It wasn’t unthinkable, but many observers considered the Yankees low on Jacoby Ellsbury’s shopping list. Ellsbury’s signing of a seven-year contract with the New York rivals was a twist of the dagger in the heart of Red Sox Nation, a sad defection evoking memories of Johnny Damon making the trip south a decade ago. Yesterday Damon reflected,
When I was a free agent, I did not want to leave Boston, I left my heart and soul on the field, but unfortunately us players aren’t the ones making those decisions. The owners are the ones who are paying us. They’re running their team and they’re running it the way that they want.
There are a lot of similarities in these signings, with Damon the erstwhile Red Sox center fielder with speed, clutch hitting, and some fragility in his body. In losing both Damon and Ellsbury to the Yankees, the Red Sox knew what they were giving up, but calculated their losses. In Damon the Yankees did get a clutch performer, but also one beset by injuries in the twilight of his career.
Without a doubt Ellsbury’s’ fragility must have figured into the limitations the Red Sox placed on the length of his contract. Dustin Pedroia received a substantial contract renewal this year, but his track record has been to play, even through crippling injury. Ellsbury plays a position subject to injury every night, and he has the penchant for fouling pitches off his foot and ankle. He is definitely in the deep end of the risk pool.
I won’t forget, however, the fall evening this year, when he fouled a pitch off the small unprotected spot on his ankle, then proceeded to steal a base and take third on an overthrow. That night his hustle turned the game around and showed his grit playing through an injury that later sidelined him. Maybe he was playing for a new contract, but he played to win, and the Red Sox benefited.
Losing Ellsbury to the Yankees hurts now and could become a plague in the future. Once on base he will torment the American League by moving around almost at will. The unanswered question remains whether he will stay healthy and give the Yankees playing time for their many dollars. The Red Sox are gambling that he won’t.