Three years ago, the Boston Red Sox signed a free agent outfielder to a seven year, $142 million contract. Since then, Carl Crawford has been worth 2.3 wins above replacement and is now playing for another organization. It's unlikely that soon-to-be free agent Jacoby Ellsbury will go through the same career tailspin -- though, to be fair, Crawford seemed to put everything back together late this year -- but Ellsbury will probably see a similar contract offer this offseason.
Who is he?
When healthy, Ellsbury has been a terror at the top of Boston's lineup for the past six-plus seasons. As you see in his statistics above, he gets on base and doesn't strike out often. He also steals a lot of bases. Ellsbury swiped 52 bags this year, the third time since 2008 he has eclipsed the 50-steal mark. However, that doesn't tell the whole story. Ellsbury only played 18 games in 2010 due to a rib injury, and missed 88 more in 2012 due to a shoulder problem. He missed most of September this season with a foot injury, and has been banged up on numerous other occasions.
Why should we care?
As noted above, Ellsbury is the type of leadoff hitter that baseball minds of all backgrounds salivate over. He's fast. He doesn't strike out. He gets on base. He steals bases. He doesn't get caught stealing (Ellsbury was 52-for-56 this year). He also plays excellent defense in center field, ranking third in the American League with a UZR of 10.0 this season. The other defensive metrics were in agreement: Ellsbury ranked second with +13 defensive runs saved and first with 84 plays made outside of his defensive zone.
And then there's the baserunning. Sure, opportunities to run might have been more plentiful in Boston, but consider this: Ellsbury had 17 more stolen bases than the entire Tigers' roster in 2013.
Why should we stay away?
In 2011, Ellsbury played in 158 games -- one of only two times he has eclipsed the 150 games played mark. He hit .321/.376/.552 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI, and 39 stolen bases, and finished second in an MVP race he probably should have won (sorry, Justin). The homers and RBI comprised roughly one-half and one-third of his respective career totals in less than 25% of his career plate appearances. For the advanced statistic aficionados, Ellsbury had a .230 ISO in 2011, yet has not eclipsed the .130 mark in any other full season.
Still not convinced? Consider this: aside from the stolen bases, the Tigers have gotten nearly identical production out of their leadoff spot in the last four seasons. Jackson's .334 wOBA and 107 wRC+ are on par with Ellsbury's, and his career on-base percentage is within six points of Ellsbury's. Advanced defensive metrics gave Ellsbury the edge in center field last year, but overall Jackson has proven to be the superior defender. When you compare their likely salaries -- Jackson should see $5-6 million, while Ellsbury will likely get over $20 million -- and ages, there isn't much reason for the Tigers to pursue Ellsbury.
Will he end up in Detroit?
It doesn't seem likely. I don't know if the Tigers will pursue a high profile outfielder this offseason with Jackson, Torii Hunter, and Nick Castellanos presumably penciled in to the starting spots come April. If they do look to make a splash, I really hope Ellsbury isn't the guy they go after. The numbers speak for themselves above, and hoping for a guy who is now on the wrong side of 30 to replicate a career year for multiple seasons is asking for trouble.