Jacoby Ellsbury versus Carl Crawford

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
11:45
AM ET
Came across this quote this morning, from Scott Boras, agent for Jacoby Ellsbury, back in September to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports:

"Two things separate Ellsbury [from Crawford]. Carl Crawford was never proven as a leadoff hitter, and Carl Crawford is not a center fielder. They are two different animals. It's not a consideration because he's a corner outfielder. Just think if Carl Crawford could play center field."


Now, Boras isn't lying here; he's not really even stretching the truth. Crawford primarily hit second for the Tampa Bay Rays before he became a free agent and he played left field, not center field. Ellsbury hits leadoff and plays center field.

The thing I love about Boras, however, is that he's the ultimate car salesman who thinks all his clients care about is the paint color. Baseball teams are smart enough to check under the hood, however. Check out another quote from the piece, when he says Ellsbury's ceilings of 30 home runs and 70 steals are "unheard of."

Well ... close. Ellsbury has hit 32 home runs (in 2011) and stolen 70 bases (in 2009), so he's right about that. But Ellsbury is not the only player to do so, so it's not unheard of; Tommy Harper and Eric Davis also did it. (Rickey Henderson and Juan Samuel came close, topping out at 28 home runs.) Still, it's a short list.

Essentially, Boras is trying to spin that his client is more Rickey than Samuel and definitely not Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox in 2011.

Of course, Ellsbury has stolen 70 bases just the one time, his second-highest total being the 52 he swiped in 2013. Of course, Ellsbury has never hit more than nine home runs in any other season. Of course he's not Carl Crawford. He won't be a $142 million free-agent bust.

On the other hand we have this, Ellsbury versus Crawford in their final three seasons before free agency:

Ellsbury, 2011-2013: .303/.356/.469, 15 HR, 35 SB, 4.9 WAR
Crawford, 2008-2010: .297/.349/.454, 14 HR, 44 2B, 4.8 WAR

Crawford was a year younger when he hit free agency but it's hard to find two more closely matched players than that -- no, they don't play the same position, but they are exactly same kind of player: Speed, a little power, good defensive players, don't walk a whole lot. Ellsbury's totals are bolstered by his 2011 season, although dragged down by his injury-marred 2012 season (on top of an injury-marred 2010).

Boras can try to spin Ellsbury any way he wants but Ellsbury is Crawford, with all the same risks of signing a 30-year-old player whose value rests to a large degree on his legs. Crawford has been worth an average of 0.8 WAR per season since he signed with the Red Sox and subsequently traded to the Dodgers. He's battled injuries, including Tommy John surgery, and hasn't been the same player, as he's stopped running and his defense, so good with Tampa, has noticeably slipped.

That doesn't mean the same thing will happen to Ellsbury. But Boras' argument is apparently that if Crawford received $142 million then Ellsbury deserves more.

Maybe Ellsbury will get that kind of contract; I don't think he will, but teams are flush in cash with about $25 million in new national TV money getting added to the books in 2014. One thing does seem likely, however: That the Red Sox, with the Crawford experience fresh in their minds, will let Ellsbury leave. And as a friend wrote me, that could mean that if Ellsbury goes West (to, say, Seattle), like Freddie Lynn he'll disappear into the sunset.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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