A week or so after the season ended, I published my early top 10 for 2014 (link). Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who finished No. 7 overall on the ESPN Player Rater, came in at No. 9, sandwiched between the Brewers' Carlos Gomez and the Orioles' Chris Davis. My thinking: Ellsbury scored 92 runs and stole 52 bags in 2013. He missed 28 games. Imagine his numbers over a full 162. (This has been "Deep Thoughts by Alex Kantecki.")
Then -- this part may or may not be entirely true -- Ray Guilfoyle posted why I was crazy stupid for loving Ells, who Ray ranked No. 25 in his initial outfielder rankings, and challenged me to a writer's duel. Ray made some excellent points, including the scary thought of Ellsbury patrolling center field in Seattle, but I'm here to defend my honor. To start, here are my top-10 outfielders for 2014, the still way too-early edition:
- Mike Trout
- Andrew McCutchen
- Carlos Gonzalez
- Carlos Gomez
- Adam Jones*
- Jacoby Ellsbury
- Bryce Harper
- Giancarlo Stanton
- Ryan Braun
- Jay Bruce
*Since my initial top-10 rankings, I have moved Adam Jones one spot ahead of Ellsbury. Back-to-back 30-home run seasons and an average of 15 steals the past two seasons is too hard to ignore.
Looking at this list, there are a lot of question marks. Does Gomez put together another 20-30 season? Can Giancarlo Stanton succeed in Miami-ami? Will "clean" Ryan Braun still produce at an elite level? I think yes, yes and probably yes, by the way. The point is, I think most of these top-10 options -- excluding Trout and McCutchen, and you can argue Jones -- all carry a fair amount of risk next season.
The common theme among Ellsbury haters is, "...but he's an injury risk!" True. Ellsbury missed 144 games in 2010 and 88 more in 2012. This year, the 30-year-old outfielder missed 28 games, but he still led the majors in steals. He now has 50 or more steals in three seasons since 2008, including 70 (!) in 2009 and a 39-steal season in 2011, when he also blasted 32 home runs with 119 runs and 105 RBIs. He was basically Mike Trout that year.
Ray has since wrote a "Who'd you rather?" post asking readers to choose between Ellsbury and Matt Kemp in 2014, and, as you can tell by my rankings, I'd 100 percent of the time go Ellsbury over Kemp. Both outfielders have been limited by injuries, but Ellsbury has proven -- as recently as this year -- that he is capable of being elite in at least one category, while Kemp has been completely limited by his injuries since breaking out in 2011. And for those of you worried about Ellsbury's performance for next season, FanGraphs' Jeff Zimmerman looked at the performance of players returning from a fractured foot and came away with positive findings.
Ellsbury will soon be a free agent and is sure to get a ton of money on the open market. After the World Series, it's likely he finds a new home -- unless he's willing to take a discount to stay in Boston -- and a destination that's' been heavily discussed is Seattle. While his run production could certainly take a hit in Seattle, Ellsbury's best asset, his speed, would be unaffected. Another possible destination? How about Detroit? That was brought up Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe soon after the Red Sox bounced the Tigers from the postseason. Yeah, I don't think many would worry about his fantasy value there.
I understand the anxiety that comes with drafting Ellsbury. He's no guarantee to finish the season and he can torpedo a season with an unlucky break. But who in the top 10 doesn't come with a similar risk? Braun, Kemp and Giancarlo Stanton were all selected as top-10 hitters in 2013 drafts and not a single one finished in the top 50 among outfielders. Outfielders!
I purposely decided not to go stat heavy in this post because it's mostly "gut" and "feeling" driven. I've never been a huge Ellsbury guy in the past, but I do see an elite base stealer with the potential for 100-plus runs -- to go along with a career .297 BA -- and I'm not going to completely ignore it because of a past history of injuries. I also don't think it's going to require a top-10 pick to draft Ellsbury, but the chances of him finishing there are better than not in my book.