Winter is on the horizon, and for the folks in the Pacific Northwest that means several months of cold, rain, and very short days. This annual fate of winter misery will be the same for everyone in Seattle save one: Jack Zduriencik.
For the Mariner’s General Manager the winter of 2014 is going to be quite sultry. The days are going to be long and the heat is going to be oppressive. Despite outlasting Eric Wedge, Zduriencik now only has one more year to guide the ship of rebuilding into its port of destination: a winning season.
Zduriencik’s track record with the M’s has been tumultuous, and now he has a limited amount of time to change this perception and retain his position. One thing he will probably do, as he has attempted before, is to try and sign a big name free agent.
Resigning Kendrys Morales would be nice, and Jack Z should try and get him back (hopefully without paying too exorbitant a fee), but he isn’t an elite free agent. But there is one soon-to-be free agent (among many that M’s fans would probably not complain about) who could fill a major hole in the Seattle lineup and get fans in the seats: Jacoby Ellsbury.
There are several reasons that Jack Z could look to make an offer for Ellsbury, and these reasons have considerable merit (and conversely demerits too).
The first is that the M’s need another outfielder. Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley, and Abraham Almonte have all played serviceably in 2013, but if there is any position on the field other than the mound where the M’s truly need to add a player, it’s the outfield.
Secondly, since the departure of Ichiro, the M’s leadoff position has sort of resembled a session of speed dating. Saunders, Ackley, Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and others have all been given shots at leading off, and none of them have really distinguished themselves.
If the M’s could sign a guy like Ellsbury, they would have a true leadoff man, and could then move the aforementioned players down in the lineup to areas where they could improve and hopefully have a better chance to thrive.
Ellsbury is proven leadoff hitter with a good bat and good speed —his 2013 slash line of .297/.355/.421 puts nearly all of the current M’s to shame. Ellsbury has also stolen 52 bases so far in 2013, which is more than the entire 2013 Mariners have managed to snag combined. From an offensive standpoint, a player like Ellsbury, (if he can continue this type of production) would greatly improve the M’s run scoring ability.
On the field Ellsbury provides above average defense, as he is worth 4.1 wins above replacement. The M’s would be in good hands with Ellsbury roaming centerfield, and that combined with his bat makes him a logical player to pursue.
Offensive and defensive talents aside, Ellsbury is also originally from the Northwest, and while that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a player will sign, Jack Z could certainly use this to his advantage.
But while Ellsbury looks like a perfect fit for the M’s, there are considerable roadblocks and possible red flags associated with him as well.
Ellsbury is 30 years old and has a track record of injuries. It’s reasonable considering his age and his propensity for getting banged up that Ellsbury’s numbers could begin to decline in the very near future.
In some ways Ellsbury is a much better version of Franklin Gutierrez, and the M’s can’t afford to have another talented player continually languishing on the disabled list.
Ellsbury is also an elite player, and he’s going to command a large contract, probably in the $100 million range over a few years. Boston will undoubtedly try and resign him, and he is bound to get interest from several other teams.
Another kicker is that his agent is the dreaded Scott Boras, and that means that regardless of age and injury proneness, Ellsbury isn’t going to come cheap.
Despite the potential price tag, the M’s have also managed to shed most of their deadweight contracts, and could afford to spend some money on Ellsbury.
With all this in mind, the real question is if Ellsbury is more risk than he’s worth.
Jack Z has gone after big name free agents before, and either failed to sign them (Josh Hamilton) or failed by signing them (Chone Figgins); with Zduriencik’s neck on the line it should not come as a surprise if Ellsbury is linked to talks with Seattle.