Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is having a great season, currently hitting .299 with a league-leading 52 stolen bases while playing outstanding defense. He’s a big reason why the Red Sox are 6.5 games in front of the Rays in first place in the AL East, and he will be a big part of their post-season hopes.
What happens after that, though, is unknown. Ellsbury, who turns 30 on the 11th, will be eligible for free agency and is expected to draw a lot of interest. The Red Sox want to keep him around, but as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes, they worry about his price tag extending into the nine figure range:
The Red Sox tried to re-sign Ellsbury sometime before this season, and all indications are they will try again. The issue is whether they have interest in getting into a bidding war that could go easily past the $100 million mark, well past it if you listen to Ellsbury’s agent Scott Boras’ words Thursday.
Boston had huge success dealing last winter in what’s been dubbed the “mid-range” market, scoring big with its deals for Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and others, and that strategy may be weighing on them. It’s no surprise there are people within the Red Sox hierarchy who aren’t anxious to return to the $100 million-plus type deals that haven’t always paid off for them.
Ellsbury will likely be the most sought-after player in free agency, but he does bring with him some concerns. He’ll be 30 years old when his contract begins, meaning he’ll be in his mid-30’s when it ends. He has suffered two serious injuries in his career, which seems more emblematic of his play style than anything. And a large portion of his value is derived from his legs — his ability to play defense and steal bases — which was a common concern among teams that pursued Bourn but eventually backed down. Bourn eventually signed with the Indians in February on a four-year, $48 million contract.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.