With 42 steals (91.7% success rate) and 9 triples in 2013, Ellsbury leads MLB in both categories. Ellsbury, 29, has hits in 88 of 110 games this season, which is the most by any leadoff hitter in baseball. With a team-leading WAR of 4.7, he is ranked as the No. 2 free agent in the MLB Trade Rumors' top 10 rankings heading into the offseason.
The only other outfielders that ranked in the top 10 on the list: Shin-Soo Choo (31 years old) and former Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran (36).
The Mets enter the upcoming offseason in desperate need of improvement in the outfield. For the 2014 MLB season, however, only David Wright ($20 million) and Jonathan Niese ($5 million) will be under contract. This allows a complete reconstruction of the New York Mets' financial statement.
With the franchise no longer financially obligated to both Johan Santana and Jason Bay, Cot's Baseball Contracts reports $60 million will come off of the books. This drops their salaries from $93 million to $33 million in the offseason, giving the Mets more than enough room to bring Ellsbury on board.
Baseball Prospectus Red Sox writer Dan Brooks reports that Ellsbury could be worth roughly $12 million per year when he becomes a free agent. This would be similar to the contract structure (4 years/$48 million) given to Michael Bourn (2012 stats: .274/.348/.391 with 42 steals) last offseason.
If the Mets were to enter a "bidding war" with the Red Sox, they would likely pay even more.
According to ESPN Insider AJ Mass, however, the Mets' financial flexibility would allow New York to offer Ellsbury a contract that could be worth between $12-15 million per season while still having enough money left over to re-sign players (e.g. Ike Davis, Bobby Parnell and Daniel Murphy) entering arbitration deals.
Perhaps the biggest uncertainty for the Mets: What is to show that he will not slump like he did early this season?
Ellsbury hit merely .271/.313/.370 in only 74 games last season and started off the 2013 season comparably slowly. However, he has been on a tear since May 1, hitting .307/.375/.438 with 30-of-32 successful steal attempts.
According to my research at AriBall.com, the key to the rapid incline of his success has been his aggressive nature at the plate.
In 2013, Ellsbury averages only 3.28 pitches per plate appearance (MLB average: 3.8) compared to last season, in which he spent roughly 3.7 pitches at the plate per appearance.
"When swinging at the first pitch, Ellsbury has hit five doubles and a triple. When swinging at either a 1-0 pitch or an 0-1 pitch, Ellsbury has nine doubles, two triples and two home runs," writes Brian Macpherson of The Providence Journal.
Ellsbury, who has a slugging percentage of .594 on the first or second pitch of an at-bat this season, seems to have figured out they solution to his struggles both last season and early this season.
The speed and intangibles are clearly there for Ellsbury, who has even added seven home runs to his season.
An important trait for a leadoff hitter, Ellsbury also has a good eye (only swings at 14% of pitches above the zone and away/inside, compared to MLB average of 33%) and has proved that he can hit the fastball (17% of swings) with success.
His AriBall.com spray chart also shows he would have had 9 HRs (four new, one removed and all to Mets' short RF porch) had he played at Citi Field this season rather than at Fenway.
After recovering from an injury suffered in 2012, the play that made him an American League MVP candidate in 2012 is showing that it may be sustainable for future seasons as well so long as he stays quick to react at the plate.
"He's more comfortable being in a ready position on time, recognizing pitches early and taking his chances early in the count, getting the head out," said Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez. "Earlier, he probably was trying to do too much."
After signing Dustin Pedroia to an impressive 7-year, $100 million extension, however, Boston may not be so ready to pull the trigger on re-signing the outfielder as well.
"[Ellsbury's agent] Scott [Boras] has a track record of taking his players to free agency, so I'm not confident," said Red Sox GM John Henry, according to NESN.com. "It would be great if we could."
Ellsbury is hitting .301/.362/.435 (42-of-46 stolen base attempts) in the last year of his $9 million per-season contract with Boston. As Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports noted, the season before Carl Crawford received $142 million from the Red Sox, he was hitting .307/.356/.495 (47-of-57 stolen base attempts).
Crawford was later traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, packaged with Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett and clearing much of the owed salaries that had been hurting the Boston franchise.
The Red Sox's salary in 2013 is $154 million, which still is less than the payroll of previous three seasons (between $168-$175 million) by quite a margin. As the Red Sox have dominated the 2013 season with a smaller salary, they may not see the need to continue to pay tooth and nail for upcoming free agents.
While the Mets are only committed to $33 million in payroll for 2014 and have very few young outfield prospects for the future, the Red Sox already owe $106 in salary for next season and could replace Ellsbury in the outfield with prospect Jackie Bradley, Jr. (also a Scott Boras client) in 2014.
The Mets, who had a salary cap between $126-142 million from 2008-11, would be wise to invest in this young outfield star. In New York, Ellsbury would bring the immediate and electrifying play that the Mets have lacked since they failed to re-sign Jose Reyes in 2011.
Bryan Kalbrosky is an emerging writer for AriBall.com, where he analyzes baseball statistics and trends. His work has previously been featured on ESPNDenver.com, Tumblr Sports and as the lead story on BleacherReport.com. He is still coping with the fact that his Queens-born father raised him to be a follower of the New York Mets.
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