Of all the terrible seasons produced by Red Sox players in 2012, Jacoby Ellsbury's was the most disastrous, at least for the team.
After all, no one player could possibly have pulled this team out of the fire in 2012. They were a few good men away from competing at the very least. But by following up on an MVP-level performance in 2011 with an absolutely terrible 2012, Ellsbury destroyed any possibility that the Sox would see a good return from him in a trade.
And make no mistake, that's exactly what matters when it comes to Ellsbury. Scott Boras is, as a rule, looking for top dollar. The Red Sox are a team that just swore off of massive long-term contracts in all but the perfect situation. They are also a team building for two years out, even if the next couple of campaigns hold some level of potential. With one year left on his deal, that leaves Ellsbury an obvious trade candidate.
Unfortunately, though, the Red Sox have missed the mark by a year. Now, after a terrible 2012, Ellsbury's value has plummeted, likely to the point where the Sox have little reason to trade him away at all, rather than simply gamble on another big year which could help push a newly-constructed Sox team over the top. Still, in terms of organizational value, it's hard to imagine the Sox would keep Ells for 2013 even knowing he was going to be big if they were able to trade him at his post-2011 height in value.
Of course, for all the complaining that can be done about what could have, should have, might have been, it's not exactly Ellsbury's fault that the Sox are in this predicament now. Even those quickest to label a player as "injury prone" have to admit that Ellsbury has been dealt a pretty unfortunate hand in recent years. Beltre's knee in his ribs, a nasty (and oft-forgotten) collision with Tommy Hunter at first, and this year Reid Brignac coming down full-force on his shoulder. This isn't exactly a matter of David Ortiz pulling up on Adrian Gonzalez' home run trot.
Still, there's no question that Ellsbury didn't help himself or the Sox out with his performance after returning. Or before being injured, for that matter. A perfectly healthy Ellsbury went 5-for-26 to start the season before being knocked out with an OPS of .569, and then only managed to raise that to .683 after more than two full months of play. He produced only four homers in that time, getting precious little lift under the ball. He looked like he was trying to be his 2011 self, but simply failing miserably.
For better or worse, the Red Sox will likely enter 2013 with Jacoby Ellsbury starting in center field. If, when healthy, Ellsbury can even find the midpoint between his 2009 and 2011 performances then the Sox will either have a useful player for 2013 or a useful trade chip at the deadline should the season go wrong. If he's broken, however, it's no real value lost. The Red Sox made all their mistakes surrounding Ellsbury in the past 12 months (24 if you count his injury saga). Sadly there's not much left to lose there that hasn't already been lost. As such, he's just another lottery ticket for a 2013 team that's likely to be built on them. The difference is that Ellsbury's cost isn't low, it's just already sunk.