Free agency has begun, and even though players aren't allowed to sign with new teams just yet, the Yankees, according to Jon Heyman, are already linked to Jacoby Ellsbury. The team already has Alfonso Soriano and Brett Gardner penciled into their 2014 outfield, but there's still a huge void out there, even with Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells in the fold.
Ellsbury, now a two-time World Champion with the Red Sox, hits free agency at a pretty good time. The 30-year-old produced a solid season in the lead off spot with Boston, hitting .298/.355/.426 with a 113 wRC+ in 134 games and 636 plate appearances. He also stole a Major-League-high 52 bases and produced a 5.8 fWAR, good for 13th in Major League Baseball. Ellsbury also provides good defense in center field, as he posted a 12.9 UZR/150 and a 13 DRS. He wasn't only good in 2013 on defense; he has a career UZR/150 of 10.2 and a DRS of 27.
There are some strings attached with Ellsbury, however. He's mainly a speed-first, power-second type of player. Since 2008, his first full season in the Majors, Ellsbury ranks third in all of baseball with 232 stolen bases. In that same span, Ellsbury has also hit 62 home runs and posted an ISO of .141. Those power numbers may not seem bad, but they're mostly inflated due to his 2011 when he popped 32 home runs and sported a .231 ISO. A 30+ homer, .230+ ISO player is someone Ellsbury is not. If you take out his breakout 2011, he has just 30 home runs and a .117 ISO in now five seasons since 2008. That's a lot more like it.
The injury bug is also no stranger to Ellsbury. Three seasons ago Ellsbury and then Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre collided on a popup resulting in broken ribs for the former. The injury, which was suffered on April 11, 2010, ultimately sidelined him for 144 games. He tried to come back twice during the year; he played three games in late-May and nine more games in August, respectively, but he suffered setbacks each time and his season ended on August 13.
Fast forward to April 13, 2012 when Ellsbury injured his right shoulder while sliding into second to try to break up a double play. The injury kept him out for three months until July 13 and he hit .278/.314/.379 in his final 67 games once he returned. Just a couple months ago this past season, Ellsbury fractured his right foot after fouling off a pitch, which kept him out from September 6-25. Finally, the left-handed outfielder dealt with an injured hand in the second half of the season and through the playoffs. It didn't seem to affect him too much in the second half of the year, though, as he hit .285/.330/.435. However, in the playoffs, his OPS-by-round got progressively worse (1.137 in ALDS, .878 in ALCS, .599 in World Series) so perhaps it became a problem for him then. Who knows.
Considering he's one of the best, if not the second-best, free agents available on the market, he'll assuredly get a nine-figure contract from someone, and I hope that someone is not the Yankees. It may not even be the Yankees, in fact. Sure, they've reportedly expressed interest in him, but I sense this is a case where they may be trying to drive up the price for other teams a la with Carl Crawford just a few off-seasons ago. Though the team has an obvious need in the outfield and Ellsbury is a productive player, this is exactly the type of player you don't won't to commit to for several years and north of $100 million. Once his speed goes, so does his career, and I don't want the Yankees to witness a nasty decline like that.