The Red Sox are willing to move Ellsbury, but is anyone willing to trade for him?
B.J. Upton signed for five years, $75 million. Angel Pagan received four years at $10 million per season. Shane Victorino was taken off the market for $13 million per, for three years. Michael Bourn hasn't signed yet, but when he does, he's likely to be as rich, if not much richer, than the above because of it. The center field market was alive and well, and the idea of dealing Jacoby Ellsbury, if the opportunity came up, made sense given that.
The trade market for center fielders hasn't clarified things one way or the other. Denard Span, who does not have the upside of Ellsbury, but is under contract for the next three years for just $20 million, returned a Double-A pitching prospect in a deal with the Nationals. Ben Revere, who is no Ellsbury or Span, but is an excellent defender, returned starting pitcher Vance Worley as well as a top-100 pitching prospect. The price on Span seems low, but the price for Revere seems well -- the Twins were involved in both, so the only real difference might be that the Phillies were willing to pay out the nose for an outfielder. Again, though, it's hard to say with just the two outfielder trades to look at.
Ellsbury has just one year left, likely for around $10 million, meaning he will be around for a much shorter time than either Span or Revere. However, a healthy Ellsbury has the potential of being an MVP-caliber player, meaning a club with faith in him as a difference maker in 2013 might be willing to pay up for the rights to him. Especially if they have the budget to re-sign him when he's a free agent a year from now.
Who could those teams be, though? The Giants, Nationals, and Phillies all have center fielders now, and the Phils already rejected an Ellsbury offer. Presumably, the Twins are not looking to add a center fielder since they just traded two, and are in the process of rebuilding, not looking to compete in 2013.
The Royals could use Ellsbury, given that they're planning as if 2013 is in their window to compete, but likely don't have the financial room to add $10 million in payroll. That's a shame, given they certainly have the prospects to make a deal work. That brings up another problem, though: Boston is going to want to trade Ellsbury for pieces they can use in the majors right away, likely starting pitching, and that kind of changes the landscape of the trade market even more.
The number of teams who have a surplus of major-league ready pitching that also need a center fielder makes for a short list. The Rangers, Phillies, Reds, and Rays have the talent and the need, while the Mariners and Braves have much younger pitching that could be moved. Unless the Rangers miss out on either re-signing Josh Hamilton or trading for Justin Upton, they aren't likely to be interested in Ellsbury, and even if they are, it's hard to think they would be willing to give up, say, Derek Holland for a season of him. The Phillies already reportedly refused to exchange Cliff Lee and his remaining $87.5 million in guaranteed salary for Ellsbury -- any deal there likely made more sense before they traded Worley. The Reds could use the upgrade in center, but it's unclear if they would be willing to move someone like Homer Bailey for one year of Ellsbury -- one would think the possibility is very low, though. The Rays play in the AL East along with Boston, so even if they make sense on paper, it isn't happening.
The starters the Mariners have in the majors aren't that intriguing, but they have tons of minor-league depth. Danny Hultzen debuted in 2012, and while he struggled in his first taste of Triple-A, he was successful at Double-A and could be a mid-rotation starter if things break right for him. There are better pitching prospects in the system, but for one year of Ellsbury, this seems fair for both sides. You might wonder why the Mariners would be intent on moving prospects for someone like Ellsbury, given they aren't set to compete just yet, but for an organization where hitting prospects have failed to pan out, sometimes you have to deal from strength in order to fill in the holes -- especially in the last year of your general manager's contract.
The Braves have the likes of Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado, and even though they just signed Upton, Ellsbury could play left field for them for a season. An outfield of Ellsbury, Upton, and Heyward would be a tremendous defensive asset, and if Ellsbury's bat gets even halfway to 2011 levels, they would contribute plenty at the plate, too. While the Braves won't be able to afford Ellsbury on a long-term deal after 2013, they could offer the qualifier and get a draft pick when he signs elsewhere -- a young pitching prospect with major-league experience might be a high price to pay, but in the tough NL East, Ellsbury might be the advantage that Atlanta needs to stay competitive, especially now that Chipper Jones' bat is no more for Atlanta.
These are all hypothetical, though: the chances of Ellsbury being moved are more than zero, but they aren't great, especially since the Red Sox want full value since they can just use him themselves. After a down season, with one year left and a near guarantee that free agency is in his future, Ellsbury is not in a great position to be moved for anything close to that. If an opportunity should arise that helps the Red Sox both now and in the future, expect them to explore it. But counting on that happening is a way to be disappointed.