Thursday, November 7, 2013

Can Scott Boras Obtain Above-Market Deals for Ellsbury and Choo?

Scott Boras is touted by many as a “super-agent” after constructing some of baseball’s most lucrative contracts. He has also been able to create deals for players well above the anticipated market several times. Near the top of many free-agent rankings are two Boras clients, outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo. Each player is looking at very rewarding long-term deals and has the right man working for them to accomplish the task.

There are comparables for each player and Boras typically knows how to go well above those when dealing with new contracts. I thought it would be interesting to speculate about Boras’ ability to garner Ellsbury and Choo above-market contracts.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr
Ellsbury, in timely fashion, put together a fantastic season for the 2013 World Champion Boston Red Sox. The center fielder compiled a line of .298/.355/.426 and an OPS+ of 114. Ellsbury stole 52 bases in 2013, the second time he has led the majors.

Ellsbury bounced back from an injury-shortened 2012 campaign and MLB Trade Rumors’ Tim Dierkes’ estimation of seven-years, $150 million, would put Ellsbury above Carl Crawford’s seven-year/$142 contract he signed three years ago. Dierkes has Ellsbury ranked #2 among all free agents, while Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan has him fifth.

Ellsbury recorded a 5.8 WAR accordingto FanGraphs in 2013, which equates to a performance value of $28.9 million. If there is a hesitation with Ellsbury, it is his injury history. He played in just 74 games in 2012 and he missed 28 games in 2013. If the injury bug is considered a problem, teams will lower their offers.

No one expects Ellsbury to blast 32 home runs again as he did in 2011 en route to a 9.1 WAR, ($41.1 million value), but Boras will certainly use the fact he has such a season under his belt as leverage. Ellsbury’s abilities are mostly demonstrated with his legs, turning singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Not only can he rack up stolen bases, he is very efficient when doing so (52-of-56 in 2013).

If we consider simple inflation and Ellsbury’s performance matching or surpassing Crawford’s, Dierkes’ estimation is a valid one. Ellsbury’s potential suitors, the Seattle Mariners, Red Sox, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs all have big wallets which could bring about a bidding war. Can Boras eek more out of the market? I bet he can. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Ellsbury getting another 5-8 percent on top of Dierkes’ guess, so somewhere in the $157.5 - $162 million range for the same seven years.

Shin-Soo Choo

Courtesy of glennia via Flickr
Choo, who played center field in 2013, is more suited for a corner outfield position and is generally considered to be below average in the field, if not a detriment. But, it is his bat, eyes and speed that make him an attractive free agent. Choo ranked fourth in MLB with a .423 OBP in 2013, recorded a 21 HR/20 SB season with an .885 OPS and 143 OPS+. Choo owns a career line of .288/.389/.465.

Choo, ranked #3 by both Dierkes and Passan among free agents, managed a 5.2 WAR in 2013 which translates to $26.1 in performance value. Unfortunately for Choo, his defensive misgivings (-15.8 UZR/150 in 2013) really drop him back a peg or two.

Choo has been compared with Hunter Pence as a equivalent player in the recent market. Pence just signed a five-year, $90 million extension with the San Francisco Giants at the end of September. Pence also displays a nice power/speed combination (27 HR and 22 SB in 2013) and owns a career line of .285/.339/.476. This resembles Choo in average and slugging percentage, but Choo’s on-base percentage dwarfs Pence’s. This is certainly something that Boras will note when teams bring up Pence’s deal.

When comparing Choo to Ellsbury, he may seem like a bargain at six-years, $100 million which Dierkes foresees. Most of the teams targeting Ellsbury also have Choo on their radar, likely as a fall-back option. If it plays out that way, and I bet Boras wants it to, Choo could see a bump in value, especially if Ellsbury does better than the market indicates as I’ve suggested. Six-years, $108-110 million (that’s 8-10 percent more than Dierkes’ guess) would not be out of the question for Choo, again depending on Ellsbury’s deal.

Boras is incredibly adept at creating a market beyond the market when it comes to above-average and elite free agents (see Barry Zito and Jayson Werth). In Ellsbury and Choo he has that type of quality. He benefits from teams with money to spend as the interested parties and MLB is rolling in revenue dollars unmatched in recent years. I’d expect both Ellsbury and Choo to sign for more than Dierkes’ estimates and potentially establish a new outfield market in the process.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.