Can Giants bump up payroll?
PRO: Jacoby Ellsbury stole an MLB-high 52 bases in 2013.
CON: Ellsbury is likely to command an annual salary over $20 million. (USATSI)
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SAN FRANCISCO – Our offseason “pros and cons” series continues with a look at a dynamic leadoff man and perhaps the most valuable outfielder on the free-agent market, Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
Should the Giants target Ellsbury? Let’s weigh the pros and cons:
Ellsbury’s skill set is made for AT&T Park. Not only did he lead the major leagues with 52 stolen bases last season, but he was caught just four times. He’s more than a pure speed guy, too. He might be the most efficient baserunner in the big leagues, and with a .350 career on-base percentage, he creates plenty of opportunities to put that to his advantage. He hit 32 home runs in 2011, and while he wouldn’t match that output as a Giant, he’d probably rewrite the franchise record for triples that Angel Pagan set just a year ago.
Ellsbury has a history of injury. His two major ones involved collisions (fracturing ribs when crashing into Adrian Beltre in 2010 and hurting his shoulder when sliding into Reid Brignac in 2012), which could happen to anyone. But he dealt with more nagging injuries (groin, wrist, fractured right foot) while missing almost 30 games this past season. He’s 30 and any decline in his speed would diminish his value considerably.
Ellsbury is a Gold Glove presence in center field who captured the award in 2011 and perennially grades out well in terms of range and runs saved. His presence would allow the Giants to move Angel Pagan to left field. While this move would be met with resistance by Pagan, the Giants can justify bruising his pride because of the major hamstring surgery he underwent in June. Although Pagan bounced back from the surgery and actually appeared to play a better center field in September, he’s considered league-average or slightly below both by scouts and advanced metrics. A defensive outfield of Pagan, Ellsbury and Hunter Pence, with Gregor Blanco off the bench and perhaps Juan Perez as well, would have the potential to rank among the best in baseball.
Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that he’s seeking a contract in excess of the seven-year, $142 million deal that Carl Crawford received from the Red Sox after the 2010 season. The Red Sox want to re-sign him, and they seldom lose a player they want to keep. He’d cost the Giants the 14th overall pick in the draft, too, because the Red Sox extended him a qualifying offer. It’ll be hard for the Giants to stomach another long-term commitment to an outfielder after dropping 5 and 90 on Pence.
Ellsbury is an Oregon native and Oregon State alum, so the idea of playing on the West Coast might appeal to him. Although he would demand a long-term contract, he wouldn’t be blocking anyone in the Giants system – until Gary Brown figures out how to hit right-handed pitching, anyway.
The Seattle Mariners are closer to home, and they’ll have money to spend.
No free-agent position player could make a bigger impact on the Giants than Ellsbury, who could allow them to move Pagan to a less taxing outfield spot and also drop down No.2 hitter Marco Scutaro to the lower third of the order where it appears he now belongs. The Giants are sure to gauge his interest, but don’t bet on them having a seat at the final table.
Ellsbury engages the Mariners against the Red Sox to see if he can get that eighth year. I’ll predict he only gets seven, but for a staggering AAV of $24 million.