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Buster Olney on M&M: ‘Going to be a crusher’ for Jacoby Ellsbury if he heads into free agency like this

05.15.13 at 1:16 pm ET

ESPN baseball writer Buster Olney joined the Mut & Merloni show Wednesday to talk about the Red Sox and news from around the majors.

The slumping Sox lost to the Rays on Tuesday night, with the winning run scoring on a popup at Tropicana Field that first baseman Mike Napoli couldn’t handle. That revived the debate about the oft-criticized domed building. Olney said the Rays would love to get out of their lease, but they have no easy way out.

“The bottom line is that they’ve got this terrible lease with the city of St. Petersburg,” Olney said. “Baseball would love for them to move out of St. Petersburg and out of the Trop. The Rays would love to move out of there. And people all around baseball would love for them to move out of there. But until the city of St. Petersburg signs off on this thing, they’re kind of stuck. And it stinks. Because that organization clearly has a lot of promise; it’s as well-run an organization as there is in baseball. They’ve done a phenomenal job of competing despite the limitations that they have within that park.

“And until it changes, it is going to feel like they’re playing in their grandmother’s basement, let’s face it. The ball hitting the ceiling, and the different rules, and how many rings and all that stuff — it’s a completely different type of baseball than there is in any other park.”

Jacoby Ellsbury, who becomes a free agent at the end of the season, is having a disappointing year at .256/.321/.363 with one home run and 13 RBIs.

“He just doesn’t look nearly as comfortable at the plate, he’s not being as efficient at the plate as he’s been in the past,” Olney said. “Let’s face it, he’s not a big guy, so he’s got to have his swing right to do the type of damage he did in 2011. And it’s having a huge impact, without a doubt, on the perception of him as a player. If he had had the type of year this year — and he’s still got three-quarters of the season to do it, he could still make a ton of money, he could theoretically be a $100 million player.

“But if he continues on this same trajectory for the entire year, it’s going to be a crusher for him in terms of how much money you would lose, to the point that you’d almost think that he’d want a mulligan and go back into free agency and come back and play for one year before he hits the market. Because you take these type of numbers into the marketplace with the current skepticism about players on long-term deals, you’re not going to get that much money.”

Rays pitcher David Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young winner, is on a one-year deal for a team-record $10.1 million. Although he can’t become a free agent for three more years, the Rays reportedly will look to trade him rather than give him another high-priced deal.

“They could actually sign David Price, but it would eat up so much of their payroll that it’s something that they would never do, because you can’t really have one player making 25 to 30 percent of your payroll, because it puts at risk so much else you do,” Olney said. “So, they really can’t grow. You’re seeing other clubs getting these new television deals and new ballparks with the suites and different things where they can grow their revenues, and the Rays just don’t have that possibility. Which means they’re always going to be the ma and pa hardware store trying to make due with pennies against the Home Depots. And that’s their reality. ‘€¦ They’re really stuck. And when you get a player like David Price, who’s almost outpriced when he joins the team, you just know that the clock is ticking, and eventually they’re going to have to move him. And that’s the expectation around the industry, is that he will not be with them by the time we get to Christmas this year.”

Price hasn’t helped his cause with his slow start this season.

“His velocity is down by 2½ miles per hour this year, and he’s been pitching more in the middle of the zone,” Olney said. “Now, when you talk to the Rays, they’ll you, hey, we don’t really think that there’s a problem. But before the Rays can get what they want in those trade talks, he’s got to get back up to that 95 miles per hour I think before other teams are necessarily going to buy him at face value.”

Red Sox closer Joel Hanrahan is out for the season with an arm injury. Olney said the Sox were aware that Hanrahan had some issues when they acquired him from the Pirates.

“I know it was definitely something that was thought of, that he was at a greater risk for injury, he’d had physical problems in the past,” Olney said. “If you look at the history of guys who go on the disabled list one year and then suffer an injury in the subsequent year, it’s incredible the percentage chance of that happening climbing, just because of that one disabled list stint.

“Now, I know he had a groin issue [in 2012], but his velocity was down in parts of last season. There was concern about his physical condition. I know he feels like he needs to be bigger to throw harder. But yeah, without a doubt. Think about it: He’s been an All-Star, and the Pirates, when they made that trade, it’s not like they got a huge return. Their big push on him was to be efficient with their salary. It wasn’t like they got two major prospects back. So, people all around baseball I think looked at Hanrahan as being a potential risk.

“We thought early on that he’d be part of what was a really good bullpen. But now he’s going to have to be another guy who’s probably going to have to come back and re-establish his value before getting paid.”

To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox.

Read More: buster olney, David Price, Jacoby Ellsbury, Tropicana Field
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