We never really knew Jacoby Ellsbury. He kept to himself. He had few interactions with teammates, but he felt comfortable in Boston because he was able to dodge the media and the spotlight. That’s why I always thought Ellsbury would be back. The fact he was a creature of habit and that he could deal with the media and fanbase here was a big comfort to him.
But in the end there was no reason for him to stay.
The Red Sox admit they were far, far away from what the Yankees ultimately offered Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million). The Red Sox were never comfortable crossing the five-year, $100 million mark, though we still don’t know details of their final offer.
Ellsbury was a beloved player in Boston and now the fans who once lashed out at media for being critical of his injury situation likely will boo him unmercifully every time he steps to the plate in Yankee pinstripes. He has gone the way of Johnny Damon, Wade Boggs, and Roger Clemens, and Ellsbury never will live it down. He will be called a traitor and other unsavory names when he steps up the plate.
Ellsbury was Boston’s superstar homegrown player, so the Red Sox brass knew him inside and out.
They knew the great things — that he was a game-changer on the basepaths and that he was a good center fielder, and they knew that one day he would hit for power because, other than David Ortiz, nobody hit the baseball harder.
People may think all they want that 2011, when he hit 32 homers and knocked in 105 runs, was an aberration, but when one considers the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium there’s no reason he won’t hit 30 again to go with 50-60 steals.
The Red Sox also knew Ellsbury’s shortcomings.
The biggest one was that he took so long to come back from injuries, and perhaps the Yankees will experience this at some point in his tenure. He played through injuries toward the end of last season, a contract year, dealing with a fractured bone in his foot and with a swollen hand.
It was the first time Ellsbury had shown some guts, and his teammates appreciated the effort.
The fact he went to the Yankees is somewhat shocking. First, because we fully expected Ellsbury to last in free agency for much of the winter, so the swiftness of deal was a surprise. Secondly, the size of the contract was a surprise. And third, there’s where he went.
Robinson Cano should take note — this is what Scott Boras can do for you. He can get a player coming off a broken foot a seven-year, $153 million deal with an eighth-year option that could bring the value of the deal to $169 million.
This is a huge loss for Boston and a big pickup for the Yankees, at least for the first few years.
You don’t easily replace Ellsbury’s amazing skill set, but neither do you dish out a Carl Crawford-type deal to a 30-year-old who relies a lot on his legs. What will Ellsbury be like five or six years into the contract?
The Yankees really don’t have to worry about that because they have the funds. They hoodwinked baseball into thinking they were going to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold and are spending about $240 million on Ellsbury and catcher Brian McCann.
And there’s more to come.
The Yankees remain fully engaged in the chase for outfielder Carlos Beltran and shortstop Stephen Drew and their next attack will be on the pitching market.
The Red Sox have maintained their model so far. They signed veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year, $8.5 million deal Tuesday and have at least matched the offensive potential of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Marlins Tuesday.
The Red Sox now must work toward finding a suitable replacement for Ellsbury and/or make up his offense and defense in some other way.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is the tempting young replacement. He was the star of spring training, but his regular season never matched the spring performance. While a good runner, he’s not a base stealer. He has a better arm than Ellsbury. He’s a gap hitter who will show 15-homer power. But he’s no Ellsbury.
While outfielder Curtis Granderson is out there, the Red Sox have yet to engage in any substantive talks with him. They have asked about Matt Kemp and what it might take to land him from the Dodgers, but even those discussions aren’t deep at the moment.
They could apply some of their resources toward re-signing Mike Napoli, but again, they don’t want to commit a lot of years to a player who has a degenerative hip condition. They will try to increase the average annual salary, but they feel most comfortable with a short-term, two-year deal.
The Sox have yet to count themselves out on Beltran, who has a couple of three-year offers on the table. The Yankees remain aggressive, as do the Royals, but the Red Sox may also be in the hunt. There’s always the possibility the Red Sox could move Shane Victorino to center field and sign Beltran to play left or right. With Ellsbury gone, the possibilities abound.
The Red Sox could dream about a Giancarlo Stanton deal, but, for the moment, the Marlins aren’t budging on their desire not to move him. Boston could seek a deal with Colorado for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, a player the Rockies claim they won’t deal.
A lot of things may happen in the next few weeks and the Red Sox will be OK. But they won’t replace Ellsbury’s talent.
But don’t blame them for walking away from a financial commitment that Ellsbury never will be able to live up to. The Red Sox know it, and deep down, the Yankees do, too.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.