Commentary

Perfect storm for Jacoby Ellsbury

Sox have money to spend and 'franchise' CF to spend it on, but deal won't be easy

Updated: August 30, 2012, 8:43 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Scott Boras, contrary to his embodiment-of-all-that-is-evil image, can be funny. Maybe not wet-your-pants, roll-on-the-ground funny, but with the right prompting, he can show off a bit of wit.

Why is it, for example, that neither Jacoby Ellsbury nor Johnny Damon, both Boras clients, Red Sox center fielders past and present, can't throw a lick?

Boras He has shown he can hit .300 in the big leagues, not once but twice. He's at a point in his career he's proven he can be a No. 3-hitter type of guy, with power. He's a premium center fielder. Everywhere I go, they all ask. That's all I can say. You're talking about teams really covet this player.

-- Agent Scott Boras on Jacoby Ellsbury

"I think," Boras said Wednesday afternoon, "God only gives you so much."

The agent's little joke also made a greater point, of course, that Ellsbury was endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable skills that will make him a highly coveted commodity should the Red Sox allow him to test free agency after the 2013 season.

"We view him as a franchise player," Boras said, employing a phrase that he should trademark, he uses it so often.

On Wednesday, Boras had lunch with his gifted client, as he typically does when his players come to his neighborhood. Boras' office is in nearby Newport Beach, and he owns the suite directly behind home plate at Angel Stadium. They talked, Boras said, about Ellsbury's performance this season, the way he is now swinging the bat with authority after missing the season's first 3½ months with a partially dislocated shoulder.

What was not on the menu, Boras said, was any discussion of the player's future, even after last week's trade that suddenly gave the Red Sox enormous financial flexibility to offer Ellsbury a contract extension this winter. The Sox have privately discussed doing so and are planning to at least make an attempt to keep him off the open market a year from now.

Good luck with that. Ellsbury is in the enviable position of being a .300-hitting, 30-homer, Gold Glove-toting center fielder when the market is hardly abounding with such players. Matt Kemp is signed through 2019. Adam Jones is signed through 2018. Andrew McCutchen is signed through 2017, with a club option for 2018. Austin Jackson isn't eligible for free agency until 2016. Josh Hamilton is available this winter, but he's 31 and has a host of health issues. Curtis Granderson is in Ellsbury's free-agent class, but the Yankees undoubtedly will make every effort to keep him.

After that, the dropoff is considerable. You're probably talking about a Dexter Fowler, who is not eligible until after the 2014 season and is not a home run hitter. The vacuum won't begin to get filled until after 2017, when Mike Trout is eligible for free agency, and by then the Angels' Super Natural, as Sports Illustrated calls him, already will have been locked up long-term by the Angels or enshrined in Cooperstown.

So, Boras was hardly twitching with excitement at the idea that the Red Sox may make a run at keeping Ellsbury this winter.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Ellsbury
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesScott Boras says he will "listen" if the Red Sox make an offer to Jacoby Ellsbury this offseason.

"My attitude on these things -- you listen," he said. "They have rights over the player. He has shown he can hit .300 in the big leagues, not once but twice. He's at a point in his career he's proven he can be a No. 3-hitter type of guy, with power. He's a premium center fielder. Everywhere I go, they all ask. That's all I can say. You're talking about teams really coveting this player.

"When these things happen (the offer of an extension), I just give it to the player. He lets me know what he wants to do. You listen and evaluate. We have a long history with the Red Sox working on deals and doing things. The good news is Ben (Cherington, the Red Sox GM) was in all those meetings. He wasn't saying much at the time, but he was in all those meetings."

The bigger question, of course, is how eager Ellsbury is to remain with the organization that drafted and signed him in 2005. He has thrived in Boston, making an immediate impact after his late-season callup in 2007 and leading the charge to the World Series, in which he hit .438. He stole a club-record 70 bases in 2009, his first full season of hitting .300 (.301), and he showed off the full range of his skills in 2011, when he was MVP runner-up and called the most dynamic player in the league by countless scouts.

But Ellsbury also was the uncomfortable center of controversy in 2010, when he and Boras accused the Red Sox of misdiagnosing the fractured ribs that limited him to 18 games that season. He was openly mocked as being "soft" by critics, and teammate Kevin Youkilis stirred the pot further when he questioned why Ellsbury was rehabbing on his own in Arizona instead of remaining with the team.

Ellsbury became noticeably more reticent thereafter, but clearly it didn't affect his performance last season. And while Ellsbury dashed out of the clubhouse Wednesday night before the question could be put to him, Boras insisted his client harbors no ill will toward the Sox.

"There's nothing about anything that occurred in the past that would affect Jacoby's attitude toward continuing with the Red Sox," Boras said. "He's glad to be playing healthy and he likes playing baseball in Boston. He never said anything but that."

Boras stressed that the problems he had in 2010 were with the team's medical staff, and that he couldn't have gotten better cooperation from Theo Epstein then and Cherington during Ellsbury's recovery from a partially dislocated shoulder earlier this season.

"That part has been really good," Boras said. "Theo and Ben have always been guys who say, 'Get additional information, look into this.'

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"Jacoby likes playing in Boston. It's a great place to play, a great organization. I don't think there are any reservations. He never said anything to me. He always said he enjoyed playing there."

In addition to Ellsbury and Granderson, three other position players figure to attract the most attention on the free-agent market after 2013 if they don't sign beforehand: Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, Angels first baseman Kendrys Morales and Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. It would be a shock if the Yankees didn't keep Cano; the other two don't make the same impact on both offense and defense the way Ellsbury does.

The Sox have another option. They are extremely high on Jackie Bradley, a 22-year-old center fielder who was chosen with a sandwich pick in the 2011 draft and has shot up through the system, already playing a starring role in Double-A Portland. He could arrive in the big leagues by 2014, which would dovetail with when Ellsbury could walk.

Here's something you might not know about Bradley: He is represented by Boras. So is infielder Xander Bogaerts, who is regarded as the team's other top position prospect. The Sox will be playing ball with Boras for some time to come. He loves Bradley, too, and expects him to be in the big leagues. He says he's a wonderful kid who will be a great teammate. But he says he's no Ellsbury.

"I don't think from an athletic point of view," Boras said, "that he has the roots and paths Jacoby has."

So for Ellsbury -- and Boras -- it makes for a perfect storm. The Sox have a boatload of disposable cash. Ellsbury has few rivals as the biggest bauble out there. The Sox are seeking to restore fans' trust in the team, and while Ellsbury remains one of the franchise's most popular players, there is little doubt he would quickly achieve similar status somewhere else, minus the drama that comes with playing in Boston.

The odds are long that the Sox can sign Ellsbury to an extension this winter, unless they want to overpay, but they are hardly in a position to give up more offense after trading away Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, so a trade would appear unlikely.

Let the courtship begin.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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