Boras: Ellsbury interest higher than normal

ORLANDO -- Three years ago, when the Red Sox signed outfielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million contract, then-manager Terry Francona quickly labeled him a “game-changer,” while rival manager Joe Girardi of the Yankees called him a “difference-maker.”

Interesting, then, to hear agent Scott Boras employ similar language to describe free agent Jacoby Ellsbury Tuesday afternoon, and then quickly dismiss Crawford’s deal as an “old contract” when asked about whether it could serve as a comparative for Ellsbury.

“For any elite player, the number of premium players at that level who get to free agency now are rare,” Boras said, responding to a question of how much interest there is in Ellsbury. “Teams recognize that. I think they view those players as difference-makers -- and getting players that are top-five offense, top-five defense at their positions, and they’re young, are a real opportunity for a franchise.”

And what makes Crawford’s deal an “old contract,” given that it was signed just three years ago?

“Because the revenues have changed, the markets have changed,” Boras said. “I think if markets had gone down, you’d probably be looking at something different, but the markets go up.

“There’s certainly a base point of what teams do and things you look at. I don’t know of any players in this market that are like him [Crawford], but there are players that are different from him and are of greater value.”

Without filling in the blanks, Boras clearly believes Ellsbury fits in that category and contends there are plenty of teams interested in him.

“It’s far more than normal for elite players these days because just the revenue structure of the game invites a lot more applicants,” Boras said, “and the rareness of the talent and position of players has a lot to do with the volume of interest. I won’t give you specific numbers, but it’s more than normal.”

The Red Sox remain one of those teams -- Boras said he spoke with Red Sox GM Ben Cherington here -- but if Boras is truly intent on landing a bigger deal than Crawford got from Boston in 2010, it’s hard to envision the Sox remaining in the bidding for long.

Boston’s strategy, developed last year, was a willingness to take on a high average annual value in salary in exchange for fewer years. That might not work to keep Ellsbury, even if at this stage his suitors are not immediately apparent, with the usual major-market suspects -- the New York teams, the L.A. teams, Detroit and the Chicago teams -- seemingly not in the mix. The San Francisco Giants also are out.

Boras contends that Ellsbury has greater value than the prototypical speed-defense leadoff-type center fielder because he can slug enough to bat in the No. 3 spot in a batting order. He makes that case even though Ellsbury’s home run production dropped from 32 in 732 plate appearances in 2011 to nine in 636 plate appearances last season. The '11 season is the only time in his career that Ellsbury has reached double figures in home runs.

“I think the fact is Ells conditioned himself and did things to become what he needed to become to help this style of team,” Boras said. “That was stealing bases, being a leadoff hitter and being on base and, frankly, getting to second base as much as possible. That’s what he geared himself to do, and also the fact that he played a good portion of the season with a very, very swollen wrist and hand.’’

It’s not clear how hitting fewer home runs helped the team or made Ellsbury a more effective leadoff man. His doubles also decreased substantially, from 46 in 2011 to 31 in 2013.

“The fact of the matter is, Jacoby Ellsbury’s compensation is going to be based on all five of his tools [and] his slugging overall, not the fact that he hits 15 home runs or 25 home runs,’’ Boras said. “The fact is, in today’s game, having players that are that skilled at that position create value, not just power alone. He hits a ball into the gap, it’s a double, and if he hits the ball out and does it 18 times as opposed to 10 times, I’m not sure it has any difference in his value.’’

What should add value, Boras contended, is this:

“Being a world champion, obviously, not once but twice, says a lot about who you are in a locker room, who you are on a team, your ability to play in a major market,” Boras said. “All those things play into a very different evaluation.”