After the disaster that was the end of September 2011 and the entirety of the 2012 season, it’s time for the Boston Red Sox to try to figure out how to improve the team. General Manager Ben Cherington realized that the team needed a change, which led to the August trade of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for James Loney, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus Jr. The next move for the Red Sox should be to trade Jacoby Ellsbury.
Drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft, Ellsbury took over in center field in Boston late in the 2007 season. He placed 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2008, posting a .280/.336/.394 triple-slash line with 50 steals and a UZR of an astounding 21.2. However, Ellsbury’s wRC for 2008 was a slightly below average 98. Ellsbury improved across the board in 2009, putting up a line of .301/.355/.415, .354 wOBA, 108 wRC, with an amazing 70 steals. However, Ellsbury’s UZR dropped precipitously to an ugly -9.7 (this may say more about vagaries of defensive statistics than it does of Ellsbury’s defense).
However, 2010 brought disaster. On April 12, 2010, Ellsbury collided with Adrian Beltre. Ellsbury would suffer cracked ribs, from which he slowly recovered. Ellsbury was criticized for not coming back quicker than he did. He returned to the lineup in August, reinjured his ribs in a fall, and his season was over.
Ellsbury returned in a big way in 2011. Ellsbury hit .321/.376/.552, .402 wOBA, 150 wRC, with 39 steals and a UZR of 15.6. Ellsbury was selected to the All-Star game, placed second to Justin Verlander in the AL MVP voting, and won the Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger awards.
There was a lot of promise for Ellsbury coming into 2012, but on April 13 (the home opener), Ellsbury separated his shoulder while trying to break up a double play. Ellsbury would play only 74 games in 2012, posting a line of .271/.313/.370, .305 wOBA, 86 wRC, with 14 steals and a UZR of 0.2. For his career in Boston, Ellsbury has hit .297/.349/.442, .355 wOBA, 114 wRC, 189 steals, a UZR/150 of 8.9 and a total rWAR of 14.4 (18.4 fWAR). For this production, Ellsbury has made $11,802,000.
The problem for the Red Sox with respect to Ellsbury is two-fold. First and foremost is Ellsbury’s salary for 2013. Ellsbury will be arbitration-eligible for the second straight year. In his first year of arbitration, Ellsbury’s salary went from $2,400,000 in 2011 to $8,050,000 in 2012. Ellsbury will almost certainly get a raise in arbitration for 2013, although perhaps not at the pace of his last arbitration raise. It would be very surprising if his 2013 salary were less than $10,000,000.
Second, and maybe more importantly, Ellsbury’s contract expires after the 2013 season and he is represented by Scott Boras. Even if the Red Sox wanted to re-sign Ellsbury to a long-term deal (which may not be the case), Boras may advise against it. Boras is known for advising his clients who reach this stage in their contracts to go into free agency to attempt to maximize their next contractual payout. Additionally, Boras’s people should already be writing one of his infamous “binders” that proves that any player that he represents is the second coming of Babe Ruth (pitcher and hitter), Mickey Mantle, Mohandas K. Gandhi and Alexander the Great rolled into one.
Instead of losing Ellsbury after the 2013 season with nothing but an extra 2014 draft pick to show for it, the Red Sox should trade Ellsbury during this offseason. Granted, trading Ellsbury now wouldn’t be the classic case of “selling high.” But with Ellsbury’s injury history, the Red Sox cannot take a chance to wait for the July 31, 2013 trading deadline to trade him, as they may not get as much in return as they would get if they traded him during this offseason. And if Ellsbury gets injured in 2013, the Sox wouldn’t be able to trade him at all.
Trading Ellsbury now would make sense for the Red Sox if they are serious in getting back to the “player development machine” that produced Ellsbury in the first place. With the rules for free agency having changed where it is not as easy to stockpile draft picks for losing free agents as it was before, the best way to restock a farm system with top prospects is to trade for them. Ellsbury may not fetch an Elvis Andrus as he might have following his stellar 2011 season, but Jacoby could fetch two or more top prospects in a trade this off-season. As far as replacing Ellsbury in Boston, a combination of Che-Hsuan Lin and a call up for super prospect Jackie Bradley could be sufficient for the bridge year that 2013 portends to be for the Boston Red Sox.