COMMENTARY | The Boston Red Sox are the best team in baseball in 2013, but with several important players in the final year of contracts, general manager Ben Cherington is going to have his work cut out for him in the offseason.
The list of potential free agents Boston should be concerned about losing includes catcher Jared Saltalamacchia, reliever Joel Hanrahan and power threat Mike Napoli. If the Red Sox lose any of these three players, the team could really struggle in 2014.
But the one potential free agent Boston absolutely cannot afford to see slip away is star outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
The most exciting player in recent memory
Ellsbury, who has admittedly taken a step back in terms of power production since hitting an astounding 32 home runs in 2011, is still one of the most exciting players to put on the Red Sox uniform in quite some time. He plays exceptional defense, he has incredible speed, and he's capable of hitting a ball deep when the situation calls for it. In short, Ellsbury can do a little bit of everything and without him, the team just wouldn't be able to function offensively the way it has this season.
By the numbers
In 2013, Ellsbury has a very solid batting average of .299, an on-base percentage of .355, 89 runs, 8 triples and a league-leading 52 stolen bases. He currently ranks seventh in the American League in runs scored, third in triples, first in stolen bases, ninth in singles and second in stolen-base percentage, swiping bases successfully over 92 percent of the time.
Perhaps, even more important, in Red Sox wins, Ellsbury is hitting .340 with 48 home runs, 232 RBIs and 159 stolen bases over his career. But when the team loses, he is only hitting .241 with an on-base percentage of .291. This proves that when the team is successful, Ellsbury is often a big part of the equation.
Ellsbury's injury history makes the team nervous
A lot of Boston fans are reasonably concerned that because Ellsbury has a history of getting some rather serious injuries, the team should avoid investing in any sort of a long-term deal. But if the team dumps Ellsbury to find someone more reliable, whom is it going to sign that is going to be able to produce those kinds of numbers?
The reality is that unless Ellsbury demands a ridiculous salary, the Red Sox have to take a chance on a guy who only just turned 30 years old and is now in the prime of his career. Is there a possibility that a major injury could sideline him for a season? Yes. But again, what is the alternative?
Learning from mistakes
Perhaps the most important reason Ellsbury must be signed is because, as recent history has proven over and over again, free agency is a total crapshoot. On paper, the Red Sox were unquestionably a better team to start the season in 2012 than they were at the start of this season, so why is it that Boston played so poorly last year and so well this year? Other than a change in the manager, this Red Sox team is full of players who shine under the bright lights of Fenway Park. Some guys (cough, cough, Carl Crawford, J.D. Drew, Julio Lugo and Edgar Renteria) are just incapable of doing that.
Now that Boston has found a group of guys who can handle the pressure and play well despite all of the issues that come with being on one of the nation's most popular teams, the Red Sox should do everything they can to keep those guys around, especially when those players were brought up through the team's own farm system.
The Red Sox have a lot of tough choices to make in the offseason, and it's understandable that Boston may be weary of signing any player to a long-term deal after the miserable experience of Carl Crawford, but if the team is willing to sign Dustin Pedroia to a seven-year extension worth huge money, it should seriously consider giving Ellsbury at least four years. It's a bit of a risk, but letting Ellsbury go would almost certainly be a disaster.
Don't agree with me? Tell me why I am wrong on Twitter @THATCelticsGuy.
Justin Haskins is a New England native and a freelance journalist. He has been obsessively following Boston professional sports for 10 years and has been published in numerous online publications and websites.
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- Jacoby Ellsbury