There appears to be mutual interest between the Red Sox and Jacoby Ellsbury in a new contract this winter, though the Red Sox may balk at re-signing the center fielder if the bidding goes far past the $100MM mark, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports. Boston's return to prominence this season has been built around signing "mid-range" free agents like Shane Victorino or Mike Napoli and the team may wish to continue this strategy rather than splurge on a major free agent contract. Sources connected to the team tell Heyman they "aren't necessarily optimistic" that the Sox will be keen on handing Ellsbury a Carl Crawford-esque deal.
Crawford's contract (a seven-year, $142MM pact in December 2010) was cited by Scott Boras, Ellsbury's agent, as perhaps not being large enough for his client since Ellsbury plays center field, has experience hitting leadoff and also has had success playing in Boston. Boras, as you might expect, used a colorful metaphor to describe his feelings about Ellsbury as a franchise cornerstone and about the "mid-range" free agent signing strategy.
“Free agency is like the Navy. You can have a number of mid-range missiles, but they only work as long as you have the aircraft carrier to put them on.”
I used the Crawford deal as a comparison myself when I examined Ellsbury as a possible extension candidate back in March 2012. At the time Ellsbury was coming off the best season of his career — a .321/.376/.552 slash line, 32 homers, 39 steals, 119 runs scored and a league-leading 364 total bases. Since then, Ellsbury has hit .287/.340/.403 with just 12 homers over 941 PA, though his 2012 season was limited to only 74 games due to injury.
My proposal at the time was a seven-year, $133MM deal between Ellsbury and the Red Sox that would have covered Ellsbury's 2013 season and his first six free agent years. Ellsbury hasn't kept up the power since then and he turns 30 years old next week. As we saw with Michael Bourn (another Boras client) last offseason, teams are hesitant to give major deals to speed-centric players entering their thirties.
Some executives tell Heyman that Ellsbury could be in line for a five-year/$75MM deal like B.J. Upton while others think the Boston outfielder will indeed crack the $100MM mark. My guess is that Ellsbury seems like a lock for a $100MM+ contract on the open market this offseason due to both his talents and because this winter's free agent outfielder market is rather slim. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes has had Ellsbury rated no lower than third throughout his 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings since the season began, and Ellsbury has claimed the No. 2 position (behind only Robinson Cano) for the last two months.
Red Sox owner John Henry reportedly "very much likes Ellsbury," though the team kept Jackie Bradley Jr. at the trade deadline as insurance should Ellsbury left in free agency There should be strong interest in Ellsbury on the open market; Fangraphs' Paul Swydan recently noted that up to 12 teams could vie for Ellsbury's services.