Is Jacoby Ellsbury Auditioning for an Offseason Trade Out of Boston?

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Is Jacoby Ellsbury Auditioning for an Offseason Trade Out of Boston?
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After a 2012 season that’s been a major disappointment, Jacoby Ellsbury should be quite relieved he’s not a free agent after this year. For the second time in three seasons, Ellsbury has hit below his career average while missing over 60 games.

He batted .192/.241/.244 over 78 at bats in an injury-plagued 2010 season, and currently sports a .264/.318/.372 line in 2012.

So how much is he worth in free agency?

If Jacoby could play like he did in 2011 every season, he’d easily be a $100 million player. At age 27 last year, Ellsbury hit a career high 32 home runs out of the leadoff spot, collected 105 RBIs and came through repeatedly in the clutch. Overall he was at .321/.376/.552, and put up 15.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) in the field, best among centerfielders and fourth-best in the majors.

Fangraphs had him at 9.4 Wins Above Replacement, which was tops in MLB, over the likes of superstars Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun.

So which Ellsbury will a team get if it signs him to a long-term deal? That’s the $100 million question, and one the Red Sox might not be willing to answer.

After their splurge signings of Carl Crawford and John Lackey, the team has been fiscally responsible during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. You may remember the Sox traded away shortstop Marco Scutaro in what was essentially a salary dump this past offseason. The team hasn’t committed to David Ortiz long term, even though he’s the most popular player in Boston and has been producing like a $15 million player for the past few years.

With the money that Ellsbury wants—and with his agent Scott Boras, we know he’ll push for it—does he think the Sox have a realistic chance to sign him? Judging from their recent moves, probably not.

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And if he thinks the Sox will be loyal, Ellsbury can look to his good friend Jonathan Papelbon as a cautionary tale. The Sox barely went after the closer in free agency, which must have been a slap in the face after the 2007 World Series champ saw over $200 million poured into Crawford and Lackey just the year before.

So if Boston knows they can’t sign him, is an offseason trade in the works?

Not unless Ellsbury starts hitting like he did last year.

Boston fans have been treated to a season of an underachieving, often unlikeable group, save for a couple of bright spots like Will Middlebrooks, Ortiz, Cody Ross and Felix Doubront. Although Ellsbury is in that underachieving category, he’s still a fan favorite.

Boston fans give him the benefit of doubt because of what he’s done in the past, but other teams won’t.

If he continues playing mediocre baseball over these next two months, the value the Sox would get back in a trade wouldn’t match what Ellsbury’s truly worth. They’d be much smarter to wait until next year, or just take the draft pick compensation if he does choose to leave after next season.

It’s hard to say whether Ellsbury wants to be in Boston. He’s comfortable here and can be the leader of the franchise he came up with, though he’s also playing for a team that’s always been heavily scrutinized in the media.

No matter what, though, he better pick it up at the plate. Because not only will that help his own cause, but he has the ability to carry the Red Sox offense as they look to make up ground in the wild card standings.

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