for Ellsbury's numbers [.298, .355, .426 with 52 steals and 92 runs scored].

When it comes to John W. Henry's money, my initial reaction had always been: "It isn't mine, sign the best players possible, regardless of the cost." But 2011 showed once and for that strategy is not only not fool-proof, but could carry disastrous consequences when it fails. Going for broke can leave you broke, unless Magic Johnson is around to bail you out.

Henry will soon own The Parent Company of this Blog. Unfortunately for me, its doubtful any of the millions not spent on Ellsbury will be heading my way.

Signing Ellsbury for a $90 million contract over six years [$15 million per] would be a sound investment, considering the marketplace dynamics and the other players available to the Red Sox this offseason. Any more money over a longer term doesn't make financial sense for the Red Sox, given the risks present due to Ellsbury's age and injury history.

Bringing back Ellsbury, in theory, is a no-brainer. He's shown himself to be the best all-around player on the team this season and has anywhere between four to five tools, depending on whether or not he's trying to hit for power. But talent has a price.

And these days, the going price for Ellsbury is too high for the Red Sox.


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