The Yankees have four outfielders as it is, Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, and Ichiro Suzuki, yet the team looks focused to not only add a fifth outfielder, but add an offensively-minded bat in right or left field. There's been mixed reports about who they like the most, but Carlos Beltran seems to be their number one target, followed by Shin-Soo Choo, and then Jacoby Ellsbury. It was reported last week that the team was still interested in Granderson, and that "he's a serious part" of their offseason plan. The team wants to land at least one of these free agents, but what about Matt Kemp? Each of these free agents has their own issues. Beltran is older, looks like he'll require a three year deal, and is slowing down in the field. Choo will require a long contract, and although he's young and extremely OBP-minded, he doesn't exactly have the power trackrecord the team usually looks for. Granderson has that power, but he's also older, and I believe it'll take a longer commitment than just three years to keep him around. Also, he's got that low average and high strike out rate to worry about. Finally, Ellsbury seems to be the most popular free agent this winter. Although he's had his fair share of injury problems, he's maintained his speed on the bases. Projections have him earning anywhere from $112 million over 6 years to $150 million over 7 years.
For a guy that's hardly been an average hitter over the last couple of years, Ellsbury's contract projections seem ridiculous. Over his last 959 plate appearances, or the last 2 seasons, the outfielder has been riddled with injuries, and he's hit just .289/.341/.407 with a 104 OPS+. He does offer speed in the outfield and on the bases, and that's his best trait at the moment, but it's a difficult tool to project going forward. If his power ever returns, he'll be well worth the money, but keep in mind that he's hit just 13 home runs since his 2011 MVP run.
I personally believe that Ellsbury's contract projections have been overhyped by the advanced data, which is basing a lot of that money on his defense and base running. In the real world, home runs and on base percentage sell, and no matter how many wins above replacement you accumulate by saving runs, a guy that's struggles to hit will not make $150 million.
So this leads me back to Kemp. If you happen to be an Ellsbury fan this winter, or you want your favorite team to sign him, why wouldn't you at least consider trading for Matt Kemp? Kemp, a year younger than Ellsbury, has a much longer history of hitting. He's owed $128 million over the next 6 years, which is right in the middle of those two lofty Ellsbury projections. Despite this, I see so many people saying that the Dodgers would have to eat a good amount of money to get rid of him.
The big question between Ellsbury and Kemp is whether or not to trust their injuries. The consensus about the two is that Kemp's problems stem from wear and tear, while Ellsbury's are from fluke incidents. Kemp has indeed faced a recurring strained hamstring, but between 2012 and 2013, the problem actually switched between two different legs. The big injury hit in 2013 was a sprained ankle, similar to the injury that Jeter played through in 2012. Ellsbury injuries history is much more severe than strains and sprains. In 2010, he went on the DL three times with fractured ribs. In 2012, Ellsbury dislocated his right shoulder on the base paths and missed 79 games. Perhaps these aren't injuries you'd expect to keep recurring, but they do hint at where he gets his value. The way he plays the game is running hard, perhaps even recklessly, and broken bones and dislocated joints will happen when you're running into other players so frequently.
Ever since Ellsbury's shoulder dislocation, he has grown dependent on his legs to contribute. With all the injury history, if something awful happened to either one of these two outfielders, I think it's Kemp's style of play that would hold up the best. His power and ability to hit for average should hold up fairly well, even if he keeps straining his hamstrings. My signing preference is still with the resolved Shin-Soo Choo, but for those fans of Ellsbury, I'm not quite sure why you wouldn't first consider Kemp. If the Dodgers are willing to eat money, he could be a huge buy-low opportunity.