Peter Gammons: Staying or leaving, Ellsbury delivered in Boston

jacoby ellsbury

Even when he was playing for the Falmouth Commodores, Jacoby Ellsbury was quiet, socially cautious. He actually played left field that summer, and while he was still skinny and a work in progress, he dove onto the warning track and crashed into the wire mesh fences and could really run. Then-Red Sox scouting director Jason McLeod went to Oregon State to interview him and because it was raining, watched him work out with the basketball team and was blown away by a driving dunk, and before the draft Theo Epstein predicted that because of the drug testing implemented that season “the game is going to change and we’d better be prepared for it.”

Jacoby Ellsbury may well have played his final game for the Red Sox, a game that finished the 2013 World Series. He turned 30 on September 11, and as the debate rages about what his worth from ages 30 through 35 may be, there is no question that six full seasons plus 33 regular season games in 2007, his selection as the 23rd pick in the 2005 draft is one of the best in the club’s history.

2013 Top 10 MLB Centerfield by OBP
G AVG OBP
1. Mike Trout (LAA) 111 .349 .452
2. Shin-Soo Choo (CIN) 150 .287 .421
3. Andrew McCutchen (PIT) 155 .317 .404
4. Dexter Fowler (COL) 109 .263 .370
5. Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS) 134 .298 .355
6. Jon Jay (STL) 147 .276 .352
7. Brett Gardner (NYY) 136 .278 .348
8. Carlos Gomez (MIL) 144 .285 .340
9. Colby Rasmus (TOR) 112 .278 .339
10. Austin Jackson (DET) 127 .272 .337



For six-plus seasons and a total of $20,802,000—less than Adrian Gonzalez will make this coming season, approximately what Carl Crawford will earn—the Red Sox got a leadoff-hitting center fielder who batted .297 with a .350/.439/.789 stat line, three stolen base titles, one MVP runner-up season, a gold glove and, most important, two World Series rings. This is the way the system works: the clubs get complete control of a player for three years and a total of $1.5M, they then get three more years of control at an arbitrated salary at most players’ peaks, then the player gets to go out and see what he can make outside the team’s control.

OK, OK, Jacoby Ellsbury has hit as many as ten home runs once in his career. His arm is below average. Fine. The man is a superb center fielder playing in a home park where the game from right center field to the 420 corner, with walls and angles at every turn, is a vital part of building a home field advantage, which he and Shane Victorino did so well, like Dwight Evans and Fred Lynn in another generation. He was second in outfield putouts in 2013, third in defensive WAR.

He went into the post-sesason with a bad foot that sometimes forced him to play unusually deep, and in the final games had his left hand so badly swollen it impacted his ability to hit balls with any authority, and played right on through, saying nothing. So anyone and everyone in New England should thank him, wish him luck, and if the Seattle Mariners or the San Francisco Giants or Washington Nationals want to give him what the Red Sox gave Crawford, give him an appropriate sendoff for all that went into two rings and an extraordinary career.

And he did it without anger or public bitterness when his fortitude was roasted. In April, 2010, he was run over by Adrian Beltre, who actually wiped out two players in the same season with his ferocity. The next day, the Red Sox team doctor predicted Ellsbury would be out for three to five days. A close friend and world-famous osteopath from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who suffered a similar rib injury when her bicycle skidded on ice and she cracked her ribs on a stone bridge over the Concord River, insisted it would be a minimum of two months, maybe longer.

The doctor told Patriots radio voices that Ellsbury could not tolerate the pain, which set off a talk radio campaign. Well, of course, the ribs were cracked, the injury was a two-to-three month proposition, he tried to come back and suffered a more severe injury, and finally Epstein sent Ellsbury to Arizona for his rehab, as far from the doctor—no longer associated with the team—as he could get. No apology has been heard, and when asked about it the next spring, Jacoby simply said he didn’t want the issue lingering. Oh, by the way, if the Red Sox had not folded into 7-20 in September, he would have been the 2011 MVP.

In 2012, he hurt his right (front) shoulder in a second base collision and missed more than half the season. Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic, points out that the front shoulder is the strength shoulder when hitting, and noted the severity of Ellsbury’s injury. Which is enough. By the way, take away two major injuries and in his four other full Red Sox seasons, Ellsbury averaged 148 games.

