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The cost of doing business on the free agent market

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After last night’s fairly late development with Jacoby Ellsbury, I spent part of today reaching out to a few different executives from other teams to get their sense of the signing.

“This surprised a lot of us,” one wrote in an email. “He is a solid player but not worth the length or (money). Has had some health issues that would worry me for (the) length of commitment. Would have looked at other options with shorter commitments.”

Seems to be a fairly common opinion in the wake of such a lengthy and substantial contract with a guy who’s game is based on speed and a guy who’s spent quite a bit of time on the disabled list the past few years. I myself wrote more than once that I didn’t think Ellsbury was a great fit for the Yankees this offseason. I do think Ellsbury is a great player — I was one of only two people who had him on my MVP ballot this year — but I tend to agree that this is a huge amount of money and a substantial long-term risk. Ellsbury is not a safe signing or a bargain signing.

But that’s life on the free agent market.

These days, the safest long-term contracts seem to be the ones signed before a player actually hits the open market, and the only free agent bargains are often the short-term, risk-reward deals with players who have a lot to prove and often limited upside (older players looking for a resurgence, injured players who make a stunning comeback, anonymous players on the verge of a breakout). Signing the big names — especially the big names in their prime — requires a huge commitment of both money and years. That’s almost completely unavoidable.

So, do I think the Ellsbury signing is a good one? I think the Yankees needed to be aggressive to avoid becoming desperate, and I think Ellsbury could be a tremendously valuable player for a long time. All of the negative that comes with him is simply the cost of having to plug holes through free agency.

Associated Press photo