Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE
The Red Sox are reluctant to trade Jacoby Ellsbury. What's the right approach to take with the talented but inconsistent outfielder?
The GM meetings have begun in California, meaning trades are in the air. Maybe not honest to God sign-on-the-dotted-line trades--those generally are reserved for the coming months, including the general meetings in December--but the waters will be tested and players shopped as the decision makers gather together.
For the Red Sox, there is one name that stands front and center when it comes to trade talks: Jacoby Ellsbury. Seen as unlikely to resign with the team after his contract runs out, there are many interested in seeing the kind of return the center fielder could bring, even one (awful, injury-ruined) year after he vied for the title of American League Most Valuable Player.
Well, those who are hoping for him to be shopped may be disappointed. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Red Sox are reluctant--"disinclined" to use his word--to trade the intriguing outfielder.
The logic is simple enough. Jacoby Ellsbury is coming off a tremendously disappointing 2012. Knocked out by an ugly collision with Reid Brignac in the early going, it wouldn't be until mid-July that Ellsbury's shoulder was up for a return. Unfortunately, Ellsbury didn't come back looking like he was ready, hitting just .278/.314/.379 the rest of the way. While the Red Sox would love to simply explain that away as a matter of injury, other teams aren't going to be willing to pay top dollar for a gamble.
Given the choice, then, between a sub-par return and a full season with Ellsbury playing for a new contract, the Sox will elect for the latter. If they're not looking strong at the midway point while Ellsbury is performing, they can trade him then and probably even gain some in the way of value. If he's not, well, they probably didn't miss out on much.
As Michael Silverman points out, however, it's not a market they can afford to simply ignore. If there is demand out there for Ellsbury, the Red Sox certainly owe it to themselves to listen. As much as the Sox believe they can make the changes necessary over the offseason to get them to the playoffs--and I believe that too--they're probably going to get progressively better as the next few seasons progress. If 2013 provides a chance, 2014 and 2015 will likely provide better ones. If they can turn a 1-year player in Jacoby Ellsbury into a longer term piece, then they have to seriously consider it. What if, say, Elvis Andrus is on the table?
In all likelihood, the Sox will start the season with Jacoby Ellsbury on the roster. The outfield is already going to be a curious enough problem now that it's looking like Cody Ross might not come to an agreement with the team. Filling in center with a lottery ticket who could be huge wouldn't really be a bad move on the whole, especially when nothing needs to be done to actually make that happen.
As much as we may now wish we'd dealt Ellsbury after 2011 when value was high (and there were some pushing heavily for this--it's not entirely a matter of hindsight), the lost value is a sunk cost. The situation needs to be approached in a vacuum. If someone offers a legitimately good deal, or if Ellsbury can be used as part of a larger bargain to get back a really important piece for now and the future, then the Sox owe it to themselves to listen. If not, however, dumping a guy who put up 9.4 fWAR a year ago isn't a top priority.