There is little question Jacoby Ellsbury is among the premier free agents this year. The Mariners desperately need a center fielder, and Ellsbury is one of the very best in the game. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted the Mariners will sign Ellsbury to a contract costing $21 million per year for six or seven years. Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors recently projected Ellsbury at seven years $150 million.
The lure of attracting Ellsbury to Seattle is huge and it is understandable. The M’s have been on the outside looking in on both of the last two seasons’ big name free agent signings in Prince Fielder and Josh Hamilton. The team’s performance was poor. The Mariners don’t look to get better without an infusion of talent. This team is below league average in starting pitching, defense, and offense.
Not only that, but this team is ridiculously boring. There is nothing to talk about really. Yes Felix is great, Iwakuma is steady and Seager is reliable, but there’s nobody on this team that excites the crowd, adds personality to the team and gives us something to love in spite of its inherent suckage.
Ellsbury fills a big need on this team. He is arguably among the best centerfielders in the game, and has been a key contributer to the Red Sox success. He is a superb defender, which the Mariners desperately need, and is a prototypical lead off hitter, with good, not great on-base numbers and he stole 52 bases to lead the American League. Though he had a monster 2011 season with 32 home runs and a .928 OPS, it seems unlikely he will repeat those numbers.
Last season’s numbers are impressive. He is ranked sixth in MLB defensively, with a UZR of 10. According to the Dewan Zone Rating System, Ellsbury made 84 plays OOZ, or out of zone, demonstrating great range. Just as a basis for comparison, Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley are the Mariners center fielders with at least 200 inning at the position. They are ranked 46 and 52 at the position of 55 eligible, with major negative ratings. As a hitter, he is ranked fourth among center fielders, behind Mike Trout, Andrew McCutcheon, and Carlos Gomez, worth 5.8 WAR. His 48 extra base hits would rank fourth on the team behind Kendrys Morales (57,) Kyle Seager (56,) and Raul Ibanez (49.) Nobody is close to challenging his stolen base totals. He would lead the team in batting average and OBP. In every way Ellsbury would be an offensive leader on the M’s.
So here’s the question. Is Ellsbury worth those dollars? I’m not saying he isn’t, but the question has to be asked. At $21 million, or more, he will be the highest paid Mariner this side of Felix. He would be a fine defender and a top of the order hitter. His contract would take him to age 36 or 37, at the same time we were beginning to take a more critical look at the really big contract of Ichiro Suzuki. Let’s be clear, these guys are not exactly alike. Ichiro was a corner outfielder who was a lousy centerfielder. Even so, he was winning Gold Gloves until his age 37 season in 2010. By this time criticism was leveled at number 51 complaining about his selfishness, but mostly because he was highest paid player on the team. However, his numbers hardly indicated he could lead the team. He was not a run producer. Because he was the leadoff guy and his mates weren’t hitting behind him, he wasn’t even a particularly prolific run scorer. While Ichiro could transform the 2001 116 game winning team with it’s lineup of thumpers like Edgar Martinez and Brett Boone, he was just a dollar sucker on the 2010 101 game losers. With a team not known for an efficient offense, is this right place for this team to put a big ol’ chunk of its free agent dough? No diss intended to Ellsbury–somebody will want him, and doubtless he’ll be a big help to some team.