Jacoby Ellsbury Rumors

AL West Rumors: Castro, Astros, Rangers

The Astros are receiving significant interest in catcher Jason Castro, and interest could pick up once big free agents like Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia go off the board, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.  Their interest in trading Castro isn't known, but Houston is said to like catching prospect Max Stassi very much.  Heyman sees the Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Angels, Rockies, and Twins as teams that could possibly have interest if Castro is on the block.  Here's more out of the AL West..

  • The Mariners are more immersed in the Carlos BeltranJhonny PeraltaKendrys Morales market than Jacoby Ellsbury at this point, tweets Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.
  • Brian McTaggart of MLB.com (Twitter link) doesn't see the Astros trading Castro.  Even though Castro is starting to make some money – the catcher is projected to earn $2.2MM in arbitration this year – they're not deep enough at catcher to lose him and the club needs to take a step forward.
  • Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com examined Carlos Ruiz as a possible fit for the Rangers if they don't land top catcher Brian McCann.
  • More from Durrett, who believes that Jurickson Profar's trade value hasn't decreased much despite a down year in 2013.
  • The Angels' best bet for acquiring quality pitching via trade would be to part with Mark Trumbo, even though losing him would hurt, writes Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.

AL East Rumors: Johnson, Bautista, Granderson, Choo

Yankees free agent Curtis Granderson joined Ken Rosenthal on MLB Network's Hot Stove to discuss his offseason thus far.  The outfielder told Rosenthal that the number one thing he's looking for is to sign with a winner.  More from the AL East..

  • With uncertainty over Alex Rodriguez and the future of Robinson Cano, the Yankees have contacted free agent Kelly Johnson, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.  Johnson has primarily played second base over the course of his career but he also offers experience at left field and saw some time at third base in 2013.
  • It's not a huge surprise, but teams are inquiring on Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (on Twitter).  Whether they are willing to move him is another story.
  • Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Beltran are targets 1 and 1A for the Yankees, a person familiar with their thinking tells Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.  Fellow outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury sits a hair behind the other two stars.
  • Bryan Hoch of MLB.com (on Twitter) also hears that the Yankees are serious about their pursuit of Beltran.
  • Former Red Sox pitcher Alfredo Aceves is working out in Mexico and drawing interest from multiple teams, tweets Rob Bradford of WEEI.com.
  • The Blue Jays' priority is improving the rotation, but they're also keeping an eye out for help at second base and catcher, writes Heyman.  It's no surprise to hear that they're interested in Robinson Cano, but his price tag will probably prove to be too much since they need to direct their bucks towards starting pitching.
  • Alex Speier of WEEI.com explains why Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, and Stephen Drew all turned down the $14.1MM qualifying offer from the Red Sox.

Quick Hits: Santana, Red Sox, Kuroda, Cano, Bay

Even with the high cost of free agent pitching, Ervin Santana's hopes for a $100MM contract seemed a little far-fetched…or are they?  Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports looked at the binder of information that agents Bean Stringfellow and Joe White prepared about their client and saw a wealth of favorable statistics in Santana's favor, noting his durability, good health, and even comparisons to Zack Greinke.  MLBTR's Steve Adams only predicted a five-year, $75MM deal for Santana on the open market but it only takes one team to make a leap. 

