Theo Epstein drafted Jacoby Ellsbury, Jacoby Ellsbury is a free agent, and so he is definitely going to the Cubs! Unfortunately it is not that easy. For me that could be a good thing based on a couple of points that I will touch on later in this post. Now I would not be upset if the Cubs signed Ellsbury, but how much sense does that make going forward? Ellsbury is no spring chicken as he will be 30 at the start of the next season. What he would do is finally give the Cubs an ideal leadoff man since Kenny Lofton. I love David Dejesus, but he really is a fourth outfielder type, and when Soriano was doing it early with the Cubs well we all knew or at least most knew that was not his game. Now I am going to attack this a bit like how Tommy did so here we go.
Signing Jacoby Ellsbury
Ellsbury and the Cubs have been linked all season long and continue to be linked mainly because of the Boston connection with Theo Epstein. These rumors have cooled somewhat with Epstein’s remarks that the Cubs will not be big players in free agency (With Masahiro Tanaka possibly being the only exception). There are reports out that he will be looking at a deal in the whereabouts of 5-7 years and well over $100 Million. For a Cubs team that has been cutting payroll, does a contract like that really make sense? Now, the Cubs are going to spend some money this offseason because, well, they have to but I do not believe it will be anything crazy. If Jacoby were about five years younger this would be a no-brainer.
Jacoby Ellsbury the Player
Does a leadoff hitting center fielder that walks at a good clip, does not strike out much and gets on base sound like a need for the Cubs? Ab-so-freakin’-lutely. Ellsburys career triple slash sits at .297/.350/.439. His career OPS+ is 108, but that is boosted by his MVP-caliber 2011 campaign where his OPS+ was an incredible 146. Other than that, he has only posted two seasons with an OPS+ over 100. If he could return to form of the 2011 season that saw him hit 32HR’s and put up an OPS of .928 which would make his contract demands look much better. That 2011 year looks far beyond what Ellsbury can produce moving forward, and the team that does sign him better not be expecting that kind of performance throughout his new contract. Unfortunately for Ellsbury his career has been full of nagging injuries that have seen his numbers drop. With the Cubs looking like an improved team but not a real contender over the next year or so, they look to be ready to compete after Ellsbury is on the downside of his career.
Short Term Impact
The short term impact of signing a guy like Jacoby Ellsbury would look good in terms of record but not great. Like David Price in the previous article this would not even bring them to a .500 team even with the improvement of Rizzo, Castro and Samardzija. When I started this I had to text Tommy after looking at Ellsbury’s WAR and basically I said, “Tommy I have no idea what to even project his WAR at because it fluctuates so much”. He agreed. Ellsbury, who put up a WAR of 9.1(according to FanGraphs) in his MVP caliber 2011, has never came close to that since. He looks more like a guy that will hit for a good average, but hitting 32 HR’s again will most likely never happen. He looks more like a 10-15 HR guy at best. That does look very nice, but again does that make sense for a Cubs team not ready to go for it this year?
Long Term Impact
The long term impact of Ellsbury signing with the Cubs will be pretty nice for maybe two years of that possible 7 year contract. Those two years of “pretty nice” will most likely not put the Cubs into playoff contention, and after the said two years he could be blocking prospects like Albert Almora. I understand all things have to go right, but if Baez and Bryant are expected to make their debut this year along with Alcantara, where does the next flow of Cubs prospects come in? That is the outfield (and again a lot of things would have to go right) but Soler and Almora should see some time in 2015, making Ellsbury a very high paid left fielder, where his bat would need to play . One might say I am bashing Ellsbury but I am not. If the Cubs were ready to make a run the signing may be worth it but it is tough to think the Cubs can make that run. A team ready to contend looking for a leadoff hitter will love having Jacoby Ellsbury in their lineup.
When the Cubs are ready to compete, they are going to make signings like these. Maybe not a 7 year 100+mil contract to a 30 year old, but making runs at veterans to aid in a playoff push will certainly be part of the plan in the future. The downside for the Cubs at this moment is that they are putting a lot of their cards in their farm system (despite some guys with high floors like Almora). This year is going to prove a lot about what the Cubs have in their minor leagues, as they have a bunch of prospects ready to take that next step to the MLB. While Jacoby would be a great piece to a lot of teams, the Cubs are not ready to make a commitment to “go for it” just yet, especially with the price and uncertainty of Ellsbury. The price tag is just too steep for the Cubs to even give him an offer. If he was demanding a three-year deal this would be a whole new story.