Jacoby Ellsbury will face his former teammates for the first time this weekend. Credit: Getty Images
"Obviously, I’ve had to see it from the other side a number of times. He did everything tonight. He hit. He stole bases. He made a great catch in center field, and that’s why we went and got him, because that's what he's capable of doing. He’s a game-changer."
That’s Yankees manager Joe Girardi gushing to reporters about his new outfielder’s three-hit, two-double, two stolen-base performance against the Blue Jays last Friday night. The night before that same player was absent from the lineup due to a calf injury suffered in Spring Training.
That player is Jacoby Ellsbury, which makes sense, because that sequence of events is the most Jacoby Ellsbury thing ever. The entire Ellsbury Experience, completely encapsulated -- all before opening weekend. Remarkable. The shiny new toy in the Bronx produced for the better of seven seasons in Boston – well, when the dude was on the field, anyway; he’s the same guy who missed 144 games in 2010, and 88 more in 2012. It was telling that when Ellsbury decided to spend his next seven years in New York, signing a $153 million megadeal in the offseason, the conventional reaction in Boston was indifferent. We didn’t feel betrayed, bitter, or jealous; instead, we felt nothing.
In a world that embraces polarization more than ever, apathetic reaction is kind of amazing. Throw in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry and it’s almost alarming. Shouldn’t we be more upset? On the surface, maybe; but as far as I can tell, there are two primary reasons that validate indifference here.
Reason No. 1: Neither Ellsbury nor the Red Sox would ever come out and admit this, but it appeared as if the relationship was constantly running on borrowed time – like a one night stand that lasted for nearly a decade. During his postgame interviews, I half-expected Ellsbury to face the camera, suggestively wink, and ask Red Sox Nation, “Was it good for you?”
It’s worth noting, however, that this wasn’t all Ellsbury’s fault. Sure, he wasn’t exactly an ironman when it came to injuries, but the bigger problem was that he was quickly labeled a “Boras Guy” because of his agent, Scott Boras, who is seemingly always "money-first."
Reason No. 2: A team-friendly contract is one in which the player outperforms their salary; a bad signing occurs when the player underperforms; and a fair deal sees market return. Even if Ellsbury puts together a stellar year or two, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Jacoby outperforms his long-term contract for New York.
His best season was in 2011, the MVP-worthy year he knocked in 32 home runs, totaled 105 RBIs, maintained a ridiculous .376 OBP, and ranked second in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Historically speaking, however, 2011 is an aberration; empirical evidence suggests Ellsbury gives you 13-17 homers, 65-80 RBIs, and a steady.350-.360 OBP, and those numbers fail to justify a deal worth $22 million per season … or a million less than Miguel Cabrera (a real Triple Crown candidate) and a $100,000 more than Vernon Wells (LOLOL).
Stakeholders in professional sports incessantly remind fans that “it’s a business.” And with Ellsbury, Boston fans took their Peter Pan costumes off, just for a second, and replied, “Yeah, it’s nothing personal.”
Maybe the indifference is harsh. After all, he was part of two World Series championship teams in Boston, but as the Sox prepare to face Jacoby and his new squad for the first time this season Thursday night, you can’t help but feel it’s true.