Every MLB offseason brings a series of contracts in which players seem to be vastly overpaid for their future service based on their past performance.
No. 1 -- thus far -- this offseason is Jacoby Ellsbury. This fortunate young man, 30, arrived at free agency at just the right time. It doesn’t matter that his credentials don’t begin to approach superstar status. It matters that of the available players he was regarded as the second best behind only Robinson Cano.
Which is why the Yankees have agreed to pay Ellsbury, a fleet center fielder, $153 million for the next seven seasons. That’s a pinch under $22 million a year.
The mind staggers at what Andrew McCutchen will be worth when he hits free agency. In March of 2012, McCutchen signed a contract whose guaranteed value was $51.5 million. That deal is set to expire after the 2017 season, but there is a club option at $14.5 million that could extend the deal one more season.
There’s no telling today how that contract will play out. McCutchen would be a raging bargain in 2018 at $14.5 million. But if the Pirates are floundering, he’d also be a fabulous trade chip in 2017.
At any rate, it seems incomprehensible that the PIrates could sign McCutchen to a new deal. If Ellsbury is worth $22 million for seven years in 2013, McCutchen would be worth at least $30 million a season in 2018.
Ellsbury has parlayed one outstanding season into this contract. By 2018, if all goes as it appears it will, McCutchen likely will have half-a-dozen brilliant seasons.
In 2011, Ellsbury hit 31 home runs and drove in 96 runs. Before, dating back to his rookie year of 2007, and since, he has never hit even double-digit home runs and never driven in more than 60 runs. He is a fine leadoff and an excellent base stealer. But he’s not -- in any sane world -- worth $22 million a season for the next seven years.
Among MLB leadoff hitters with more than 300 at bats last year, Ellsbury ranked sixth in on-base percentage at .355. Among the players in front of him was Dexter Fowler (.378), who was traded yesterday by Colorado to Houston for a back-of-the rotation starter. His OPS was sixth, also behind Fowler, at .781, which was 133 points behind leader Shin-Soo Choo, also a free agent.
Ellsbury is a superior base stealer. He led MLB with 52. Earlier in his career, he stole 50 and 70 bases. He’s also won a Gold Glove, but that was in 2011 when his offensive numbers, as often happens, might have had as much to with that honor as his defensive skills.
This is Ellsbury’s slash line for 2013: .298/.355/.426 -- .781
This is McCutchen’s slash line for 2013: .317/.404/.508 -- .911
This is Ellsbury’s career slash line: .297/.350/.439 -- .785
This is McCutchen’s career slash line: .296/.380/.489 -- .869
But these figures -- stats and salaries -- Ellsbury is one of the most overpaid players in MLB or McCutchen is one of the most underpaid. Probably both.