Their 30-something middle infielder of choice snatched out from underneath them, the Dodgers signed Mark Ellis to a two-year deal worth just under $9 million with a club option for a third year. The deal slots Ellis, who will turn 35 next season, between Aaron Hill — whose two-year deal is rumored to be worth 10-11 million, and who will turn 30 before next season — and Jamey Carroll, the soon to be 38-year-old that played 146 games for the Dodgers last season and who signed his own two year deal worth about $7 million. If the trend holds, there’s a 28-year-old second baseman looking to sign for about $13 million over the course of two seasons.
Ellis spent his entire career prior to July 1 of last year with the A’s, at which point he was traded to the Rockies and so began a sojourn in the senior circuit that could plausibly bring him to the end of his career. Assuming his option is exercised by the Dodgers, he would be a Carroll-esque 38 when he next hit the free agent market, and while Julio Franco scoffs at the notion of retiring so young, Ellis will need to show that he can still pick it over the next two or three seasons.
A good part of Ellis’ value has typically come from defense. He’s had a positive UZR every year since 2003 and has been worth 100 DRS over the same period, but that doesn’t mean he has always been a strictly defensive player (read: worthless in fantasy). As recently as 2010, Ellis was a passable waiver wire option or short-term injury replacement at second base, but his production in 2011 was unusable. His .274/.317/.392 line in Colorado was a step up from the .217/.253/.290 he had during his last 62 games in Oakland.
The moderate power he showed in 2007 has all but vanished, he doesn’t get many RBI chances due to his usual position in the batting order, and he hasn’t been particularly efficient with those he had: Ellis hit .184/.228/.272 with runners in scoring position. Somewhat surprisingly, Ellis tied a career high in steals in 2011 with 14, but if you’re grabbing him for speed, you’re doing it wrong. It may be tempting to look at the divergence between his 2010 and 2011 and gamble on the upside, but if we include 2008 and 2009, it becomes clear that 2010 was the aberration. His BABIP that season was .321, the second highest point of his career, and while he did have a solid walk rate that season as well, he didn’t produce much beyond a good AVG/OBP.
As far as the Dodgers are concerned, I’m finding it hard to get too worked up either way about this deal. The upside for Ellis would seem to be limited at this point, even as he moves away from Oakland’s ample spaces since Chavez Ravine isn’t exactly a hitter’s paradise either. He’s a warm body, a have-glove-will-travel option at this point, and while he might give the Dodgers a .750 OPS if he can appease the luck dragon, that would seem to be close to his ceiling at this point. Ellis is the likely opening day starter, but I wonder how long he’ll keep the job if he can’t show some improvement. Ivan De Jesus isn’t the prospect he once was, but if Ellis shows more of the same form that he had at the beginning of 2011, I can’t imagine the Dodgers will continue to run him out there instead of giving De Jesus a chance.
From a fantasy prospective, Ellis isn’t a mixed option except in deep — and I mean Challenger Deep-esque — leagues. As far as NL-Only is concerned, if you miss out on the top tier guys, I’d grab Hill or someone like Alan Craig before I looked in Ellis’ direction.
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