As one star returns to the Red Sox clubhouse, another departs.
According to the Boston Herald, Clay Buchholz (9-0, 1.71 ERA) is set to return from a long disabled list stint on Tuesday night in Tampa. In his first start since June 8, the Red Sox right-hander is slated to throw 75 to 80 pitches as Boston attempts to get him revved up for October.
When Buchholz takes the hill in St. Petersburg, a familiar face and major cog in the Red Sox engine won't be patrolling center field, batting atop the order, reeking havoc on the base paths or serving as the catalyst of Boston's high powered attack.
After suffering a broken right foot, Jacoby Ellsbury is down and out. According to USA Today, the 29-year-old free agent to be is in a protective boot through the end of the week before being reevaluated.
While the injury doesn't seem to be bad enough to keep him from participating in the postseason, any setback, considering there is less than three weeks left in the season, would put his October availability at risk.
An updated look at Jacoby Ellsbury's foot condition, for which a best-case scenario would be a return in 2-3 weeks http://t.co/TuW7ovRDBX— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) September 8, 2013
Evaluating the net gain or loss on the Buchholz-Ellsbury injury swap can't be determined by just looking at statistics, long- or short-term value or the day-to-day AL East standings. Instead, how healthy and effective each player can be in October is now the real issue at hand for the Red Sox.
Instead of trying to integrate Clay Buchholz back into the rotation by building up his arm strength over the next few weeks, his effectiveness, or lack thereof, becomes a secondary issue for Boston management.
While it's hard to imagine the Red Sox winning the World Series without an ace, we simply don't know if Boston is getting the pitcher that dominated the American League for the first two-plus months of the 2013 season back.
On the other hand, Ellsbury was a known commodity this summer and poised to be a difference maker this fall.
Buoyed by the combination of health and a contract drive, Ellsbury was in the midst of an excellent year. His ability to get on base (.355 OBP), steal bases (52) and score runs (89) off the bats of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz is unparallelled among AL contenders.
If healthy, Ellsbury could be looking at $100 million in free agency because of his skill set. Now, that skill set and presence could be comprised for October.
Yes, Boston still has to clinch the division, but with a 7.5 game lead on September 9, Boston has a 99.9 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason, according to ESPN.com's playoff odds. In other words, having Buchholz and Ellsbury ready to roll next month is now the main objective for Boston's September.
Both are important and can play a major role in delivering a championship to Fenway Park, but unless Buchholz is the star he was in April and May, as opposed to the good (not great) pitcher of the previous years, Ellsbury's loss can't be lessened by his return.
Due to the arrival of Jake Peavy and effective seasons from John Lackey and Jon Lester, Boston is built to compete without a great Buchholz.
Which player is more vital to Boston's success?
Their offense, No. 1 across baseball in runs scored, isn't ready to replace Ellsbury.
For the Red Sox to win a title, both need to be healthy, but it's hard to imagine Buchholz returning to a level that can offset the loss of one of baseball's premier outfielders.