Jacoby Ellsbury (32 HRs, 105 RBI, 119 runs, 32 steals last year) could still finish among the top 25 outfielders by season's end, despite a significant shoulder injury.
Here are five ways to recover the numbers lost from Jacoby Ellsbury's six- to eight-week absence from the Red Sox lineup (dislocated shoulder)...without necessarily gutting your fantasy roster.
(That may be a lie.)
Option No. 1: Grab Cody Ross off waivers
OK, so this isn't the most exciting way to start a column, but with Carl Crawford (hand) still nursing his way back into the lineup, Ross will undoubtedly be granted full-time at-bats for the foreseeable future.
For the 2008-09 seasons with the Marlins, he combined for 46 homers, 163 RBI and 132 runs. Given his age (31) and the cozy dimensions of Fenway Park, Ross has a chance to replicate the numbers of years past—at least on a per-game basis.
Since the Red Sox are already thin with starting pitching and the bullpen, I doubt club execs will make a substantial trade for an outfielder in Ellsbury's stead. The team's best minor-league option may be Bryce Brentz...but even that seems like a short-term step down from Ross and his 22-homer potential.
Option No. 2: Target Jason Bay, Mike Carp, Will Venable, Brandon Belt or Jon Jay in free-agent waivers
All five outfielders certainly have their warts—Bay and Belt are slumping, Carp's been hurting and Venable and Jay are routinely overlooked in fantasy circles—but hey, that's why they're free agents in most leagues.
Astros center fielder Jordan Schafer would have been the best available Ellsbury clone earlier in the week, but you'll never go unwanted in fantasyland after collecting five steals in a 48-hour period. He's gone.
Look, unless you're playing in a 12-team league full of absentee borderline moronic owners, it's going to be a tough road without Ellsbury. We're talking about a top-six outfielder (although no one should expect 32 homers again) and top-15 overall asset. It's nearly impossible to flourish in his absence.
But in short bursts, Bay (four-category factor), Carp (25-75 guy in the minors), Venable (20-steal potential), Jay (poor man's Martin Prado) and Belt (future NL batting champion) can bring a level of fantasy respect to anyone's team.
Option No. 3: Grab Chone Figgins off waivers, or trade for Mark Trumbo
Before Opening Day, Figgins was only 3B-eligible and one of baseball's more anemic corner-infield options. But with a seemingly permanent spot in the outfield (left or center field) after just nine games, Figgins (.270, 4 RBI, 1 SB) should garner full outfield eligibility sometime in the next 10 days, making him attractive to owners who crave modest three-category success and dual-position versatility.
Regarding the 1B-eligible Trumbo, he should have full 3B eligibility sometime around April 25. Depending on how the Angels handle the Mike Trout and Vernon Wells situations, Trumbo (29 HRs in 2011) could see up to 30 games in the outfield this season.
For owners of Ellsbury (105 RBI, 119 runs, 32 steals last year) and Emilio Bonifacio (2B-3B-OF eligibility), a sneaky Trumbo acquisition would subsequently bump Bonifacio to the outfield spot in Ellsubry's place.
As a secondary move, I highly endorse the act of grabbing Trout (baseball's No. 1 prospect) off waivers ASAP, in anticipation of a May call-up that will be permanent (and enriching).
Bottom line: Replacing Ellsbury's eight-week production doesn't necessarily demand the plug-and-play addition of an outfielder. It can also come from a simple redistribution of current assets, prompted by a modest trade.
And for those with grander thoughts...
Option No. 4: Trade your Round 1 superstar
During spring training, Ellsbury had an Average Draft Position value of 15, meaning the majority of his owners also grabbed Joey Votto, Robinson Cano, Justin Verlander, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez or Prince Fielder with their low Round 1 selection.
The quickest way to overhaul the composition of your roster involves a simple six-word email/message-board dictum to the rest of the league: "(Superstar's name) is on the block!" This should draw immediate responses, in the general form of four trade proposals:
- 1-for-1 value: Jon Lester, Dan Haren, Nelson Cruz, Hunter Pence or Starlin Castro
- 1-for-2 value: Melky Cabrera and Bud Norris
- 3-for-2: (Round 1 star)/Yovani Gallardo/Jordan Schafer for Ian Kennedy/Matt Holliday
- 2-for-3: (Round 1 star)/Matt Moore for Jason Heyward/Jason Kipnis/Max Scherzer
Option No. 5: Put Ellsbury on the trade block
The final solution requires certain fantasy owners to perform an honest assessment of their rosters and prospects for the entire season.
1. Can my team endure/absorb the two-month loss of Ellsbury?
2. What are the chances I'll be in ninth, 10th, 11th or 12th place overall on June 10?
3. What other areas (outfield aside) are in need of significant help?
4. What categories or positions could not sustain a key injury?
If the above answers are roundly negative, it may be time to make the early executive decision of selling Ellsbury to the highest bidder, as a means of fortifying the outfield and one other area of concern.
After all, if your club was barely a pennant contender before Ellsbury's right shoulder had a fluke encounter with Rays shortstop Reid Brignac, then perhaps it's time to cut your April losses...and hope for a profitable return in May and June.
This is where it pays not to get too attached to original draftees. Very few teams can win a roto championship without disrupting the core, via trade, at some point; and whether these hard decisions occur in mid-April or late July, change is inevitable.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.