TAMPA, Fla. — One of the best Boston Red Sox players over the previous seven years is now wearing the pinstripes of Boston’s biggest rival. He is, as Boston Manager John Farrell said, “on the other side now.”
But on Tuesday, the new multi-millionaire outfielder for the New York Yankees found himself among a group of Boston Red Sox.
“I was in the (batting) cage hitting and saw a bunch of them,” Jacoby Ellsbury said. “I said hello. It was good. I still talk to them.
“It seemed pretty normal.”
Actually, yes it is, if you factor how the Red Sox and Yankees are doing business these days, and what Ellsbury really wanted.
When Ellsbury, 30, played the final year of his contract with the Red Sox last season, you never sensed urgency by either Ellsbury or Boston for a new deal. The perception was that Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, would be demanding a fortune with a long-term contract that the Red Sox did not want to commit to.
But there was a team willing to spend the money. The Yankees signed Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million deal.
“They have a lot of resources,” Farrell said.
The Red Sox can hardly cry poorhouse with a payroll around $176 million, although the Yankees are looking north of $200 million.
Farrell said the Yankees “got a very good player. When Jacoby’s going well, he’s going to impact any team. He’s a dynamic leadoff guy.”
So why didn’t Boston make a stronger effort to keep him?
“Teams go about (building their roster) based on their model,” Farrell said.
For now the Red Sox model is the winner – defending World Series champions and three titles in the past 10 years. The Yankees paid plenty for star power before, and it resulted in the 2009 world championship. But New York missed the playoffs last year.
So it committed nearly half a billion ($486 million) this past offseason.
“I was excited when the Yankees made the offer,” Ellsbury said. “I saw what they were doing and their history. There’s a chance to win right away, a chance to win championships.”
Didn’t he have that chance with Boston?
Of course he did. But New York offered big bucks (and there’s nothing wrong with taking the money). Plus, Ellsbury had issues with Boston. He did say he “was blessed to play in that organization. Won two championships. Those are memories I have, all positive stuff.”
But there were negatives. When Ellsbury injured his ribs early in the 2010 season, he accused Red Sox doctors of misdiagnosing the injury. He resented some members of the media calling him soft.
Ellsbury never seemed the same in public, his fun-loving persona turned icy cold. He seemed destined to leave Boston, unlike mainstays like Dustin Pedroia and others who love to play at Fenway.
Asked Tuesday if it was hard to leave the Red Sox, Ellsbury dodged the question, saying “I’ve always said I enjoy playing there.”
Boston gave Pedroia a new contract last year. It was rare in its length (eight years), but at a “hometown discounted” total of $110 million. Other Red Sox contracts are shorter lengths; Boston is playing it conservative while also developing prospects, which is why Xander Bogaerts and Brandon Workman went from Portland to the World Series last year.
The Baseball America publication ranked Boston’s minor league system the second-best in the major leagues to Pittsburgh. New York ranks 18th of 30 teams. Much of the Yankees’ talent is at the lower levels, meaning it won’t be helping the major league team soon.
New York has talent to win in the majors this year – the Yankees looked pretty good Tuesday in an 8-1 win over Boston. But there are question marks, especially in the infield. First baseman Mark Teixeira, 34 next month, and shortstop Derek Jeter, 40 in June, are coming off major injuries. Second baseman Brian Roberts, 36, has a history of health problems.
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez is suspended and his replacement, Kelly Johnson, 32, has played 16 games at the position. Plus he batted .235 for Tampa Bay last year.
Ellsbury has had sensational seasons, including 2011 and last year, but he also missed most of 2010 and 2012 with injuries. He sat out Tuesday with a tight calf muscle. That was a precaution but there still are questions of his durability.
The Yankees hope Ellsbury hangs in. They are paying him until 2020. New York also has long-term deals with Teixeira (ending in 2016), Rodriguez (until 2017), pitchers Masahiro Tanaka (2020) and CC Sabathia (2017), catcher Brian McCann (2018) and outfielder Brett Gardner (2018).
The Sox have tried the big-time contract avenue before. The addition of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in 2011 became a yoke. When Boston jettisoned those contracts to the Dodgers, the rebuilding began.
Now Boston is a winner again. Its success over 10 years has come from combining veterans with players coming through the system, like a speedy outfielder named Jacoby Ellsbury who helped the Portland Sea Dogs win the Eastern League title in 2006, and the Red Sox a World Series championship in 2007.
He was exciting. He has moved to a team that uses a different model.
Boston liked the younger, less expensive Ellsbury. New York is taking on the older, costlier version.
It seems pretty normal.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:[email protected]