Here's some news from around baseball…

  • Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said that the team has "real interest at different levels" in re-signing its six free agents, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports.  Cherington has "had conversations" about bringing back Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Joel Hanrahan and John McDonald, though Abraham reports that the team has most extensively discussed a new deal with Napoli.
  • The Red Sox aren't expected to make acquisitions during the GM meetings this week, Cherington said.
  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman has "no idea" if Hiroki Kuroda is interested in returning to the club, Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger reports.  “My conversations with his agent, the only information I’ve gotten from that is he hasn’t made any decisions, what he wants to do as far as next year’s concerned," Cashman said.  Kuroda has been rumored to be weighing re-signing with the Yankees, pitching in Japan or retiring, though a return to southern California to be closer to his family probably isn't out of the question either.
  • Robinson Cano's next contract might not meet his expectations simply because the Yankees are the only team with the need and finances to come close to his demands, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News writes.
  • Jason Bay isn't sure if he will play in 2014, Sportsnet.ca's Shi Davidi tweets.  The 35-year-old Bay was released by the Mariners in August and only has a .688 OPS in 1361 PA over his last four seasons, most of which were shortened by injury.
  • Agent Barry Praver said that his clients Manny Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano were hoping to again play in the Major Leagues, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (Twitter links).  Ramirez is staying in shape and would be open to playing in Japan, while Zambrano is pitching in the Venezuelan winter league.
  • Wily Mo Pena is expected to re-sign in Japan, Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith reports (Twitter link).  Pena signed a two-year, $5MM deal with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks following the 2011 season and enjoyed a big 2012 before suffering through an injury-plagued 2013 campaign.  Nicholson-Smith notes that Pena had interested suitors in both Japan and North America.  Pena turns 32 in January and hit .250/.303/.445 with 84 homers in 1845 career PA with the Reds, Red Sox, Nationals, Diamondbacks and Mariners from 2002-11.


Qualifying Offer Decisions

13 free agents received qualifying offers a week ago, and I think they are all likely to decline by today's 4pm central time deadline.  If these players sign Major League deals elsewhere, their old teams stand to gain a draft pick in each instance.  The latest:


Crasnick On Cano, Tanaka, Price, Ellsbury

ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick checked in with 21 general managers, assistant GMs, player personnel people, and scouts to get their take on some of the biggest storylines of the winter.  Here's a look at some of the highlights..

  • Almost everyone sees Robinson Cano staying put with 19 votes for the Yankees, one vote for the Dodgers, and one for the Cubs.  Nearly everyone sees Cano getting a seven- or eight-year deal worth $160MM-$230MM and no one expects him to approach the $300MM figure he was asking for from the Bombers earlier this year.  It should be noted that the GM that picked the Cubs said that he has no inside info to support that pick.
  • Nine execs see Masahiro Tanaka landing with the Dodgers while six chose the Yankees.  All but a handful of those surveyed think his payout will exceed the $60MM Yu Darvish got from the Rangers.  Tanaka is ranked as the top available pitcher by MLBTR's Tim Dierkes.
  • Seventeen of the 21 participants in the survey say David Price will get traded this winter.  Where will he land?  The Rangers got nine votes and the Dodgers got four nods with one vote each for the Nationals, Cardinals, Angels, and Astros.
  • Opinions were somewhat split on whether Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo fChoo will provide better value over the course of their next deals.  Twelve execs said Ellsbury, eight voted for Choo, and one GM declined to vote, saying that neither one will match what they get.
  • When asked to pick the best pitcher between Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez, ten execs chose Garza.  Most seemed to agree that the lack of quality starting pitching available will lead to all three being overpaid.  One American League scout seemed to like Jimenez on some level but was skeptical of him long-term.  "Ubaldo has the best chance to give you impact in the short term, but I am not buying him over the course of 3-4 years," the scout said.
  • When asked which former Yankees prospect has a better chance of succeeding elsewhere with a change of scenery, Phil Hughes was the overwhelming choice over Joba Chamberlain.
  • Crasnick asked the execs which aging pitcher had the most left in the tank between Roy Halladay, Hiroki Kuroda, and Tim Hudson.  Kuroda had the backing of 12 people surveyed, Hudson got eight votes, and Halladay had just one exec in his corner.  "Maybe the chances of [Halladay] coming back aren't real good if you look at it objectively," a scout said. "But if the guy wants to [keep pitching] and be successful, I wouldn't put it past him."

