Boston GM Theo Epstein met with WEEI radio yesterday for yet another interview about the future of his Red Sox, both in the short and long term. Much of what he had to say was of interest to fans, but two issues jumped out as being critically important to the club's makeup.
On the Dennis & Callahan Show, Epstein was asked several key questions about Boston's outfield. One concerned center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is enjoying a breakout season in 2011. According to WEEI's Rob Bradford, Epstein "confirmed" that the Sox had previously tried to extend Ellsbury's contract and that he still intends to do so.
"...I think with all our young players that we see as core members of the organization (a long-term deal is) something that we're interested in, and we certainly see Jacoby as that.
"This isn't the right forum to talk about it. Those conversations are always behind closed doors. But I guess it's not a secret we sat down and tried in the past to do that, lock Jacoby up, and I hope we'll sit down in the future again and try to do it once more at the appropriate time. He's somebody we've long believed in, we've long seen as a core young member of the organization that we would love to keep around. We have certain organizational standards that have to be met, but we worked hard and were able to meet those standards with the Pedroias, with the Youkilis' and the Lesters of the world so we would love to one day announce that Jacoby is going to stick around this organization for a really long time. This is where he should be, and, again, this is where he should be."
This probably seems like a no-brainer. It's also good PR. After all, what else would Epstein say to a public audience? Even if he didn't like Ellsbury as a long-term option, it would hardly be prudent to spread that around.
But his statements are more than just lip service. For the past decade or so, the Boston organization has focused heavily on player development and on keeping in-house products. Bear in mind that Ellsbury is following the same path as Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz. All were Boston products who were offered arbitration and locked up with contract extensions before they became free agents.
Expect the same for Ellsbury, especially in light of what he's doing this season. Through 95 games, Ellsbury is sporting a ridiculous slash line of .316/.375/.509. He's already obliterated his previous season high in homers (nine) by smashing 15 this year. His 54 RBI are within six of his previous best (60). And he's on pace to score more than 100 runs for the first time.
Ellsbury has emerged as the player that the organization knew he could be. No longer a slap hitter content to be a one-dimensional speed threat, he has become a multitool contributor and one of the game's most dynamic stars.
He is a must-sign for the Boston Red Sox.
During his interview, Epstein also discussed the club's present and near future, specifically fielding questions about Josh Reddick. Like Ellsbury, Reddick is in the midst of his best performance ever, sporting an OPS of 1.102 while batting 378 with four homers and 18 RBI in 29 games.
Asked about Reddick's production, Epstein said:
"You can’t deny what Josh Reddick is doing and you can’t deny that he’s a different player than he’s been. Josh Reddick has always had a world of talent. From the day we drafted him, the ball jumped off his bat as well as just about any player in our system. Always really athletic, always a really good outfielder, always a playmaker in the outfield, always a pretty dynamic baserunner. It was simply of question of Josh—and it always has been—improving his plate discipline. His swing mechanics, going up there with a plan, working the count, putting himself in a position where he could let that explosiveness of his bat play and let his natural instincts play out there in the batters box.
"I don’t think you have to cast your lot on one player and completely bury another (with regard to playing time). As I said, (Terry Francona's) job is to put the best team on the field on a given night to help us win...But we’ve always been an organization that has given the best players a chance to impact the game for our team on that given night."
There's no question that Reddick gives the Sox their best shot at winning. Drew isn't hitting, Reddick is breaking out. It's that simple. Down the stretch, the team is going to see what this kid can do in pressure situations. Even if Boston adds a bat at the deadline, Reddick is going to be a factor in the outfield.
It's nice to get confirmation that the club is making smart decisions. Let's extend Ellsbury. Let's make Reddick a full-timer.
And while we're at it, let's win a World Series.