By Steve Silverman
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The hatred is back in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
Jacoby Ellsbury had been a mainstay in the Boston lineup. He had been a key part of two World Series-winning teams. He was an excellent center fielder in Fenway, stole bases like no other Red Sox player in the last 85 years and he could hit.
He had come up through the Red Sox system and he was beloved by the fans.
Not anymore. He will be booed as loudly as Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens were when they came back to Fenway.
Let’s say exactly what is going on here. The Red Sox have lost one of their five best players, perhaps No. 3 behind World Series MVP David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. He will become one of the Yankees’ most important players and will give their lineup a dramatic upgrade.
Ellsbury dominates old-school stats and new-school numbers. He hit .298, scored 92 runs, drove in 53 runs and stole 52 bases in 2013. He had a slash line (on base percentage, slugging percentage, on base plus slugging) of .355/.426/.781 last year. He also had a WAR of 5.8.
He also fought back from a late-season foot injury and a swollen hand in the postseason. The fact that he returned to the lineup following those two injuries answered questions that Ellsbury had never been able to do in the past. It showed some degree of toughness and resiliency.
Prior to last season, Ellsbury had been all about babying his injuries and making sure he was 100 percent before he returned. That may not be fair, but that’s how some of his Red Sox teammates thought about him when he played 18 games in 2010 and 74 games in 2012 with injuries that did not appear to be that serious.
Ellsbury, 30, may turn out to be the key player in the Yankees lineup next year. He’s that one extra bat who can turn a game around with a big late-inning hit. If he doesn’t do it with his bat, he may very well do it with his glove or legs.
But Yankee fans need to take note of one other thing in Ellsbury’s history. Brian Cashman had to give it some thought, but he chose to give Ellsbury a seven-year, $153 million deal anyway.
Let’s look at Ellsbury’s home run totals with the Red Sox: 2007 – 3; 2008 – 9; 2009 – 9 2010 – 0; 2011 – 32; 2012 – 4, 2013 – 9.
Ellsbury had some season in 2011, just missing out on the MVP Award that was given to Justin Verlander. He hit .321, drove in 105 runs and stole 39 bases. His slash line was .376/.552/.928 and he had a WAR of 8.1.
If you are wondering how a player who has never had another season in which he has reached double-digits in home runs could reach 32, you are not alone.
It was a brilliant season, but it’s going to dog Ellsbury for years. If he can’t hit 25-plus home runs with the short porch in right field, Yankees fans are going to wonder why.
Cashman may have explored that question with Ellsbury and Scott Boras. It’s doubtful that he got any kind of substantive answer.
Ellsbury has a magnificent swing and he does hit the ball hard. He can get some distance on his shots. But to suddenly reach the 32-home run mark when he has never had 10 leads to questions.
The guess here is that Ellsbury will never reach 20 home runs again in his career. But he will be a game-changing ballplayer.
The rosters of both the Yankees and Red Sox still have to go through additional changes before the start of spring training. However, the Yankees have already done a lot of catching up.
The Red Sox may be the defending world champions, but they have been hit broadside by this signing. Seeing Ellsbury in a Yankee uniform will be like seeing Luis Tiant, Boggs, Clemens and Johnny Damon in pinstripes for the Red Sox. Oh, yes, and a chubby right fielder/pitcher named George Herman Ruth.
It will make their blood boil.
This is another area that the Red Sox will never catch the Yankees. The players that have gone the other direction in the rivalry include Danny Cater, Mike Torrez and Ramiro Mendoza.
The rivalry was tame in 2012 (when the Red Sox were awful) and 2013 (when the Yankees were besieged by injuries).
The Ellsbury signing means that it is back in full force.
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