The Evil Empire struck again

In this Oct. 17, 2013, AP file photo, Boston Red Sox's Jacoby Ellsbury dives for a ball hit by Detroit Tigers' Omar Infante during Game 5 of the American League baseball championship series in Detroit.
In this Oct. 17, 2013, AP file photo, Boston Red Sox's Jacoby Ellsbury dives for a ball hit by Detroit Tigers' Omar Infante during Game 5 of the American League baseball championship series in Detroit.

Babe Ruth. Roger Clemens. Wade Boggs. Johnny Damon. Jacoby Ellsbury. The Evil Empire strikes again.

With a swift shot heard 'round the baseball world, especially the Northeast, New York yanked Jacoby Ellsbury off the free agent market, signing him to a seven-year, $153 million deal. 

Just as I was getting ready to write a post about Salty leaving for sunny Miami and AJ Pierzynski signing a one-year deal with Boston, shockwaves were sent northward from the Bronx.

In the back of our minds, we all knew this was a legitimate reality. Ellsbury is represented by Scott Boras, who has an uncanny knack for getting teams to sign his free agents to massive contracts early in the offseason (see: Jayson Werth). The Yankees are the perfect suitors. They have acres of money trees with a need for a left-handed bat, speed, on-base percentage, and a solid outfield defender. Ellsbury brings all of that. Even still, we couldn’t help but think “not there, ANYWHERE but there…”

As much as we would like to blame the Yankees because, after all, they’re always at fault for everything wrong with the world, it may be time to look in the mirror here. Yet, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The Red Sox front office learned their lesson on overpaying for top free agents when it came to Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez (and, to an extent for a while, John Lackey). They’d prefer to learn from those mistakes, which is exactly why Ellsbury is no longer in Boston. Even though he was looking for a contract right in the ballpark of what New York gave him, Boston wasn’t willing to go that high. According to some sources, they were willing to go as high as six years for $120 million, with a five-year $100 million offer on the table.

His $153 million deal with the Yankees makes him the third-highest paid outfielder in baseball history, behind only Matt Kemp and former teammate Manny Ramirez. Seems to be a lot for a guy who, while a solid player, is in his 30s and has only played more than 80 games in four seasons due to injuries. However, when healthy as we’ve seen, he can be one of the top players in all of baseball. The Yankees are paying him in hopes he can return to 2011 form, where he hit .321 and crushed 32 homers, finishing second in MVP voting. While his numbers will increase in Yankee stadium with that vacuum that is right field, it’s tough to believe Ellsbury will reach those numbers again.

Boston had a strong feeling he would not return, knowing what the market would be for him, and they have options to fill the void. One would be going out and getting free agent outfielder Shin Soo-Choo, who can give them a leadoff bat and play solid defense. The other signing could be Carlos Beltran, who has been very hyped due to his previous playoff performances. Choo is said to be looking for a deal around seven years, and Beltran is now 36 and has been reportedly offered a three-year $48 million deal with Kansas City. I’ll pass, thanks.

The most likely and logical scenario is bringing up Jackie Bradley Jr., a young home-grown talent who has a tremendous amount of upside. While the drop-off from Ellsbury to Bradley will be significant, so will the money needed to pay him. His contract this upcoming season is $500,000, saving Boston a tremendous amount of money they can use to re-sign Mike Napoli and potentially Stephen Drew. If Boston can weather Bradley’s growing pains for a season, throwing him into the fire and getting a year of big-league experience under his belt will help in the long run.

The Ellsbury deal is just another in the long line of giving huge money to the biggest off-season free agents. Is he worth the money he’s being paid by New York? No. But if New York didn’t pay him that money, someone else was going to. He’s the biggest free agent position player behind Robinson Cano, so no matter what he’s actually worth, he is going to reel in top dollar. This is the business of baseball today.

The other aspect of this is the sports culture in the city of New York. They have a desperate need for “stars” that aren’t necessarily their own. It’s a win-now city that is obsessed with filling seats, signing huge TV deals, and profiting as much as possible. We’ll worry about the back end of that massive contract later, let’s just get these guys here so we can charge $14 for a beer and put a sushi restaurant in our stadiums. 

The Yankees shelled out $424 million to CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and AJ Burnett in 2009, on top of the contracts they were paying A-Rod, Jeter, and Cano. While it won them a championship that year, three seasons later they can’t make the playoffs and the highest paid player in baseball history is facing the longest suspension in baseball history. Their attendance numbers and TV ratings are way down. Solution? Pay more money to bring in more stars.

Can Ellsbury help the Yankees win now? Absolutely he can. But what about when he is 36, making over $20 million per year? Is he still going to be hitting over .300? 20 HRs? 50 stolen bases? The Red Sox weren’t willing to take that chance, nor should they. They’re a smart organization that realizes winning is what sells tickets and creates interest.

Look at Boston’s off-season acquisitions last year. Shane Victorino? Stephen Drew? David Ross? Johnny Gomes? Mike Napoli? Koji Uehara? Not one of those names made the lead on SportsCenter, yet they became household names in October when it mattered.

As Red Sox fans, we can all be upset the Yankees came in and stole one of our own once again. However, we need to look at the big picture here. Whether he went to Seattle, Detroit, New York, etc. there was going to a be a team that would overpay for him. While it hurts now, six years down the road when the Yankees are stuck with massive contracts attached to underperforming players, the Red Sox will have the talent helping them compete for another World Series.

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