With money to burn and an eye on next season (and beyond), now is the time for GM Ben Cherington to continue to be bold as he reshapes this broken organization. Although it may seem counterintuitive and even foolish, Cherington’s next move should be to trade Jacoby Ellsbury before the August 31 waiver deadline.
It was reported on August 24 that the Sox had placed Ellsbury on waivers, which—given the events of this past weekend—has taken on a whole new level of significance in Boston. While any trade for the dynamic center fielder would have to yield the Sox a bonanza of prospects to even be considered, there are several reasons why consummating a deal now makes sense.
Looming over every single Ellsbury-related event is his impending free agency. Quite simply, a player of his caliber is going to yield a huge contract from either the Red Sox or another willing team.
However, handing Ellsbury a massive contract would fly directly in the face of the move the Sox just made. How could they justify trading all those high-priced players, only to hand someone else an equally huge deal?
Cherington has called for more “disciplined decisions” in personnel moves, and giving Ellsbury a $100-plus million deal would not fall into that category.
Another issue is Ellsbury’s health. Granted, his two major injuries (broken ribs in 2010 and a dislocated shoulder in 2012) have occurred because of freak accidents on the field, but nevertheless, he has missed significant time in two of his five full MLB seasons.
His rehabilitation in both cases has been marked by slow progress and frustrating setbacks, and expecting someone who plays as hard as Ellsbury does to remain healthy over the length of a five- or six-year contract is simply not realistic.
Going hand in hand with injury concerns is Ellsbury’s age. While it may not feel like a long time, Ellsbury played his first MLB game over five years ago. Having played three years in college before turning pro, he is not actually as young as one would think.
By the time he hits free agency, Ellsbury will already have turned 30 years old. Handing a player whose game hinges upon athleticism a deal that carries him into his late 30s would not be particularly prudent; with Crawford, Sox fans have witnessed firsthand what the results of one of those contracts can look like.
The Sox also possess a wealth of talented outfield prospects with which they could replace Ellsbury at a fraction of the cost. By the start of the 2014 season, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bryce Brentz (both ranked in the top 10 prospects in the Sox’s farm system, according to soxprospects.com) could be ready to assume full-time roles on the MLB roster.
While it may take a year or two for these players to approach Ellsbury’s early production, at 22 and 23 years old, respectively, each has a chance to develop and make a lasting impact from an early age.
Losing Ellsbury now would be a blow to the team’s short-term prospects, but realistically, this team is not aiming to win anything of consequence this season, or even in 2013. While it may be brief, the Sox are nevertheless in a rebuilding phase.
The organizational emphasis has clearly shifted from older to young players, and while it would be unwise to ship out all the veteran players, the Sox would be wise to consider moving those with the highest value.
Ellsbury is unquestionably a brilliant player now and will likely return to his MVP-caliber form when given a full season in 2013. Apart from last offseason, his trade value has never been higher.
Although it would be tough in the short term to lose another strong veteran performer, the Sox need to trade Ellsbury now.
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