Olney On Price, Relievers, Colon, Salaries, Red Sox

David Price's trade value may never be higher than it is right now, ESPN's Buster Olney argues, so the Rays may have to quell their competitive instincts and deal the ace southpaw even if they "aren't completely sold" on offers they receive before the year is out.  Olney covers several other topics in his Insider-only piece, such as how quality relievers such as Joe Smith or J.P. Howell could command three-year contracts worth $12MM-$18MM this winter.  Here's more from Olney…

  • Despite Bartolo Colon's good numbers in 2013, Olney says (in a video blog) that there isn't a strong market for his services since executives simply don't know what to expect from the soft-tossing 40-year-old.  Olney thinks Colon will find a one-year, $10MM-$12MM deal for 2014, similar to what MLBTR's Steve Adams predicts.  Despite the mutual interest between Colon and the Athletics, however, Olney predicts Colon will sign with a big-market team.  
  • Some agents believe there will be "a notable spike in salaries this winter," Olney tweets.
  • In an appearance on WEEI Radio's Mut & Merloni Show on Wednesday (WEEI.com's Jackson Alexander has a partial transcript), Olney said that if the Red Sox make Brian McCann a competitive offer, McCann would consider taking slightly less money since he's a good fit in their clubhouse atmosphere.
  • Also from the radio interview, Olney thinks "the smart play" for Stephen Drew would be to accept Boston's $14.1MM qualifying offer.  I'm not sure I agree with Olney, as while Drew couldn't find a $14.1MM average annual salary on the open market, he'd surely find a multiyear contract.  MLBTR's Tim Dierkes thinks Drew can find a four-year, $48MM deal this winter.
  • Olney also thinks the Mariners will try "to change the conversation" about their franchise by making a major offer to Jacoby Ellsbury.

Boras On Ellsbury, Choo, Drew, Morales

Agent Scott Boras joined ESPN's Keith Law on his latest Behind the Dish podcast.  A few highlights:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury has "illustrated that he's a highly durable athlete," according to Boras.  The agent explained that people running into Ellsbury, which caused his two major injuries, has nothing to do with his durability.  Ellsbury is "a game-changer for a lot of franchises," as the importance of leadoff hitters has increased as power has declined.  Boras says a player of Ellsbury's caliber is typically locked up by his team and does not reach free agency.  I projected a seven-year, $150MM contract for Ellsbury in my recent free agent profile.
  • Shin-Soo Choo is a "premium defensive outfielder at the corners," says Boras, which is further proven by him being able to handle center field for a season with the Reds.  
  • Seven or eight teams could "change the dynamic of the production of their infield" with shortstop Stephen Drew, in the opinion of Boras.
  • Kendrys Morales' metrics at first base are above average, Boras told Law, adding,  "He clearly is a good first baseman."  Boras feels that pundits don't appreciate the rarity of a switch-hitter with a middle of the order bat, in this case.  Morales is "the only other one really than Cano who you can say has the ability to be a run producer in the middle of the lineup" in this free agent market, says Boras, an assessment with which the agents for Brian McCann, Mike Napoli, Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson, and Nelson Cruz might disagree.

West Notes: Headley, Mariners, McCann, McKinney

The Padres face a decision on Chase Headley this winter, and Yahoo's Tim Brown tweets that their current preference is to hang onto their All-Star third baseman and hope that his big September numbers translate to a big year. Headley slipped to a .250/.347/.400 batting line in 2013 but thrived in the season's final month, slashing .305/.424/.573 with five homers. He's projected to earn $10MM next season, after which he's eligible for free agency. More news from baseball's Western divisions below…

  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets out a clarification from an earlier report he made: the Mariners are not in on Mike Napoli this winter. Their priorities this offseason are to sign one ofJacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo and add a starting pitcher. However, they are also expected to pursue a right-handed bat of some kind, says Rosenthal.
  • Athletics 2013 first-rounder Billy McKinney has left BBI Sports Group and joined the Boras Corporation, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday (via Twitter). McKinney slashed .326/.387/.437 across two levels in his first pro season, reaching short-season Class A shortly after his 19th birthday.
  • The Angels hooked up with the Rays to land Scott Kazmir and nearly landed James Shields in July 2012 and Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com wonders if they can link up again to work out a deal for David Price.  To date, there's no indication that the two sides are engaged in serious talks.

