MLB Trade Rumors: Deal for Jacoby Ellsbury Would Make Nationals Annual Favorites
Naturally, the situation is complicated, which is a main reason why all the talk is just that for now: talk. Trading Ellsbury this season would be extraordinarily difficult for Sox GM Ben Cherington.
Ellsbury's value is nowhere near as high as it once was. He hasn't been seen on the diamond since April 13 due to a nasty shoulder injury, and ESPN's Tim Kurkjian has said that Ellsbury probably won't be back until around the All-Star break.
If so, he will have missed three months of the regular season. As it is, he's already missed significant time in two of the last three seasons with injuries, and he's developed a kinda-sorta-not-really unfair reputation for being a slow healer.
There's not a whole lot he can do about that, mind you, but his disappearing/reappearing health has a) all but killed his value on the trade market and b) is hardly making it easy for the Red Sox to plan out Ellsbury's future with the team.
Ellsbury is represented by Scott Boras, and the Red Sox can rest assured that Scott Boras is going to do what Scott Boras does when the timing is right. When Ellsbury's value is at its highest, he'll demand as many years and as many millions of dollars as he feels like from the Red Sox.
Instead of playing ball with Boras, the Red Sox could decide they're better off trading the injury-prone Ellsbury.
It's highly unlikely that a trade will get done this season, because Ellsbury is damaged goods and because the Red Sox are still alive in the AL East. But if Ellsbury's value shoots back up to where it was last year, the club will have to make a choice in 2013 between paying him millions of dollars or risking that they'll lose him to free agency. That's when Cherington could pick up the phones and start making some calls.
Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe came up with an interesting idea. In the event Cherington decides to start shopping Ellsbury, the first guy on his call list should be Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
Here's what Cafardo wrote:
The Nats have been looking for that impact leadoff hitter/center fielder for a while, and they have an interesting pitcher or two that would fit Boston nicely. The Sox are convinced that Jackie Bradley is going to be a major league center fielder, and he is rising fast. So there is less reason to be held hostage by Ellsbury’s future contract demands and lengthy rehabs.
Cafardo is right about the Nats needing a guy who can play center field and bat leadoff. Bryce Harper has been playing center field a lot, but he projects better in right field than he does in center. Playing him in right will keep his legs fresh, and it would be a better place for him to show off his impressive arm.
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As for the leadoff man business, well, the Nats basically don't have a leadoff hitter. They were using Ian Desmond at leadoff for much of the season, but his inability to work counts and take walks made him a poor fit for the top of the lineup. He has been spending a lot of time in fifth and sixth spots recently, and he's done well there.
With Desmond batting lower in the order now, Davey Johnson has used both Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi at leadoff. Lombardozzi hasn't taken to the leadoff spot very well, but Espinosa has responded nicely, compiling a .452 OBP when batting leadoff, per Baseball-Reference.com.
Nonetheless, finding a talented center fielder who can bat leadoff day after day is the ideal scenario for the Nats, and they definitely have incentive to make a trade for one.
The Nats are well on their way to becoming the next great superpower in the National League. They have a young, talented starting rotation anchored by two great pitchers in Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, and Harper has the look of a perennial All-Star that the Nats can build their offense around.
They're good this year, and you had better believe this is not a fluke. The Nats are the real deal now, and they're going to be the real deal for years to come.
Ellsbury is a guy who, if healthy, would put them over the top. He showed in 2011 that he has it in him to be a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder who can provide 30-30 production and an OBP in the high .300s out of the leadoff spot. Players like that are rare. Very rare.
Just imagine a Nats lineup with Ellsbury at the top and Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth in the middle with Michael Morse and Tyler Moore also in the mix. Washington's lineup would be as potent as its pitching staff, if not more so.
They'd quickly become the new Atlanta Braves, a machine custom-designed to make the playoffs and chase pennants year after year.
Yes, if the Nats were to deal for Ellsbury, they would be the ones who would have to decide whether to play ball with Boras. That wouldn't necessarily have to be a big hurdle, however. The Nats won't deal for Ellsbury unless they get it in their heads that he's worth signing long-term, and playing hard ball with Boras would be nothing new for Rizzo. He has quite a few Boras clients on his roster (Harper, Strasburg, Werth, for instance).
Is Jacoby Ellsbury worth signing long-term despite his injuries?
The more complicated aspect of a potential Ellsbury deal between the Red Sox and Nats would be the players going to Boston in exchange for the speedy outfielder. Cafardo says the Sox could target pitching, but that's not as simple as it sounds. Strasburg and Gonzalez are untouchable, and it's doubtful that the Nats would want to part with Jordan Zimmermann, seeing as how he's still under club control for a few more seasons.
There's always Washington's farm system, but there aren't many standout options to choose from. Matt Purke and Alex Meyer are about the extent of the intriguing options, and both of them still need a lot of development. Lucas Giolito might be in play next season, but that's an awfully big "might" at this point.
So in order for the Red Sox and Nats to actually figure out an Ellsbury deal, Rizzo would have to get creative, and Cherington would have to get (for lack of a better word) bold.
No wonder Cafardo wrote that he would "love to hear a conversation" between the two of them regarding Ellsbury. Given all the different dynamics, that conversation would be a humdinger.
Rizzo and Cherington may have that talk one day. Until then, the talking is entirely up to us.
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