Hunter Pence and his agent, Rick Thurman, just did Jacoby Ellsbury and Scott Boras a huge favor — albeit unintentionally.
According to multiple reports, Pence has agreed to a five-year, $90 million extension with the Giants. Not only does the deal allow Pence to buy some nice things, but it also sets the bar for free-agent outfielders, and ensures that the big fish — like Ellsbury and Cincinnati’s Shin-Soo Choo — have a little extra leverage at the bargaining table this winter.
There wasn’t any doubt that Ellsbury was going to get paid. Despite his recent foot injury, Ellsbury has put together a terrific season and figures to land a lucrative deal once he hits the open market this offseason. But Pence’s new contract, which carries an average annual value of $18 million per season, means that Ellsbury could be in line for a deal in excess of $100 million — if he wasn’t already.
Pence is a bigger power threat. He has averaged 25 home runs and 94 RBIs per 162 games, while Ellsbury — who enjoyed a 32- homer power surge in 2011 — has only reached a double-digit home run total once in his career. There are also the inherent injury concerns when it comes to Ellsbury, although they’ve typically been overblown. Beyond that, Ellsbury is the better all-around player.
Pence and Ellsbury are both 30 years old. Pence, who is hitting .282 with 26 homers and 94 RBIs in 2013, owns a 23.5 WAR over seven seasons, and Ellbury’s career WAR sits at 20.9. Ellsbury is considered a superior baserunner and defender, though, and the fact that he plays center field rather than a corner outfield position makes him a more valuable asset. Boras even made the case recently that Ellsbury is more valuable than Carl Crawford was when he signed his seven-year, $142 million contract because of that defensive aspect. Simply put, elite center fielders are few and far between.
Ellsbury has always had the luxury of entering free agency within a thin market. Now that Pence is off the board, there’s one less option available for teams looking to make a splash. Choo and Curtis Granderson stand out as the other big-name free-agent outfielders, and Ellsbury is more valuable than either of those guys. Choo has gotten on base at an incredible .423 clip this season and Granderson brings more power to the table, but Ellsbury has shown that he’s a dynamic leadoff hitter who’s capable of impacting a game in a number of ways.
Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron speculates that Pence’s $90 million extension — which obviously came without the Giants outfielder testing the open market — means that Ellsbury’s floor is now $125 million. We’re stuck in wait-and-see mode for the time being, but that doesn’t sound like an unreasonable assumption, by any means.
Is Ellsbury worth $125 million? Probably not. But the Boras client can certainly make the case that he is, especially now that Pence — a lesser talent — has been deemed worthy of a $90 million deal.