Zach Links contributed to this post.


Napoli, Drew, Ellsbury Receive Qualifying Offers; Saltalamacchia Does Not

2:10pm: Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington has confirmed to reporters, including Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com, that Napoli, Stephen Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury will receive qualifying offers (Twitter link). Saltalamacchia will not receive a qualifying offer, according to Cherington.

Ellsbury, MLBTR's No. 2 ranked free agent, was a lock to receive and reject a qualifying offer. The other three weren't as certain, but the Red Sox now stand to receive three extra first-round picks if this trio signs elsewhere.

Drew signed a one-year, $9.5MM contract with the Red Sox looking to rebuild his value, and he did just that. The shortstop enjoyed a strong age-30 campaign, batting .255/.333/.443 with 13 homers and playing standout defense at shortsop. He seems likely to pursue a multiyear deal on the free agent market this winter and could be in line for three to four years at an average annual salary north of $10MM.

MLBTR's Tim Dierkes profiled Ellsbury earlier this morning, noting that he's an ownership-level decision that could be signed despite a GM's protest. Tim projected a whopping seven-year, $150MM contract for Ellsbury, expecting agent Scott Boras to be able to convince at least one Major League owner that Ellsbury deserves more than Carl Crawford received three offseasons ago.

9:18am: WEEI.com's Alex Speier agrees with Dierkes' report and adds that Mike Napoli will receive a qualifying offer. Napoli batted .259/.360/.482 with 23 home runs this season, silencing doubts that the avascular necrosis (AVN) discovered in each of his hips last season would lead to an early decline for the slugger. Following a strong season that proved his health, Napoli is a lock to reject that offer and test the market, though he could still re-sign with Boston.

Napoli will be one the premier first basemen and sources of right-handed pop on this year's free agent market, with Dierkes suggesting a three-year, $42MM offer is attainable on the open market. With the qualifying offer attached, any team that selects outside the Top 11 in the 2014 draft will have to forfeit a first-round pick to sign him (the Top 11 would forfeit a second-round selection). In turn, the Red Sox would receive a compensatory pick at the end of the first round.

9:07am: The Red Sox are unlikely to extend a qualifying offer to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes has learned (Twitter link).

Saltalamacchia, 29, posted the best season of his career in 2013, slashing .273/.338/.466 with 14 homers in a career-high 470 plate appearances. He also tied a career best by playing in 121 games for the second consecutive season.

Tim projected a four-year, $36MM contract for Saltalamacchia in free agency this season, although that was under the assumption that he would be tied to draft pick compensation. If Saltalamacchia does not receive a qualifying offer from Boston, he could surpass that projection, as teams would not be required to surrender a first- or second-round draft pick in order to sign him.


Free Agent Profile: Jacoby Ellsbury

A healthy 2013 season went a long way toward restoring Jacoby Ellsbury's free agent value.  He bounced back from a lost 2012 season to re-establish himself as one of the game's elite leadoff men and center fielders, and agent Scott Boras surely expects a contract well north of $100MM.

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Strengths/Pros

Ellsbury is known for his blazing speed, and he led all of baseball with 52 stolen bases this year.  He previously picked up the American League stolen base crown in '08 and topped MLB in '09.  He has a strong career stolen base success rate of 84%, and was up near 93% this year.  FanGraphs' baserunning stat, which includes steals and a bunch of other baserunning skills, suggests Ellsbury was worth 11.4 runs on the basepaths this year.  That figure was the best in baseball.

To make an impact on the bases, a player needs first to reach base, and Ellsbury does well there with a .350 career OBP.  He has a high contact rate and a .297 career batting average, and draws enough walks to supplement his hits.  

Ellsbury also has more pop than the typical center fielder, with a career slugging percentage of .439 and isolated power of .141.  While his power is more of the doubles and triples variety, which is aided by his speed, he did hit 32 home runs in 2011.  As Baseball HQ likes to say, once you display a skill, you own it, so it's fair to say Ellsbury has the potential for double digit home runs.  

