Normally, when Ruben Amaro speaks, not much of it can be relied on. He obfuscates, dances around the edges, and rarely lets you pin him down. But in a revealing interview with MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki Monday, Amaro seemed to hint at some of his plans for this off-season.
Reading between the lines, it seems clear the Phillies are targeting Boston’s soon-to-be free agent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury this off-season.
Amaro said Darin Ruf cannot be considered their everyday right fielder.
“I think he can fill in for us,” he said, “but I can’t sit here and tell you that he’s an everyday player for us. He’s going to have to fight for a job in some way, shape or form. Can he add some depth to our bench, to our club overall? Call he play a little left, can he play a little right, can he play a little first and give Howard a blow? He can become valuable in that regard. But I don’t know he’s an everyday player yet. It’s hard to say that he’s an everyday player in the outfield. I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice, because we just need to be better in the outfield defensively.”
Amaro hinted the Phillies could get creative, find a center fielder and possibly move Revere into left and Brown into right. That could be an option because the pickings are slim for free-agent, right-handed-hitting corner outfielders. The top of the list includes Nelson Cruz, who just served a 50-game suspension for using a performance enhancing substance; Corey Hart, who missed the entire season following surgeries on both knees; and Carlos Beltran, the switch-hitter who turns 37 in April.
The Phillies certainly will try to acquire Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, but so will every other team in baseball if he becomes available.
“One just got tied up, unfortunately, in Hunter (Pence),” Amaro said one of possibility. “There aren’t a lot of them. There are some guys out there, but there may be someone we can acquire. We may have to go even more left-handed. If the quality of the player to get needs to be left-handed, and he’s a quality player who can play the outfield and play defense and do the things we need him to do, then we have to go with a left-handed hitter.”
First of all, it’s scary that Amaro was considering Pence as a possibility to return to the Phillies, but we’ll jump off that bridge some other time. What is interesting is that Amaro is considering moving Revere to a corner outfield position and that he doesn’t consider Darin Ruf to be an everyday player yet.
And he’s right. Ruf is not an everyday player, but he could be an extremely valuable bench piece as a platoon-mate with Ryan Howard and/or Revere.
But it certainly sounds like Amaro is not enamored with his choices for corner outfield. And it also seems clear that Amaro is willing to add another left-handed hitter to the lineup, even though that would make the Phils even more vulnerable to left-handed pitching (the Phillies ranked 22nd against left-handers last year with a .679 OPS).
Ruben is also stressing defense, noting how awful the Phils’ outfield defense was this year (and it was).
Does it not seem clear to everyone that he’s talking about Jacoby Ellsbury?
The 30-year-old Ellsbury did have a terrific bounce-back 2013 season, hitting .298/.355/.426 for an OPS of .781, with nine home runs, eight triples, 31 doubles and a league-leading 52 stolen bases. He was caught stealing just four times last year, and had a bWAR of 5.7 this year.
The Phils leader in fWAR this year was Chase Utley at 3.9. The next closest was Domonic Brown and Jimmy Rollins at 1.9. So, needless to say, Ellsbury would instantly become the best player on the Phillies.
However, Ellsbury’s excellent season also means he’s going to get a ton of money, likely surpassing B.J. Upton‘s five-year, $75.25 million deal last year with Atlanta. He also has durability issues. He missed 28 games this year due to injury and played in just 74 games in 2012. He did play a full season in 2010, the year he finished 2nd in the AL MVP vote, but the year before that, he played in only 18 games.
Ellsbury will probably get a six or seven-year deal approaching $18-20 million a year, especially given this inflated free agent market. So, expect a seven-year, $140 million deal for Jacoby, and that figure might even be a bit low. A seven-year contract would take him through his 37th birthday. A contract that long would be a nightmare on the back end, especially when you consider how much of Ellsbury’s game relies on his speed.
But when healthy, Jacoby Ellsbury is a difference maker. He’d instantly become the best player on the Phillies. And while it wouldn’t do anything to fix the lack of a right-handed power hitter in the middle of the lineup, he would upgrade the offense and, certainly the defense.
However, it would make the Phillies extremely left-handed, and would give the Phils a lot of small-ball players (along with Revere and Rollins).
In the end, the Phillies should probably stay away from Ellsbury.
Which is why the Phillies will probably go after him.