Jae C. Hong/AP
Jacoby Ellsbury’s history of injuries is a concern, but that doesn’t stop the Yankees from giving him a 7-year, $ 153 million deal on Tuesday night.
The new deal with the Yankees wasn’t official yet and on Wednesday an over/under number had been posted in Las Vegas regarding the number of games Jacoby Ellsbury will play next season.
Such is his reputation for being injury-prone, which in Boston led to a perception that Ellsbury was soft as well, at times reluctant to play if he wasn’t completely healthy.
But is that fair?
Certainly not if you go by what he did most recently, helping the Red Sox win a championship despite playing in October with a compression fracture in his foot and what was apparently a painfully bruised hand.
Even with the injuries, Ellsbury hit .407 in during the postseason, stealing six bases in 16 games, scoring 14 runs and driving in seven while playing a strong center field.
“(David) Ortiz was off the charts in the World Series ,’’ one American League scout said on Wednesday, “but other than that, Ellsbury was their best player in the postseason.”
There’s no disputing the value that Ellsbury brings to the Yankees as an excellent center fielder and an impact offensive player whose speed can be a game-changing weapon.
And as for all the hand-wringing over the $ 153 million contract? It’s a huge overpay, sure, but it’s only money to the Yankees, and they’ll always be willing to spend it, whatever their hopes of staying under the $ 189 million tax threshold in 2014.
One AL scout, in fact, laughed at the notion that the Yankees will somehow regret the length of the deal.
Ellsbury is an exceptional defensive center fielder.
“When Ellsbury slows down,” he said, “the Yankees will be signing (Mike) Trout anyway.”
In any case, the only real issue for the moment regarding the Ellsbury signing is whether he’s fragile or simply the hard-luck victim of a couple of collision-based injuries.
Whatever it is, his injury history prompted Bovada.lv in Vegas to set up a prop bet on his over/under number of games played at 129½.
Never mind how you’d bet it; the fact that you can bet it at all speaks to the injury-prone label that he’ll have to overcome.
After all, Ellsbury has missed a whopping total of 264 games over the last four years, but most of them were the result of two major injuries: in 2010 he crashed into Adrian Beltre on a bloop fly ball and broke four ribs; and in 2012, Rays shortstop Reid Brignac landed on him sliding into second base, causing a shoulder separation.
“We would have been more concerned if he had a bunch of muscular-type leg injuries,” said an executive from a team that pursued Ellsbury. “Everyone wants to compare him to (Carl) Crawford, but Crawford is like a fullback. Ellsbury is leaner, and we definitely think he has a chance to age better than most guys.”
In Boston, the injuries were only part of the story. After breaking his ribs in late April 2010, Ellsbury returned in August to play for a couple of weeks before reinjuring the ribs and missing the rest of the season, leading to criticism from the media and even his fellow Red Sox.
He spent months rehabbing in Arizona, leading Kevin Youkilis to wonder aloud why Ellsbury wasn’t with the ballclub. Red Sox insiders, meanwhile, said Terry Francona would roll his eyes occasionally when questioned about Ellsbury’s prolonged absence, and Dustin Pedroia would kid with teammates about it.
No one questions Ellsbury’s ability, but his ability to stay healthy is another matter.
The situation was exacerbated when team doctors initially failed to diagnose the injury correctly as broken ribs, and that led to hard feelings between Ellsbury and the club.
Still, the perception then, and to a lesser degree with the shoulder injury, was that Ellsbury wouldn’t play unless he felt he was 100% healthy, which doesn’t sit well with teammates, and the suspicion was that agent Scott Boras had something to do with it.
“It’s no secret that Scott advises guys to look out for their future in those situations,’’ a baseball exec said. “It happened with (Carlos) Beltran in New York. The problem is that it can hurt a player’s reputation and that can stick with a guy.”
In Ellsbury’s case, it didn’t help that he has never seemed comfortable talking to the media.
“He was very guarded,” said one Boston writer. “He never let the wall down. I’m not surprised he went to New York rather than a place where he’d be The Guy. He’s comfortable playing in the shadows of other guys.”
Nevertheless, Red Sox insiders say Ellsbury seemed to mature some in recent years and earn the respect of teammates for playing hard. During Boston’s magical 2013 season, players said they saw him become one of the guys, growing a bad beard with the rest of them.
“He’s really opened up,” Shane Victorino said during the postseason. “From what I understand, I’m not sure a couple of years ago that Jacoby would have grown the beard.”
Perhaps most significantly, whatever his issues in Boston, Ellsbury has always produced when healthy, which should bode well for playing in New York.
The question is: Would you bet the over on him?