That 2011 season looks amazing on a resume, as Ellsbury led all of baseball with 9.1 wins above replacement.  He finished second in the AL MVP voting, won a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove, and made the All-Star team.

Defense is another strong suit for Ellsbury.  He won a Gold Glove in 2011 and has consistently posted above average UZR and DRS numbers in center field.  Ellsbury adds value in every conceivable way.

This year FanGraphs had him at 5.8 wins above replacement, a level of production a team might value at $30MM or more.  Ellsbury's WAR ranked second only to Robinson Cano among free agents.  Ellsbury will play next year at age 30, which is considered young for a free agent.

Weaknesses/Cons

Ellsbury already has lost two seasons to injury in his career.  He played only 18 games in 2010, fracturing multiple ribs after colliding with Adrian Beltre in April.  Two years later, he collided with Reid Brignac while sliding into second base and ended up playing only 74 games due to a shoulder injury.  "Jacoby Ellsbury is a very durable player. He just has to make sure that people don’t run into him," Boras told reporters in July.  There may be an element of truth to that, but most people in the game would not use the word "durable" to describe Ellsbury.  Ellsbury didn't run into anyone this year, but he was still limited to 134 games due to a groin injury, a sore wrist, and a compression fracture in his right foot.  He was on the field for the postseason, playing in all 16 games despite a nagging hand injury first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

There is a belief around baseball that speed doesn't age well, and Ellsbury's game could suffer if he loses a step.  While Ellsbury is not as reliant on infield hits as he used to be, they still comprised about 14% of his total this year, according to Baseball-Reference.  His 7.4% walk rate this year, while a career best, is nothing special.  Ellsbury's OBP could come down as he loses speed, more so than with the average player.  And of course, speed is a big factor in center field defense.

A left-handed batter, Ellsbury wasn't much of a threat against southpaws this year, posting a .246/.323/.318 line in 237 plate appearances.

Ellsbury is a lock to receive and turn down a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, so signing him will require a team to forfeit its highest available pick in the 2014 draft.

Personal

Ellsbury was born and raised in Madras, Oregon, and the town threw a parade for him in 2007.  He met his future wife Kelsey while they were attending college at Oregon State.  According to the Red Sox media guide, Ellsbury is believed to be the first Native American of Navajo descent to play in MLB, and he's proud of his heritage.  This year he conducted the Second Annual N7 Jacoby Ellsbury Baseball Camp at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in January, with 130 kids in attendance.

Ellsbury loves basketball and played in high school, along with football and of course baseball.  He played on travel teams and became friends with current Athletics infielder Jed Lowrie.  The two players were drafted 22 picks apart in 2005 and were teammates for many years in the minors and Majors. 

Market

The Red Sox have made efforts to sign Ellsbury in the past, and will at least have conversations with Boras.  Otherwise, any team with some payroll space that doesn't have an elite center fielder in place will be approached, including the Rangers, Mariners, Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Nationals, and Cubs.  I'd throw the Tigers in that mix, but that could be tricky for Boras since center fielder Austin Jackson is another one of his clients.

Ellsbury is an ownership level discussion, and Boras has those connections, so it doesn't necessarily matter if the GM approves.

Expected Contract

In September, Boras explained at length to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports why Ellsbury is better than fellow speedy outfielder Carl Crawford.  Boras generally has huge expectations for contracts for his elite free agents, and I think he expects to top Crawford's seven-year, $142MM contract from three years ago.  Boras has secured eight, nine, and ten-year deals before, and he's probably thinking eight or nine years for Ellsbury as a starting point.  I think there's a chance a team springs for eight, especially if that knocks down the average annual value a bit.  Crawford fell short of $21MM a year, and I think Boras can get $20-23MM per year for Ellsbury.  Ultimately, I predict a seven-year, $150MM deal.  

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.