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There figures to always be a soft spot in Tommy Harperâs heart for Jacoby Ellsbury. Harper got to know Ellsbury when the latter was on the fast track through the minor-league ranks, hence why the former had no trouble relinquishing his 36-year-old Red Sox record of 54 stolen bases in a single season, which Ellsbury shattered with 70 thefts in 2009.
When the topic of Ellsbury and the lavish seven-year, $153-million deal he reportedly agreed to with the New York Yankees came up during a phone interview on Wednesday, Harper elicited a response that was part clairvoyant, part reality check.
âNo, not to me. Who else can afford him?â said Harper when asked if he was caught off-guard with Ellsburyâs decision to sign with Bostonâs chief rival. âThe team they end up going to doesnât surprise me. If youâre going to go for that kind of money, where else are you going to get it? Youâre talking Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers.
âWith the Yankees, people have to understand that itâs not your money. The Yankees didnât have to do it, but they did.â
From Harperâs vantage point, the handwriting was on the wall regarding Ellsburyâs future in Boston when Ellsbury chose to follow the script that Jonathan Papelbon adhered to as opposed to Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Dustin Pedroia. All three Red Sox opted to sign long-term contracts rather than let the system play out and see what the market holds, which Papelbon and Ellsbury opted to do.
âIf Jacoby wanted to sign with the Red Sox, he would have done what (Lester, Buchholz and Pedroia) did, but he didnât,â Harper said. âAt that point, you know heâs going somewhere.â
Told of the number of years Ellsbury received from New York, Harper said he wasnât shocked.
âScott Boras has said for a while now that he wanted [a contract for Ellsbury similar if not better than the seven-year, $142-million pact the Red Sox gave disgruntled outfielder Carl Crawford three winters ago], and he got it. He told you what the parameters were,â Harper remarked. âIf you have got Boras for an agent, heâs going for the money. If you donât want the money, donât pick Scott Boras. If youâre close to free agency, heâs going to go the full route. Heâs not going to give any hometown discounts. His players, theyâll go anywhere as long as the money is in the ballpark.
âThe Red Sox arenât into the seven-year deals, and if Jacoby wanted that amount of years, he almost eliminated himself from some teams,â Harper added.
Switching gears to the baseball side of Ellsburyâs mammoth payday, Harper says that what the Yankees did is understandable considering their current outfield arrangement.
â(Curtis) Granderson is a free agent. They have (Brett) Gardner, whoâs not Ellsbury, and Ichiro,â he explained. âIt makes sense for them to spend the money and they are in the market for people.â
On the surface, it made perfect sense as to why Harper took a special interest in a speedster of Ellsburyâs ilk. From one player who used the stolen base as a primary means to carve out a 15-year MLB career â Harper stole 408 bags, good for 67th all-time â to a modern-day player in Ellsbury, who led the American League in steals in three of his seven seasons with the Red Sox, the two appeared cut from the same baseball cloth.
Harper will remember Ellsbury as someone âwho doesnât talk much. As far as playing, he hasnât gotten back to the year that he had when he was almost MVP.â
Harper is referring to Ellsburyâs 2011 otherworldly campaign. That season saw him connect for 32 home runs â his second highest total in a single season is nine â and swipe 39 bases.
âThe question is his power. Of course he doesnât throw very well, but everybody knows that,â said Harper. â(Such perceived shortcomings) donât make a difference in todayâs game. Everyone has flaws, but teams still give them the money because the game is so watered down that there arenât many elite players out there.
âJacoby has grown. Heâs a helluva stolen-base guy and gets on base. When he puts it all together â the Yankees are probably thinking that heâs going to supply a little more power â he should do all right. He is more mature and takes the game in stride. Heâs Fred Lynn â he just puts on his uniform and at the end of the day he goes home. Heâs not a rah-rah guy.â
Then came the topic regarding the injuries Ellsbury dealt with during his Red Sox tenure.
âPeople always said that he was out of the lineup, but if you break your ribs and dislocate your shoulder, youâre going to hear things like âI would never have given him that amount of money and that many years,ââ said Harper, referencing two gruesome injuries that short-circuited two seasons for Ellsbury. âIf the Red Sox would have come up with the money and the years, I think Ellsbury would have stayed.â
To Harper, the fact that Ellsbury returned for the 2013 playoffs after breaking a bone in his right foot in September should put to rest any concerns that fans had regarding the 30-year-oldâs toughness.
âHe jumped right back in there like he had never left,â Harper pointed out.
With Ellsbury changing his work address, the question du jour surrounds Jackie Bradley Jr. and whether the 23-year-old is truly ready to become the heir to a lynchpin of two World Series winners.
In keeping to his duties as a player development consultant with the Red Sox, Harper spent quite a bit of time at McCoy Stadium as the 2013 regular season drew to a close in order to get a better feel of Bradley. On some levels, Bradley reminded Harper of where Ellsbury stood as he neared full-time duty in the majors.
âTo me, Jackieâs still going to have to earn it,â said Harper. âWhether he can do it or not, I donât know. We donât know what he can do (on a big-league field) yet. We also didnât know what Ellsbury could do when he first came up.
âI just think Jackie needs to show what he can do,â Harper delved further. âYour college and minor-league record, yes itâs good, but you still need to show what you can do in the big leagues.â
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