Jacoby Ellsbury Regular Season Stats
 Year G PA AVG SLUG OPS OBP H HR K BB SB CS SB%
2008 145 609 .280 .394 .729 .336 155 9 80 41 50 11 82.0%
2009 153 693 .301 .415 .770 .355 188 8 74 49 70 12 85.4%
2010 18 84 .192 .244 .485 .241 15 0 9 4 7 1 87.5%
2011 158 732 .321 .552 .928 .376 212 32 98 52 39 15 72.2%
2012 74 323 .271 .370 .682 .313 82 4 43 19 14 3 82.4%
2013 134 636 .298 .426 .781 .355 172 9 92 47 52 4 92.9%

Ellsbury was extremely uncomfortable when some media members, who do not consider winning important, began constant speculation about his contract future during the playoffs, but he has always been cautious in his words, as he was when he was 20 and playing in Falmouth. Will his legs hold up in his thirties? No one really knows. Will he ever hit 32 home runs again? No one knows. Will he have to sacrifice having a shot at another ring for his market value? Again, no one knows.

But go back and scroll through the first round draft picks in 2005 after the Pirates took Andrew McCutchen at 11—better yet, between McCutchen and Clay Buchholz in the sandwich round—and the fact remains that McLeod, Epstein and Red Sox made one of their best picks ever to get Jacoby Ellsbury at 23. Eight years and $20.8M later, they have two rings and two parades and if he leaves, the expectation that when he returns, he does so to a long, thunderous standing moment of thanks.

  • DeansDesk

    Amen to all of that, Peter. The guy was a great value and a true winner. In fact, I think it’s been such a win/win that he should remain with the Sox. Unfortunately, his agent will insist otherwise and make a decision based strictly on the total value of the contract instead of what the best situation is for Jacoby. In either event, I will always be thankful for what the kid brought to Boston.

  • DeansDesk

    Amen to all of that, Peter. The guy was a great value and a true winner. In fact, I think it’s been such a win/win that he should remain with the Sox. Unfortunately, his agent will insist otherwise and make a decision based strictly on the total value of the contract instead of what the best situation is for Jacoby. In either event, I will always be thankful for what the kid brought to Boston.

  • DeansDesk

    Amen to all of that, Peter. The guy was a great value and a true winner. In fact, I think it’s been such a win/win that he should remain with the Sox. Unfortunately, his agent will insist otherwise and make a decision based strictly on the total value of the contract instead of what the best situation is for Jacoby. In either event, I will always be thankful for what the kid brought to Boston.

  • Zeus

    I’ve long beileved that the critical turn in the 2007 postseason was when Ellsbury took over for Crisp. As for the injuries, I’ll just say this with respect to the Red Sox docs – my wife is on strict orders that if something ever happened to me at Fenway, she is is drag me out to Brookline Averather than let anyone medical people associated with the team get anywhere near me. No one ever talks about how the team mis-managed injuries to Pedroia and Ortiz. The view in the press that Jaccoby is injury-prone and soft is nothing more than lazy sensationalism.

  • Andy Stewart

    Ill be sad to see him leave, but proud to have watched him “grow up” in The Nation and for once, will be happy to see a player land the big bucks he deserves–hoping if it isn’t Boston it’s Seattle–for his sake ad to make them relevant again.

  • rs

    I think that when Tito removed Ells from center field to left he didn’t like it. Then to add insult to injury he had the collision with Beltre and the perception that he couldn’t play through pain really did it. His agent doesn’t help either. So, he will take his free agency to get a big contract from the highest bidder. He was an integral part of the team for years with two rings to show for it and I agree that when he does come back to Fenway the fans will let him know how much he was appreciated.

  • VermonterSteve

    Agreed. Jacoby has always been a class act, as well as a great player. Wish he would stick around, but that doesn’t seem likely. I just hope he doesn’t sign with the Yankees!!!

  • EddieD_Boston

    Quite a dynamic player. Remember when the Sox were last in the league in steals for like 50 years? If I’m not mistaken they led the league this year. Ellsbury may have transformed a franchise known for station-to-station offence.

  • Gurnet

    The pride of Madras, Oregon

  • Anthony Cunningham

    Nice!

  • A Mathews

    Thanks. Great article! I hope the Red Sox find a way to re-sign him.

  • cpoc

    Well said Peter. Ells is a class act and he will be missed.The allegation of soft likely started with the morning morons on WEEI. They repeated their misguided medical analyis with Buckholtz this Summer and once again with Ells. I think the Sox can match the money but I think his decision will be made on a comfort level basis and I’m not confident he wants to stay. He deserves a standing ovation when he returns to Fenway.