Jacoby Ellsbury Free-Agent Outlook: Ellsbury’s Skill Set Should Make for Interesting Negotiations

Jacoby EllsburyIt’s safe to say that Jacoby Ellsbury did what he needed to do in 2013. Ellsbury not only helped the Red Sox win a World Series, but he also increased his value just before hitting the open market.

Ellsbury put together a very solid 2013 campaign, and his success carried over into the postseason. While the Red Sox’ offense struggled at times during the playoffs, Ellsbury hit .344 (22-for-64) atop Boston’s order on the big stage in October.

Now, Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, is tasked with landing his client a very lucrative contract. There’s been speculation that Ellsbury could garner in excess of $100 million, so there’s pretty much zero chance that he’ll accept the Red Sox’ $14.1 million qualifying offer.

Let’s dive a little deeper into Ellsbury’s free agency.

Personal

Age/DOB: 30 (Sept. 11, 1983)
Experience: 7 years
Acquired: drafted (1st round, 23rd overall, 2005)
Height/weight: 6-foot-1, 195 pounds
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Resides: Madras, Oregon

2013 season in review

G: 134
HR: 9
RBI: 53
AVG: .298 (172-for-577)
OBP/SLG/OPS: .355/.426/.781
SO/BB: 92/47
SB: 52
WAR: 5.8

Ellsbury entered 2013 on the heels of a frustrating 2012 in which he played in just 74 games. He missed time toward the end of the regular season with a foot fracture, but managed to play in 134 games and all 16 of Boston’s playoff contests.

Ellsbury was terrific when he was on the field. He got off to a slow start, but then really turned it on around mid-May. He hit .328 (121-for-369) after May 26, which ranked third in the American League. He also posted a .377 on-base percentage and a .480 slugging percentage from May 26 through the end of the regular season.

Ellsbury was a force atop the Red Sox’ lineup. He had the most games with a hit (105) of all major league leadoff hitters, and his 172 hits out of the leadoff spot were the most such hits in the American League.

Ellsbury’s speed was on full display in 2013 as well. The fleet-footed outfielder swiped an MLB-best 52 bags in 56 attempts (92.9 percent).

Strengths

If speed kills, Ellsbury is an assassin.

Ellsbury reached the 50-steal mark for the third time in his career this season. His career-high came in 2009, when he compiled 70 thefts over 153 games, but 2013 marked Ellsbury’s most successful season on the bases. Ellsbury’s 92.9 percent success rate on stolen-base attempts this year was a career-best and second among players with at least 20 stolen-base attempts. His 84 percent career success rate is the second-best among major leaguers with at least 150 stolen bases — behind Carlos Beltran (86.5 percent).

Ellsbury’s speed isn’t limited to the basepaths, either. He was second among AL center fielders with 13 defensive runs saved this season, according to Fangraphs, and was a Gold Glove finalist. Ellsbury won a Gold Glove in 2011.

The 2011 campaign will always stand as Ellsbury’s breakout season, and Boras will undoubtedly use that as leverage in his negotiations. It’d be foolish to expect Ellsbury to revert back to that powerful form, though, and 2013 seems like a good baseline for what to expect from the outfielder over the next few years.

But 2011 aside, Ellsbury has still shown some decent pop at the dish throughout his career.

Weaknesses

Ellsbury went a long way toward silencing concerns about his durability in 2013, especially since he returned from a foot fracture to shine in the postseason. But 2010 and 2012 — during which he totaled 92 games — still hang over his head.

There’s also inherently some concern about how Ellsbury’s game will be impacted as he gets older. He’s entering the wrong side of 30, and that’s something that doesn’t usually bode well for a speedster.

Ellsbury struggled a bit against lefties in 2013. While he had the fourth-best average in the AL against right-handers (.328), he hit just .246 against left-handers.

If there’s one concern regarding Ellsbury’s defense, it’s his arm.

Market/alternatives

Ellsbury is one of the game’s premier leadoff hitters and an extremely talented all-around player. He’s arguably the best player on the open market not named Robinson Cano, and Boras is definitely marketing him as such.

The Red Sox have to decide whether they’re ready to make Ellsbury their highest-paid player. Since they have an up-and-coming outfielder in Jackie Bradley Jr., there’s a good chance that the Red Sox will ultimately decide to move on. The Sox could also shift Shane Victorino to center field and consider adding a less-expensive corner outfielder. It won’t be easy to replace Ellsbury’s production, obviously, but Boston seems like it’s capable of weathering the storm if he does sign elsewhere.

Beyond Ellsbury, the top free-agent outfielders include Shin-Soo Choo, Beltran, Nelson Cruz and Curtis Granderson. Ellsbury is the elite speed guy of the bunch, while Choo is a solid on-base option and the other three represent power threats.

In Ellsbury’s words

“I haven’t thought about that right now. “I’m just going to celebrate with my teammates and just enjoy the moment, you know?” (Oct. 31)

Off-the-cuff prediction

Ellsbury signs a five-year, $110 million contract with the Mariners.

All it takes is one team to overpay. It’s hard to imagine the Red Sox being that team.

You could make a case that the Rangers, who reportedly have long coveted Ellsbury, or even the Tigers, who were forced to deal with leadoff hitter Austin Jackson’s postseason struggles, are good fits. Seattle — a hop, skip and a jump from Ellsbury’s native Oregon — just seems to make too much sense, though.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

Vote: Will the Red Sox re-sign Ellsbury? >>

Click here for Stephen Drew’s free-agent outlook >>

Click here for Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s free-agent outlook >>

Click here for Mike Napoli’s free-agent outlook >>

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