We are officially beyond CRUNCH TIME – we are literally two minutes (as of posting) away from the start of Free Agency at 12:01 AM November 5. We at Phillies Nation will take a look at a player who will be able to sign with any team at that time. We will explore potential performance, fit, cost, and feasibility. We continue today with left-handed center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. And a reminder: you can check out all the “Pass or Play” posts by clicking on the category hyperlink.
Ellsbury, 30 on Opening Day in 2014, had the very definition of a bounce-back year in 2013, hitting .298/.355/.426 with nine homers and an AL-leading 52 steals after missing significant time in 2012 due to a partially separated shoulder. Ellsbury bookended his injury-shortened 2012 with an AL MVP runner-up performance in 2011 (.321/.376/.552, 32 HR, 39 SB).
Since becoming an everyday player in 2007, Ellsbury has become among the elite center fielders in baseball, ranking fourth in fWAR in that time among all center fielders. In the same period, Ellsbury has been the fifth most valuable center fielder on defense according to FanGraphs and trails only Michael Bourn and Rajai Davis in base running value in the same time period.
There are minor risks: fluke injuries have limited Ellsbury’s playing time over the last few years and his power has been inconsistent, as evident in his frequently fluctuating slugging percentage.
With Ben Revere already on the roster, the question quickly becomes why would the Phillies explore another center fielder, particularly a left-handed hitting center fielder? Simple: he is an MVP candidate in his prime. A secondary benefit of this move is that Revere would shift presumably to left or right field and immediately turn one of the worst defensive outfields in baseball to one of the National League’s best.
FanGraph’s crowd-sourcing project projects Ellsbury geting $17.5-19 million per year for five to six years. Ellsbury was issued a qualifying offer earlier today so he would cost whichever team signs him their number one pick if the team is not within the Top 10 picks. If the team has a protected pick, the must surrender their second round pick instead.
So, depending on the rest of the Phillies offseason plans, this gets tricky: what caliber of player do you want to address other areas? If the Phillies want to address the bullpen with cheaper or in-house options or don’t anticipate signing a high-priced catcher, Ellsbury might be the player that provides the most bang for their buck. A $17-19 million per year deal would fit within their budget could limit their flexibility if they had another marquee target in mind.
Verdict: Cautious Play
The Phillies should absolutely keep Ellsbury on their radar, although I very much doubt they can or will sign him. Years four and five (and maybe six if he gets six years) will likely be rough for a then-33/34 year old center fielder. Although, as you’ll see in our upcoming off-season plan series, Ellsbury is one of my targets.