Jacoby Ellsbury has spent the majority of the season in a handful of very specific places: Arizona, the disabled list, the doghouse of a rabid Boston media.
Everywhere but on the field.
So when Ryan Kalish trotted out to center this weekend in Texas following Ellsbury's latest appearance on the disabled list, there was reason to believe he was auditioning for more than just a roster spot in 2011.
Is Red Sox Nation looking at its starting centerfielder for the foreseeable future?
This is a prickly question. For one, Ellsbury is a rare and unique talent whose skill set hasn't graced the Red Sox outfield very often over the year. Giving up on him so quickly would seem a rash judgment.
And Kalish has admittedly played extremely well since being called up, but the sample size is far too small. The name Phil Plantier pops into my mind as an outfielder that burst on the scene impressively toward the end of a campaign and fizzled almost as quickly and spectacularly.
But one has to wonder if Kalish is being given a test by Red Sox management: Ellsbury's done for awhile, so let's see how the kid does out there.
Of course, Red Sox management is the wild card in this whole equation. Ellsbury has been getting ripped in the Boston media since April, perhaps rightfully so in some cases. His trip to Arizona to recover was puzzling, his extended rehab time even more so. After all, the guy was clubbing the ball for almost a week at Pawtucket before he returned to the lineup. Dustin Pedroia could barely stand to sit in the McCoy Stadium dugout for two days before clearing himself fit to play.
Ellsbury's teammates have even questioned his motives, with Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester both publicly wondering why the center-fielder was gone for so long.
Through it all, the media has assumed upper management was growing tired of Ellsbury's act and a rift was expanding between the two sides. But nobody from the front office has given any indication one way or another, and why would they? It does nobody any good to comment publicly on the matter.
But that's why the situation is so intriguing. It could be that management looks at this as a lost season in what should prove to be a very successful career. Perhaps they still view Ellsbury as the starting center-fielder for the next decade or more.
But it's also possible that the Sox are test-driving Kalish in center to see if they like the ride. If he performs well enough down the stretch—during the heat of a pennant race, for bonus points—do the Sox cut ties with Ellsbury and shop him this summer? He would no doubt bring a solid return, and if the team is truly disillusioned with him, that may not be such a silly route to take.
Let the record state that this observer wouldn't move Ellsbury just yet, unless he was an attractive enough piece to kick-start the Adrian Gonzalez trade machine again. Otherwise, I think he has too much talent to sell for pennies on the dollar.
But the simple truth of the matter—despite all the blabbering on TV and the radio—is we really don't know. We won't know how the Sox brass feels about Ellsbury until the off-season, when he's either declared the center-fielder again or put on the trading block.
What we do know right now is that Ryan Kalish is the current center-fielder for the Boston Red Sox. Given that less than a month ago he was just another prospect in the minors, that's some remarkable progress.
It's also an intriguing opportunity for the youngster. If he puts enough of an imprint on the position in the last month-and-a-half of the season, the spot could be his for a long time to come.
After all, we know where Jacoby Ellsbury has been all summer long. Where he is next year remains the question.
And the answer may be taking shape before our eyes.
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